1-01 Child Abuse and Neglect, Child Sexual Abuse, Prevention Policies

SECTIONS ON THIS PAGE

  • Ethical and Legal Responsibilities to Report Known/Suspected Abuse
  • Introducing Two Main Research Sources for State-by-State Laws on Abuse and Violence
  • Child Welfare Information Gateway
  • RAINN State Law Database
    • Researching Laws and Definitions/Descriptions for a Single State, the District of Columbia, or US Territory
    • State Law Report Generator: Comparing Laws for Multiple Entities on the Same Topics
  • Church Law & Tax: Top 5 Reasons Religious Organizations Go To Court
  • Book Review: The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide, by Boz Tchividjian and Shira Berkovits
  • Related Resources from GRACE and New Growth Press

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Ethical and Legal Responsibilities

to Report Known/Suspected Abuse

Many situations of spiritual abuse also involve issues of child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and other forms of sexual misconduct. If there is an authoritarian and hierarchical approach to leadership in the church or organization, that is often accompanied by an us-versus-them attitude that refuses to take internal problems to outside authorities. Leaders willfully disobey the law by failure to follow mandatory clergy reporting laws on child abuse – as if being a saint means we don’t have to be citizens any longer.

Reporting of known/suspected crimes is an ethical obligation for all in ministry, regardless of whether your state has a clergy mandatory reporting law or not.

Refusal by leaders to follow the law and ethical responsibilities in dealing with known/suspected sex crime perpetrators can mean more potential victims, and those violated have to deal with consequences of that for the rest of their life. The leaders also put themselves at risk of criminal charges, as well as put themselves and the church, ministry, or organization at risk of civil liability and lawsuits for failure to take action and/or attempts to cover up the situation and “handle it in-house.”

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Introducing Two Main Research Sources

for State-by-State Laws on Abuse and Violence

There are two main sources to access legal information about mandatory reporting laws in general (including for child abuse), clergy mandatory reporting laws specifically, and related issues. They are:

Child Welfare Information Gateway.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network).

These databases overlap on most topics related to abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse of minors – such as mandatory reporting laws in general, clergy mandatory reporting laws specifically, age of consent, etc. RAINN addresses also other demographics and topics. Where there research topics overlap, these organizations offer some similar information, but in different formats. So, check out each of these to see which works better for the type of research you want to do. (Note also that both sites periodically update their databases with the most recent legal code information, but there is a lag time from when states update their legal codes after their legislative session ends.)

NOTE: I will put general information and instructions for both organizations on this page, and will link back to them on other pages in this website where one or both sources address the specific topics under consideration there.

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Child Welfare Information Gateway

The Child Welfare Information Gateway is the best source I’ve found for finding the most current information on state-by-state definitions and laws related to the broad range of concerns related to child abuse, neglect, child sexual abuse, and mandatory clergy reporting of known/suspected abuse. It is provided as a service by the Children’s Bureau and the Administration for Children and Families of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

CATEGORIES. The Child Welfare Information Gateway has a portal page with the option of accessing PDFs of important national and state-by-state resources on relevant topics related to minors. Under this State Resources tab are ways to access information in four sub-categories:

  1. State and Tribal Child Welfare Policy.
  2. Child Abuse and Neglect. (This section includes checkboxes and links to access such topics as: Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect, Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect, and Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect.)
  3. Child Welfare.
  4. Adoption.

TOPICS. The topics most relevant to this website is likely the set found in the Child Abuse and Neglect category. Those topics are:

  • Child Witnesses to Domestic Violence
  • Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Cross-Reporting Among Responders to Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Definitions of Domestic Violence
  • Definitions of Human Trafficking
  • Disclosure of Confidential Child Abuse and Neglect Records
  • Establishment and Maintenance of Central Registries for Child Abuse Reports
  • Immunity for Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Parental Drug Use as Child Abuse
  • Penalties for Failure to Report and False Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings
  • Review and Expunction of Central Registries and Reporting Records

DIRECTIONS. To access your topics of research interest, first go to the State Statutes Search page.

  • Section #1 – SELECT A STATE – Click on one state, or use Control + click for multiple states, or click the All States option. (It seems to work better to select one or a few states.)
  • Section #2 – SELECT A TOPIC – Click the checkbox(es) for the topic(s) of interest.
  • Section #3 – BEGIN YOUR SEARCH – Click GO!

The results will show information, including legal statues citations, on your topic. If you selected multiple states/territories, the information appears in a complete “chunk” for one legislative entity, then for the next — not side-by-side as with the RAINN State Law Report Generator.

To locate the full text of the law, try this: Copy-and-paste the line with the law code numbers and state into your search engine. It should work to find the full text in that state’s or territory’s legal code, but may not work due to abbreviation differences, out-of-date information, etc.

