Conversation Circle Summary: Protecting Our Children
Child Safety in Meetings
Quaker communities offer a valuable opportunity for friendship and mentorship across generations. At the same time, the trust that lies at the heart of friendships needs to be grounded in concern for safety in any multigenerational community where adults are with children. To feel truly welcomed, families need to know that the Meeting honors boundaries, that child safety is discussed, and the Meeting is doing whatever is necessary to create a safe and welcoming space where children and youth can experience community.
View the VIDEO of the March 15 presentation from Juliet Prager and Mark Mitchell staff of the Britain Yearly Meeting Safeguarding Program. The Thursday conversation will be a Sharing Circle of questions, experience, strategies and concerns about child safety policies and practices in Friends’ face to face and online gatherings.
- How can we balance the transformative possibilities of adult-child friendships in Meetings while creating a safety net to ensure that all relationships are healthy and grounded in Spirit?
- How can we create a culture of safety in our Meetings?
- How can meetings welcome every person as a child of God, yet safeguard our children from those who may—inadvertently or intentionally—pass their trauma along to our children?
- What can we learn from Quaker organizations and other churches about protecting children from abuse at the hands of people in the Meeting, especially those who work with our children and youth?
Juliet Prager, deputy recording clerk, Britain Yearly Meeting senior staff with strategic oversight of child safeguarding. Grew up in Quaker meeting. As a parent, Juliet ran children’s religious education in her meeting. She was also a foster parent and has worked in safeguarding programs.
Mark Mitchell, Britain Yearly Meeting staff safeguarding officer, formerly a police detective for the London police force working in child protection.
VIDEO: Part 1: History of Child Safeguarding in Britain.
Making a case for safeguarding policies:
- A persuasive argument for the program is that it is not only about safeguarding children, but also about safeguarding adults who work with children.
- My monthly meeting has been creating child safety policy and process. It was very helpful to be able to say this is about preventing unjust accusation in addition to child safety.
- Have the common reasons for resistance been written up?
- Helps to tell stories about situations in which abuse happened. There are meetings where elderly people have disclosed that they felt afraid coming to meeting all of their lives. Know of pedophiles who have gone to meetings and refused to sign documents as part of grooming a meeting. There are people who have come out of prison having had good experience with Quakers in prison who seek community in meetings. Our prison ministry is important, but robust protections are essential.
- There is a connection between hearing the stories of survivors and Meetings coming to an understanding of the importance of safeguarding.
Welcoming families with robust child safety policies
- The opportunity for close intergenerational relationships is a valuable thing Friends meetings can offer families with children. We need to make sure we keep the door open and child safety policies are one way to help families feel confident in the Meeting’s integrity.
- Making the case for safety as both important for insurance policies, but also way of welcoming and including families and children. Also including those who have been harmed in the past and need formal structures to feel safe going forward.
- See NEYM Rules of Thumb for Community Safety (attached).
- Risk increases when isolation increases,
- Risk increases when the power differential increases,
- Risk increases when accountability decreases.
- It’s important to keep the conversation alive and continue talking about it. It can be difficult and uncomfortable – taboo – when we don’t talk about it regularly.
- Having an annual conversation was the most difficult thing to make happen regularly in my monthly meeting. It seems extremely important to do this so that folks are thinking about these things, and they feel comfortable talking about these issues.
- In a religious context, it is essential to just establish the precedent that a child is never alone with one adult. If we let one person be alone because you trust them, then it becomes difficult to treat a different adult differently. It is important to set patterns that can become practices and ripple out in a good way.
- We should be explicit about the spiritual grounding involved in making these policies. That we can’t assume Friends can see that spiritual grounding without being told.
Safeguarding Policies in Response to Insurance Requirements
- It was an insurance company requirement to have a child safety policy. Friends resisted with remarks like “We’re Quakers, this couldn’t happen here. We know everyone.” Insurance companies regard faith communities as places of risk because of the high level of trust. People feel they know each other.
