Safe Sanctuaries Policy

(Approved by Church Council – 2007)

(Amended and Approved – September 2012)

In April 1996, The General Conference of The United Methodist Church adopted a resolution aimed at reducing the risk of sexual abuse of children, youth and vulnerable adults in the church. In 2007, the New Mexico Annual Conference also adopted a resolution requiring each congregation to develop a Child Abuse Prevention Policy. These resolutions are grounded in scripture.

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes a child…welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5). Children are our present and our future, our hope, our teachers, our inspiration. They are full participants in the life of the church and in the realm of God. Jesus also said, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones… it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Our Christian faith calls us to offer both hospitality and protection to the most vulnerable among us.

God calls us to make our church a safe place, protecting our children, youth and other vulnerable individuals from sexual, ritual and other forms of abuse. God calls us to create a community of faith where children and youth grow safe and strong. (From the Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, pages 180-181, 2000, United Methodist Publishing House, 2000.)

Los Alamos First United Methodist Church has decided to consider child, youth and vulnerable adult safety and abuse in a single policy. LAFUMC establishes this Safe Sanctuaries policy to demonstrate our absolute and unwavering commitment to the physical safety, mental well-being and spiritual growth of all our children, youth and vulnerable adults.

Our goal is to provide a safe, Christian environment for all our children, youth and vulnerable adults. Therefore, as a Christian community of faith and a United Methodist congregation, we pledge to conduct the ministries of the gospel in ways that assure the safety and spiritual growth of all of our children and youth as well as all workers with children and youth. We will follow reasonable measures in the selection and recruitment of workers; we will implement prudent operational procedures in all programs and events; we will educate our workers with children, youth and vulnerable adults regarding the use of appropriate policies and methods; we will have a clearly defined procedure for reporting a suspected incident of child abuse that conforms to the requirements of New Mexico state laws; and we will be prepared to respond to media inquiries if an incident occurs.

Scout groups chartered by Los Alamos First United Methodist Church shall follow their own children and youth protection policies. The ARK will have a separate child/youth protection policy; however it will conform to the principles of this policy and must be approved by the Church Council. Other outside groups using church facilities shall be furnished a copy of this Safe Sanctuaries Policy and must follow it unless they have their own child/youth protection policies

In this policy the term child, youth or vulnerable adult is mean to collectively mean children, youth and vulnerable adults.

Procedures and Rules for Working with Children, Youth and Vulnerable Adults

  • Two-Adult Rule

Hereinafter, the term adult will mean a person, aged 18 or above, consistent with New Mexico law.

No fewer than two adults who have undergone a background check, one of whom is 21 years or older, shall be present with each group of infants, children or youth for any church sponsored program, event, outing, or ministry, to include watching (“babysitting”) infants and children while parents attend other functions. For the purpose of this rule, married couples working with the same group are considered one adult. If a second adult is not available during times of major use at the church (Sunday school, Wednesday nights), the classroom door will remain open and an adult may supervise the groups by “floating” in the area. The nursery coordinator will be responsible for identifying an appropriate adult to act as floater during times when major use at the church might not provide adequate supervision.

  • No One-on-One Contact

One-on-one contact between adults and children or youth is not permitted. In situations that require personal conferences, the meeting may be conducted such that it is audibly isolated but must be conducted in view of another adult (e.g., ARK “open door” policy). This policy also applies to pastoral counseling of youth or children.

  • The 15 Age Limit Rule

Persons hired to work with children and youth must be at least fifteen years of age. At least one volunteer or paid worker in each nursery, preschool or children’s area must be age eighteen or older. This rule allows teen helpers who are in senior high or older to help in the nursery consistent with Rule 1. Two examples help to clarify this rule. (1) The nursery during Sunday School could be staffed by one adult volunteer, age 18 or above, and one or more paid teens, age 15 or above, provide that the nursery door remains open and supervision is provided by a “floating” adult, age 21 or above. (2) Babysitting at the church for Parents’ Night Out on a Friday evening would have to comply with Rule 1 above, but the staff could be supplemented by paid teens, 15 or above, to handle a larger crowd. Guests (e.g., boyfriends or “stray children/teenagers”) will not be allowed in the nursery or preschool areas unless they are children of the volunteer or worker. In the interest of safety, nursery staff may deny nursery services to uncontrollable children.

  • Five-Year-Older Rule

Any worker, youth or adult, volunteer or paid, must be at least five years older than the group with which they are to work. This rule shall not prevent persons who do not meet this criterion from participating in events, trips and outings with younger persons.