Also available from Child Welfare Information Gateway are several PDF documents dealing with child abuse, mandatory reporting issues, etc. These and other reports, fact sheets, and documents are noted in side navigation bars throughout the site. (There will be overlap among some of these documents, but particular ones may be more useful to specific audiences.)

Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect. Definitions of child abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse. It also includes sections on standards of reporting, persons responsible for the child, exceptions, and state-by-state listings of relevant laws (state statutes current as of April 2016).

Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect. Professionals and other person required to report abuse/neglect, institutional responsibility to report, standards for making a report, privileged communication issues, including the reporter’s name and disclosure of identity, and state-by-state listing of laws (state statutes current as of August 2015).

Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect. Introduction, privileged communications, and state-by-state listing of laws (state statutes current as of August 2015). Especially note the important comparison chart on page 3 that categorizes how each state deals with the combination of clergy mandatory reporting and “clergy penitent privilege.” This is where there MAY be specific categories of communications between clergy members and congregants that are covered by confidentiality. Find out the specifics from the laws in particular states, as claiming a “penitent privilege” is not necessarily a defense for failure to report child abuse.

Penalties for Failure to Report and False Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect, with state statutes current as of August 2015.

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RAINN State Law Database

RAINN is the acronym for Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. I found RAINN’s article from October 2015 on Understanding the Laws in Your State helpful for its background on how the database system got put together, who is involved in that project, and why.

TOPICS. You can search their State Law Database by state or U.S. territory for laws on eight topics in seven topics. (It is somewhat confusing that Mandatory Reporting includes two sub-categories on the same search line: reporting abuse of children, and of those who are elderly/disabled. However, these are separated out in the state findings and in search results.)

  1. Rape and Sexual Assault Crime Definitions.
  2. Consent – determining consent.
  3. Mandatory Reporting – known or suspected abuse (1) of children, (2) of elderly or disabled.
  4. Criminal Statutes of Limitations.
  5. Termination of Rapists’ Parental Rights – limits on rapists’ parental rights.
  6. Confidentiality Laws – confidentiality protections.
  7. HIV/AIDS Testing of Sex Offenders – HIV/AIDS testing requirements.

GENERAL DIRECTIONS. The RAINN State Law Database is located at the top of the Public Policy & Action page. It gives you three options for accessing data.

Option #1. Laws in Your State — enter your state (D.C., or territory) or zip code, then hit enter, or click on “Find Your State.”

Option #2. US Map — click on your state, D.C., or territory.

Option #3. Compare States — click on the link below the “Laws in Your State” state/zip code box.

SPECIFIC DIRECTIONS for each of these options is given below.

Please take note of the legal disclaimer and permission policy at the bottom of each state/territory page, and adhere to RAINN’s requirements.

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Researching Laws and Definitions/Descriptions for a Single State, the District of Columbia, or US Territory

Option #1 and Option #2 will take you to the information for a single state, the District of Columbia, or US territory (Guam, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands). There you will find links to details in seven categories for states and the District of Columbia, or six categories for territories (Termination of Rapists’ Parental Rights is not included).

  1. Rape and Sexual Assault Crime Definitions.
  2. Consent – determining consent.
  3. Mandatory Reporting – known or suspected abuse (1) of children, (2) of elderly or disabled.
  4. Criminal Statutes of Limitations.
  5. Termination of Rapists’ Parental Rights – limits on rapists’ parental rights.
  6. Confidentiality Laws – confidentiality protections.
  7. HIV/AIDS Testing of Sex Offenders – HIV/AIDS testing requirements.

Each category has a link (two links for Mandatory Reporting) that takes you to a sub-page for the information from that state, the District of Columbia, or US territory.

The information on the topic is set up in an accessible Question/Answer chart format, typically with bullet-point lists of essential details in the answer column and key terms in boldface type. For some topics, the Question/Answer charts are slightly different. The section boxes are collapsed, and you click on the plus sign (+) by the question to expand the box to show the answer.

For most topics, the statutory citations from which the points are drawn appear either immediately after a point in the text, or at the very bottom of the chart.

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State Law Report Generator: Comparing Laws for Multiple Entities on the Same Topics

Option #3 takes you to a page with two search engines: (1) the State Law Report Generator (at the top of the page) and (2) the State Laws by Topic search (in the mid-section of the page).

(1) The State Law Report Generator allows you compare a set of legislative entities and topics.

  • Pick up to three states or territories or the District of Columbia — and up to two of the eight topics available (see the seven-point list above, with Mandatory Reporting having two topics instead of one).
  • Click “Submit.”
  • A chart appears, with the questions on the left and side-by-side answers of the chosen legislative entities in columns to the right.

For instance, I selected three states on just the one topic of “Mandatory Reporting: Children.” The chart included the following questions:

  • Who is required to report?
  • When is a report required and where does it go?
  • What definitions are important to know?
  • What timing and procedural requirements apply to reports?
  • What information must a report include?
  • Anything else I should know?
  • Statutory citation(s).

