Protecting God’s Gifts: Congregations Prepare for New Child Protection Laws

Barbie Fischer

As Pennsylvania rolls out new Child Protection laws, Franconia Mennonite Conference is working to support congregations and leaders in the updating of their child protection/safety policies. In this effort, Franconia and Eastern District hosted a Child Protection Seminar held at Towamencin Mennonite Church on May 13th and May 20th. The seminar enabled pastors, associate pastors, youth leaders, along with children and family ministry directors to learn about the new Pennsylvania Child Protection laws that are now in place to help preserve the family.

“We need to set high standards as communities of faith for creating safe spaces for our children to grow in the image of God. The state is setting certain standards for us. This is an opportunity to be a witness in our communities for the value we place on our children and youth,” said John Stoltzfus, conference youth minister.

Child Protection 6-4-15 webThe seminar was presented by Mandy Mundy, from the Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA) in Bucks County. She reviewed briefly how the new child protection laws came to be, and gave an overview of what the laws say. She explained what and who a mandated reporter is. Noting that the new laws expand who is required to be a mandated reporter. For the Conferences and congregations this includes all pastors, credentialed leaders, and paid and unpaid staff who are responsible for children during a scheduled church activity or function. This would include nursery/childcare volunteers, and youth sponsors for all church related activities/events.

Mundy also explained that “a mandated report is required to report suspected child abuse.” She briefly explained what is meant by “suspected” and the information a mandated reporter would need to make a report. Participants were reminded that a report does not mean a child will be removed from their home. Mundy also reminded participants that child abuse is not just physical or sexual but also mental and emotional. Some of the definitions of child abuse have also changed with the new laws and those changes were noted in the presentation.

Following that, Mundy reviewed the basic process for reporting suspected child abuse. She also discussed with the participants who under the new laws would be required to have background checks (referred to as clearances).

At the end of the seminar participants were given an opportunity to share what is already in place at their churches and what changes they have been making to address the new laws. Many ideas were exchanged and discussed.

Stoltzfus stated, “Attending this seminar made it clear to me that while many of our churches already have good child safety policies in place, we also have much work to do in updating our policies to meet new state requirements and in better aligning our vision of who we are called to be as a people of God with our practices of creating safe spaces for our children.”

Franconia Conference continues to work to aid congregations in this transition with the new laws and will be posting a page on the website dedicated to Child Protection. On this page the Conference plans to post the updated Conference Child Protection Guidelines and looks forward to being able to provide sample forms for congregations. If your congregation is willing to share your policy or forms for others to use as an example please contact Barbie Fischer at BFischer@FranconiaConference.org. Stay tuned to Intersectings for the announcement of when the new Child Protection Page is up and running.

To download the slides presented by Mundy at the Seminar click here.

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