  • Transportation Rule

The two-adult rule applies to transporting children or youth to or from any church-sponsored event, program or ministry. All drivers must be at least 21 years old and must be covered by the vehicle’s insurance policy, whether the vehicle is privately owned, rented, or owned by the First United Methodist Church of Los Alamos. For trips that require multiple vehicles, the two-adult rule can be complied with by having one adult driver per vehicle as long as all vehicles travel together (caravan) and communication between vehicles is possible. Drivers will refrain from using cell phones while transporting children or youth to or from a church-sponsored event.

  • Six-Month Rule

In order to be eligible to work with children, youth and vulnerable adults, volunteers should have regularly attended Los Alamos First United Methodist Church for six months. Regular attendance means attending worship or Sunday school at least once per month for six months. This rule shall not prevent parents from visiting and participating in activities of their children.

  • Advance Notice Rule

Children and Youth ministry leaders shall always give the parents advance notice and full information regarding the event(s) in which their children will participate.

  • Parental Permissions

For off-site events, overnight events or those that require transportation, parents must give written permission for their child’s participation. Generally, personal information forms serve as written permission and shall be completed annually and updated as needed. The staff, or a volunteer person responsible for age-level ministries, should maintain these forms. When traveling off-site for events outside of Los Alamos, New Mexico, the leader of the event should carry copies of permission slips and forms with them.

  • State Reporting Rule

Any suspected case of child abuse must be reported to the proper authorities,including church staff and the police. Appropriate forms must be completed to document the incident and notify authorities. Other serious incidents or accidents should be reported on the Accident and Incident Reporting Forms. Click on this link to launch a pdf of the Safe Sanctuary Policy, along with the appropriate reporting forms.

  • Photographing Children

Parents may give permission for their children to be photographed or videotaped in youth activities when they fill out annual Program Participation forms. No identifying names shall be displayed on the church website. Parents are not required to give permission for their children to be photographed or videotaped in order for them to participate in church-sponsored programs. Photography or videotaping during Church events not requiring permission forms is permissible.

Responding to Allegations of Abuse

Allegations by a child concerning abuse must be reported to the CYFD authorities, LAPD, and at least one of the individuals listed below. A committee will be immediately convened to investigate the allegation. This committee will be composed of the following people, unless they are involved in the allegation:

  • Pastor
  • Director of Christian Education
  • Lay Leader and/or Church Council Chair
  • SPRC Chair
  • ARK Director, if ARK related incident

Every volunteer and paid worker with children and youth should be trained regarding New Mexico requirements for reporting abuse to law enforcement authorities and child protection services. With any incident at the Church, the New Mexico authorities at the Children, Youth and Families Department (http://www.cyfd.org/) shall be notified at 1-800-797-3260 or 505-841-6100 (24 hour hotlines). (See Appendix G). If an alleged incident of abuse involving church activities happens away from the church, then the incident must be reported in that jurisdiction. (See Appendix G) Volunteers or staff members who suspect abuse of a child or youth in a non-church situation are also obligated to report the alleged incident to the appropriate CYFD authorities, In every case, the LAPD (505-662-8222), LA County Sheriff (505-662-8028) or Child Abuse (505-827-7450).

This committee will not wait for a time when everyone can be present, but will initiate its meeting as soon after the alleged incident as possible, but no more than 24 hours after the initial report. Proceedings shall be conducted confidentially in a way that protects the rights of the alleged victim, the family and the accused, including their privacy. Legal immunity only exists for initial reporting directly to a child abuse hotline, law enforcement or child protective services.

The committee will first assure the alleged abuser has been removed from contact with the alleged child or youth victim. The committee will next assure that all reporting requirements have been met. The Report of Suspected Incident of Child Abuse (See Appendix H) shall be used to record action taken. It is imperative that the person filling out this report be familiar with New Mexico law, as well as legal liability for defamation of character and invasion of privacy, before taking any action or completing the report. The committee will take action to gather all necessary information regarding the incident, while taking all necessary precautions not to interfere with any official investigation.

The Pastor, or his/her designee will contact the New Mexico Conference Communication/Safe Sanctuary Team who will be responsible for dealing with the media. The Pastor or his/her designee (normally the Communications Chair) will be the spokesperson within the congregation. If the alleged abuser is a pastor, the New Mexico Conference Reporting Procedure shall be followed. (See Appendix I) With guidance from a legal professional, the Pastor shall initiate appropriate ministries and actions over a long period to enable healing by all affected persons. Our goal is to always strive to protect the rights of the victim and the accused.