- The insurance policy coverage was a large part of what got our recent policy approved by the Yearly Meeting. Our meeting just adopted a fingerprinting policy largely because of insurance.
- Safety policies should be written somewhat generally. Anything a meeting enfolds in its policy statement must be followed. If, heaven forbid, an abuse incident happens, the meeting is negligent to the extent that they pledged to follow their own policy and didn’t. There goes your insurance!
- My yearly meeting has a number of people who work at Junior Gathering. We brought the concern for child safety from Junior Gathering and also from stories of other churches. Junior Gathering was required to have insurance, but the new procedures were introduced as a spiritual practice and spiritual concern. FGC Junior Gathering does a good job with child and adult safety.
- Our meeting created child safety policies twenty years ago, but we realize that it is an ongoing process. The policies need to be reviewed and updated.
- Britain Yearly Meeting for Sufferings sets aspirations, including that all Quaker meetings should be loving and inclusive of all ages. We assume people know the spiritual grounding of safeguarding, but it is important to communicate clearly and regularly.
- We are STRIVING for inclusivity and other virtues. I am a fallible human, in my fallibility I am learning and coming closer to fellow humans. It is sometimes when we fall that we learn the most. Meetings are learning the importance of child safety, but we must be tender with each other as we learn.
- Meetings say “We welcome children and abuse survivors” without recognizing that by welcoming registered sex offenders, they ARE excluding children and survivors. But they are moving the burden of exclusion onto the children (and their families) and survivors. “If YOU don’t feel COMFORTABLE at Meeting, that’s up to YOU.”
- At our Meetings, we’ve had different interpretations of what “inclusive” and “ALL are welcome” means on a practical level. With many Friends centering including prior offenders.
- When considering limits to inclusivity, we go back to Quaker basics of truth and integrity. We should only nominate someone for a role if we really know them.
VIDEO: Part 2: How it works now
Britain YM Safeguarding program description and documents: https://www.quaker.org.uk/our-organisation/safeguarding
Mark: Without national encouragement in the UK, safeguarding may be less of a priority, meaning:
- Vulnerable individuals within Quaker communities may be suffering abuse that is still hidden
- Survivors of abuse may not feel safe
- Some Quaker meetings aren’t inclusive
Behavioral Contract between Meeting and the Attender
- We ask all meetings that if an ex-offender attends, they should put a signed contract in place regarding how the individual and the meeting will work together to keep everyone safe. Often that works well – but sometimes the individual chooses to leave the meeting rather than sign.
- Do you have any samples, templates, or other materials about developing such a contract? What should be included?
- Juliet: Each situation is different, so there is no pro forma contract.
- In my experience, getting Monthly Meetings to agree to that process (even when the effort to do so is started within the Monthly Meeting itself, rather than from outside at the Yearly Meeting level.) Is very fraught and likely to bend in the offender’s favor.
- Our meeting drew up a contract with a pedophile involving not having direct interactions with children, having a “buddy” that accompanied them at all times when participating in meeting events, and having a care committee to check in with.
- North Pacific Yearly Meeting has examples of agreements/policies concerning preventing abuse from NPYM Monthly Meetings. Results have been limited.
Board of Trustees
- What is a Board of trustees in the context of Quaker Meetings? Meetings and churches are seen as charities with a relationship to the state. Legislation requires every charity to have a board of trustees responsible for overseeing organizational management, finance, employee and safety matters. Trustees hold the role for 3 – 6 years. It is a way of releasing the rest of the meeting from responsibility for administrative details.
Spiritual Grounding of Safeguarding
- Safeguarding can be helpful to ground our spirituality.
- A Quaker Ministry on Sexual Abuse and Interpersonal Violence: An Historical Notebook from University Friends Meeting, Seattle, 2002 to 2013 (339 page PDF) focused on adult survivors of abuse, but there are connections between our concerns for children — preventing abuse — and for survivors of past abuse including not related to a Quaker Meeting. One section at the beginning concerns the “Quaker Spiritual Base for this Ministry.”