I know this is a lot of detailed information. However, that gives you a checklist for whether you as an individual or your institution has done due diligence to comply with local abuse reporting laws in a complete, correct, and timely way. If it has not yet been done, the individual(s) responsible need to do so!

(2) The State Laws by Topic list allows you to search a separate database that compares Mandatory Reporting: Children. For best results, I would suggest setting the “Show Entries” box at the top to 100 (not 50). That will let you see a line for each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands — 54 lines in all.

Click on the “+” sign to expand the entry to see detailed information on three questions. (Note that this is not as detailed as the questions covered in the State Law Report Generator above.)

  • A bullet list for Who is required to report? This will list the various types of people and their occupations who are required by state law to report known/suspected sexual abuse.
  • A bullet list for What timing and procedural requirements apply to reports? This is important to note, because state legal codes may require that the person who knows/suspects/witnesses abuse is the only one able to file the report and it cannot be passed off to a supervisor or assigned to a subordinate. Also, states may have time limits, such as within 24 hours of finding out about a situation of abuse.
  • The Statutory Citation with the penal code location numbers for the specific state laws. (Copy-and-paste the line with the law code numbers and state into your search engine to locate the full text of the law.)

Click on the “-” minus sign to collapse a state’s data. (You can leave multiple boxes open simultaneously, if desired.)

This approach has the advantage of being able to switch quickly among various legislative entities to reflect on big-picture patterns, or other research questions that require looking at a larger (or entire) range of US data rather than just one state, or up to three states.

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Church Law & Tax

Top 5 Reasons Religious Organizations Go to Court

Child sexual abuse is consistently a top legal problem for US churches.

For each of the five years from 2011 through 2015, the largest percentage of lawsuits filed against churches had to do with sexual abuse of a minor. Here is an article from Church Law & Tax on that topic, by Attorney Richard Hammar: The Top 5 Reasons Religious Organizations Went to Court in 2015.

This organization has been updating information on lawsuits annually with an infographic. Since it takes time to process these statistics, the new infographic is usually posted mid-year/June, so check their search function to find the most recent edition.

Here is their infographic for Top 5 Reasons in 2015, and the revised infographic for 2016 — showing this to be the first time sexual abuse of a minor had been #2 on the list instead of #1 since at least 2011.

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Book Review: The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide,

by Boz Tchividjian and Shira Berkovits

A key component in a system of resources on child sexual abuse

for policy makers, survivors, educators, and advocates.

By Brad Sargent with input from Julie Anne Smith.

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This article was originally posted August 21, 2017, on my futuristguy blog, and as a guest post at Spiritual Sounding Board.

Spiritual Sounding Board was invited to participate in the Litfuse “blog tour” for the recently released Child Safeguarding Policy Guide. They asked us to post a one-paragraph summary of our overall response to this resource book, so that could be used as an excerpt on other sites. Here is what I wrote:

How will our church serve those who’ve suffered the harm of childhood sexual abuse, and seek to prevent it from happening to others? On this difficult but foundational issue of human dignity and care, will we choose conscience and compassion – or corrosion and complacency? The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide and the range of other resources from GRACE equip us with clear definitions, well-organized knowledge, and practical skills to follow a right and righteous path on these global problems of violence and abuse.

Available reviews of the Policy Guide share about its concepts and content from a variety of angles. Already posted on Amazon are great summaries, detailed insights from church leaders, poignant personal accounts from survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Litfuse Publicity Group has review excerpts and links to full posts, and New Growth Press, which published this book, has additional endorsements.

In this post, I will give a brief preview of key features from a systems perspective, and list other resources from GRACE and New Growth Press. In a follow-up post, I will add my thoughts on the big picture of systemic abuse, why we’ve needed a set of resources to deal with it, and share some personal perspectives on how the Policy Guide and other books produced by GRACE represent answers to some longstanding prayers.

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The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide – A Brief Review

The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide

The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide was written by Basyle (Boz) Tchividjian of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) and Shira M. Berkovits of Sacred Spaces. They have provided us with an accessible, practical, and manageable systems approach for prevention of child sexual abuse in churches and ministries, and ministry intervention and advocacy where, sadly, abuse has already occurred. Here are some points of analysis about the content, how it’s organized, and ways that it is practical.

1. Multiple Perspectives

The Policy Guide addresses a wide range of core policy-related issues, covering them from theological, legal, psychological, pastoral, social, and organizational perspectives. It also includes a number of personal stories as case studies, and the endnotes share a wealth of additional resources for follow-up study. This reflects a systems approach in analyzing what happens with child sexual abuse, and the many different individuals and institutions that can be affected by its traumatizing effects. Using multiple perspectives gives us the equivalent of a “spiritual MRI.” In other words, it composites a three-dimensional picture from which we can then best understand the people, actions, structures, and impacts interwoven in the situation—and minister accordingly.

