While the Penn State scandal is a wake up call to all organizations–civic, government, commercial, educational and religious–it is especially a challenge for churches, which provide predators an environment of naively trusting children and adults interacting socially–exactly what they need to commit their crimes.
Many Measures Protect the Organization
In the aftermath of such a tragedy, people with good intentions often recommend a wide variety of measures which we assume will help reduce the risk of abuse and protect the children. Sadly, although these measures may help somewhat, they are primarily designed to protect the organization from lawsuits and liability after an incident of abuse has already happened. Such measures may include any or all of the following:
- Background checks of all church workers and volunteers
- Mandatory waiting periods before new members may volunteer
- Installation of video surveillance cameras on the church campus
- Training in Child Abuse Prevention for all employees and volunteers
- Clear reporting requirements first to police and then to supervisors
Again, while these measures demonstrate that the church takes this issue seriously, they do NOT specifically address child safety. For example, a background check on a first time abuser (or one for whom charges were not filed on previous incidents) will come back clean as a whistle even though a clear threat exists. Furthermore, an abuser can “wait out” a six-month waiting period in order to volunteer. Cameras may show the damage and help catch the criminal, but they don’t stop the abuse from happening in the first place. Reporting requirements, if followed, may prevent a “cover up” but they will not prevent the actual abuse. While these measures are certainly worthwhile and deserving of support, they only slightly reduce the risk of actual child abuse.
One Major Measure Protects the Children
If you want to protect the kids so that it doesn’t happen in the first place, you must strictly adhere to the TWO ADULT RULE: “One adult worker is never to be alone with a child.” Never, never, never. This means two adults, preferably non-related, are present to greet kids in Sunday School, when they ride the church bus, when playing in the game room or when they attend a rehearsal.
It’s really a simple rule to understand, but far more difficult to put into practice than most people realize. It can be hard to get ONE adult volunteer to show up early and stay late, much less TWO, but this very simple rule is truly the key to reducing the risk. Sure, someone might reason, “But what if two pedophiles both get assigned to the same Sunday School class?” Yes, it’s technically possible, but by enacting the Two Adult Rule, the probability of this happening is greatly reduced.
Although the Two Adult Rule is not totally foolproof, this much is clear: by strictly adhering to this policy, a church has taken the one measure that will MOST SIGNIFICANTLY reduce the risk of actual child abuse.
Apparently Coach McQueary just happened to walk past the showers one day when Coach Sandusky was alone with a child. Notice that once two adults were present, the tragic situation was discovered. But the same circumstance that accidentally discovered the crime could have intentionally prevented it.
We can no longer afford to hope that the circumstance of two adults being present in the company of a child will happen by chance. We must work harder to make sure it happens all the time. We must be intentional.
Forget “No Child Left Behind.” Remember “No Child Left Alone” in the company of only one adult.