- All of us have a blemished past, all are capable of harm. Not all blemishes are equal. You can’t welcome everyone the same way.
- What does it mean to do justice? How can we hold someone accountable in a firm, but loving way for sexual coercion or abuse of vulnerable Friends?
- When you invite chickens and foxes, you end up with foxes. How do we welcome the foxes while protecting the chickens? Meetings need to balance a welcoming approach with robust measures to keep people safe from abuse. It’s difficult because we are all to some degree foxes. And chickens.
- Friend speaks my mind. The world would be SO much easier if we were only one or the other.
Withholding and giving consent:
- Do meetings teach lessons or read books about consent for touch?
- Children’s books are important (see resource list) but it’s also important to talk with the kids. It’s hard at the Yearly Meeting level, because so little time is spent with the kids.
- We had a situation in our meeting where parents would let their children into the First Day School room early when there was only the teacher setting-up all alone. I told parents that we couldn’t continue and then sent email to everyone explaining why.
- At one point, my son was going to do an internship with a man who expected to have time alone with him in an animation studio. I said no even though the person had a background check; it was uncomfortable and feelings may have been hurt, but I did it because I have experience in these issues and was clear it wasn’t okay.
- If we use background checks, are we excluding people who have any blemish, regardless of the nature of their crime? That would also exclude people who are undocumented.
- It is worth asking more detailed questions. If we use background checks, find out which databases are involved.
- Background checks can exclude those who are “dead named” (referred to by prior legal names.) It can cause great harm.
- Mark: In the UK, the vision is that every Quaker Community will be genuinely loving and inclusive of all ages. In our background checks, we look at why the person was arrested or charged. We make decisions based on the nature of the crime. The fact that the government led investigation of child safeguarding in all faith communities provided impetus for meetings to take this on.
Child safety practices in a small meeting, how to get started?
- For a small meeting, a good way to start is to keep the policy simple, one or two pages of core principles and practices. Build on the policy as needed. Ask for approval of the core policy from the Meeting for Business.
- The Durham Friends Meeting Safety Policy can be found on this page of our website: https://www.durhamfriendsmeeting.com/about-4-1. Sections 3.1 and 4.1 have material that could be used to create a one page starting point for a small meeting safety policy.
- Multi-layered Approach to Safety – no one layer will protect everyone.
- Two adults at all times – for the safety of kids, and the adults who work with them
- Background Checks – Because repeat offenders, while NOT the most common risk, often seek out religious groups as access points to children.
- Culture of Consent – Asking before hugging children, with the explicit permission for them to say “No!” and have that be okay.
- Clear lines of communication – Who does a child, or an adult, talk to when something feels wrong or when something has happened?
- Start with having at least one person in each class who is background checked. Needs to be renewed regularly. Ask the yearly meeting for help with background checks, identifying the most appropriate type of check, who should have background checks, etc.
- When my son was young, I was a member of a very small meeting where there were no safety guidelines and only one person wanted to teach. We started by having the door open regularly so that the teacher was not alone with the one child. It worked well and my son got one on one attention that he really needed.
- Darkness to Light curriculum is an online 2-hour, $10 training opportunity that is really well done and effective: https://www.d2l.org/education/stewards-of-children/
- Mim shared her puppet, Pickles the Gorilla, and talked about program at Ben Lomond for program “Where Two or More are Gathered,” a great program for all the dimensions related to small meetings; Mim told a story about little girl coming up to Pickles and giving kiss on forehead to baby doll and Pickles would ask and the girl would listen to the baby doll and give consent or not. “No answer means no.” You can tell if you are furthering a foundation that has already been established in a family or other place. Important that we are one more way of confirming what children know from other places. That really gives them another layer of confidence. Maybe it would be good to reenact this story with Pickles as a video to share.
- See the Friends Journal Article that includes a list of basics to include in a policy: https://www.friendsjournal.org/friendship-and-care/
VIDEO: Part 3: Where Next?