2. Straightforward and Compassionate Tone

The material is presented with a straightforward, matter-of-fact tone that is compassionate, solutions-focused, and complies with both ethical and legal mandates. Practical suggestions what-TO-do and what-NOT-to-do is interwoven throughout. All of this is crucial on a topic like sexual abuse where guilt, shame, and fear have tended to dominate discussions—or even to silence people from disclosing or discussing it at all.

3. Excellent Content Accessibility

The Policy Guide is highly-organized and user-friendly for people who best process information in a diversity of ways. Overall, I find it to be well laid out, with a good use of graphics, charts, box texts, lists, and other visual cues. These are crucial features in a training manual, especially when the content is already intense and the layout could easily be too dense to absorb. (As a training curriculum writer and formerly a publication typographer, these relevant concerns are always on my radar.)

The design makes the material more digestible, the teamwork applications do-able, and ultimately, the policy guide achievable. For instance:

  • The material has been broken down into reasonable “chunks” of accessible information with immediate application. There are clear definitions, and concise information frequently appears in bullet-point lists. There is no index, but the table of contents and chapter subheads are developed well, and that will make it easier to reference and access details.
  • The regular “Policy Worksheets” break down the work into do-able bits, with practical fill-in blanks, charts, discussion questions, etc. This makes it so teams can also build a policy from scratch by working through that the next piece together.
  • These Worksheet sections guide readers through applying the concepts in that chapter, offer sample policy statements, and give important prompts when there may be a need to adjust policy drafts with any necessary legal requirements by which they are bound in their state.

4. Part of a Holistic Set of Resources

This particular book is primarily for those charged with organization policies, implementation, and evaluation. However, GRACE and New Growth Press have published numerous companion pieces. Some are more for those in responsible roles as leaders, teachers, and counselors. Others will reach the hearts of survivors, their loved ones, and their advocates. Still others will equip activists who are called to challenge and change systems to bring hope, justice, and healing. For a listing of these materials and other relevant articles, see section that follows.

Thank you, Boz Tchividjian and Shira Berkovits, for producing this guide our communities have needed—the work you and the Child Safeguarding team invested is an answer to decades of prayer!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary eBook copy of The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide for Churches and Ministries from Litfuse in exchange for writing a review. I also purchased the full Child Safeguarding Package from the publisher, New Growth Press, which included a print copy of the Policy Guide plus the four GRACE mini-books.

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Related Resources from GRACE and New Growth Press

Since we’re dealing with organizational systems and the potential intervention and prevention of systemic abuse, we need a variety of materials. We need policy resources for those in roles of influence within churches, ministries, and other kinds of agencies. We need personal resources to comfort and encourage survivors and their loved ones. We need professional resources for pastors, educators, professors, counselors, and others who will have the opportunity to serve survivors and those connected with them.

Thankfully, GRACE and their publishing partner, New Growth Press, have produced a series of materials for a range of audience needs and types of readers.

Introductory Videos (both posted 2016)

How Can Your Church Become A Safer Place for Children? [2.75 minutes]

How Safe is Your Church? [3.5 minutes; featuring Boz Tchividjian]

Child Safeguarding Materials, Certification Program, Training Course

The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide for Churches and Ministries, by Basyle (Boz) Tchividjian of GRACE and Shira M. Berkovits of Sacred Spaces.

The Child Safeguarding Package (a copy of the Policy Guide, plus one of each of the mini-books).

GRACE’s Child Safeguarding Certification program.

No More Silence: An interview with Boz Tchividjian of G.R.A.C.E., by Rachel Held Evans (March 18, 2013).

On-the-job training isn’t working, by Boz Tchividjian (May 30, 2014; Religion News Service). Background on the then-forthcoming training program and curriculum materials.

BTS and GRACE Offer Historic Seminary Course on Child Sexual Abuse (April 2017; Biblical Theological Seminary press release).

Mini-Books

These are the length of about one regular book chapter, in a brochure size (4.25″ x 7.5″). 

Caring for Survivors of Sexual Abuse, by Basyle Tchividjian and Justin S Holcomb (2017; 24 pages).

Protecting Children from Abuse in the Church, by Basyle Tchividjian (2013; 32 pages).

The Spiritual Impact of Sexual Abuse, by Diane Langberg (2017; 24 pages).

What the Bible Says to Abuse Survivors and Those Who Hurt Them, by Victor Vieth (2017; 24 pages).

Related Books from New Growth Press

Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, by Diane Langberg (2015).

Rid of My Disgrace: Small Group Discussion Guide, by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb (2015).

God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect their Bodies, by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb (2015). Illustrated book for children.

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