- Juliet: If I’m talking to a group of people, I start by acknowledging that each person has their own experience and ask people to respect that. Lack of safety is part of all of our lives. Safeguarding is an ordinary thing that we can do together.
- To some degree we are all foxes and all chickens. We have shame from different ways we have been in the world. Being strategic about safeguarding is a way of addressing the different parts of ourselves.
- If we as a community pride ourselves on how we welcome our foxes, then what message are we sending to our community members about what part of them is valued in the meetings? Would it not teach our children that they cannot bring their vulnerability to Quaker meeting? Sex offenders should not be welcomed without a serious and comprehensive risk assessment.
- Mark: In our Safeguarding program, risk assessment takes into account the known circumstances. We may allow person to attend midweek meeting for worship when no children are present. They may sign a contract with the meeting agreeing never to accept an invitation to visit a family where children are present. These arrangements are confidential and information is only shared on a need to know basis. Accountability for the contract is monitored by a group of people. The contract is regularly reviewed and robustly dealt with if areas are broken.
- Ideally, a Quaker community would have enough small enough communities within the larger group, that known offenders can be welcomed in spaces where there are no children.
- It is a kindness to a sex offender to keep them out of situations where they might be challenged or at risk of harming someone. It helps them be their best selves. That is inclusivity.
- There was a registered sex offender in our Meeting for 7 years. It was hard. Looking back, we realized that of us were in a trauma response.
- We need to recognize that most of those who cause harm never become registered sex offenders. Placing boundaries on what behavior we are willing to accept, and holding each other accountable, is something we should apply to a much wider circle than those who have been convicted.
- What if boundaries and accountability were applied to all of us? Normalizing that, might make it less hard to do it in unusual ways for people who have caused unusual harm.
When there is an abuser in the Meeting:
- Often, the abuser is a respected, weighty Friend. It’s common to feel, “I NEVER would have thought that about them”.
- Because of confidentiality, Friends sometimes don’t share essential information that parents and teachers need to know. It is very difficult and frightening to deal with a known abuser in the meeting.
- A big sticking point in our yearly meeting is about information sharing and making sure everyone is clear about what needs to be shared to keep people safe.
- A couple years ago our Meeting had a convicted offender and put a plan in place to protect children. We benefited from talking about it ahead of time. Ministry and Counsel Committee talked to every person in meeting individually about that the person wanted to come to meeting and shared what the rules were. The person was ok with everyone knowing.
- A man convicted child sexual abuse came to our meeting asking to participate. He was forthright and open about his conviction. With his consent, the Meeting held threshing meetings with adults, and kept having them until everyone had time to work through their concerns and their pain.
- If someone is a convicted sex abuser, it is a kindness to support them to be truthful and open, and not to put them in situations where they are tempted to re-offend.
- Policies for dealing with an abuser are great, but, when we don’t know, then it is really important to have a safety policy and practices in the meeting.
- Friends Journal, Safety in Meetings, March 2022
- Safety First: Why You Absolutely Can’t Skip Background Checks, Bob D’Ambrosio, childrensministry.com
- Developing a Child Abuse Prevention Policy: A Monthly Meeting Resource, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
- Child Safety Policy, Durham Friends, NC
- Stewards of Children® Prevention Training, Darkness to Light
- Northern Yearly Meeting Children and Youth Policy Manual, NYM Children and Youth Committee.
- Safeguarding, Britain Yearly Meeting
- Safe Quaker Community, Australia Yearly Meeting
- Safe Communities: united to end child sexual abuse
- NEYM Child Safety for Virtual Youth Programs ,New England Yearly Meeting
- Guidance and Practices for Online Youth Gatherings when participants are under the age of 18, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
- I Said No! A kid-to-kid guide to keeping private parts private, Kimberly King (ages 6-9)
- No Means No! By Jayneen Sanders, Illustrated by Cherle Zamazing (ages 4-6)