As a conference, we are committed to the physical, emotional and spiritual safety of everyone God has entrusted into our care – including children, youth and vulnerable adults.
As such, we strive to provide educational resources to assist local congregations in the recruitment, training and supervision of leaders who work with these populations.
Safe Sanctuary and Workshop Trainer
“Our research consistently shows that how a church treats children is one of the keys to drawing and retaining new families. Sadly, churches expose themselves to all kinds of potential problems by failing to screen the people who will have contact with and responsibility for the children of strangers during church events. There is a level of trust that newcomers as well as long-time members place in the capacity of a church to provide comprehensive care for their children.” – George Barna
Arkansas Conference Safe Sanctuary® Resolution
Adopted by the 2014 Arkansas Annual Conference
Whereas, 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. God calls us to make our churches safe places, protecting children and other vulnerable persons from abuse. God calls us to create communities of faith where children and adults grow safe and strong. (Adapted from The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, 2008.)
Therefore, the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church hereby pledges to conduct the ministry of Jesus Christ in ways that promote the physical and emotional safety and spiritual growth of our children, youth and our workers with children and youth. In all of our ministries with children and youth, this congregation is committed to demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ so that each child and youth will be “surrounded by steadfast love . . . established in the faith and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal. (Baptismal Covenant II, United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 96)
- we will follow reasonable safety measures when selecting and recruiting workers;
- we will implement prudent operational procedures in all areas of programming and care;
- we will train our workers with children and youth on our procedures and policies;
- and we will have a clearly defined procedure for reporting reasonably suspected incidents of child maltreatment that conforms to the requirements of Arkansas law.
Therefore, recognizing that the programs, needs and resources of local congregations vary significantly and therefore local policies and procedures will and should differ, when local churches are developing Safe Sanctuaries® guidelines, it is recommended that they:
- develop and implement an ongoing education plan for the congregation and its leaders on the reality of child abuse, risk factors leading to child abuse, and strategies for prevention;
- adopt screening procedures (use of application forms, interviews, reference checks, background clearance, and so forth) for workers (paid and unpaid) directly or indirectly involved in the care of children and youth;
- develop and implement safety procedures for church activities such as having two or more non related adults present in classroom or activity; leaving doors open and installing half doors or windows in doors or halls; providing hall monitors; instituting sign-in and sign-out procedures for children ages ten or younger; and so forth;
- advise children and young persons of an agency or a person outside as well as within the local church whom they can contact for advice and help if they have suffered abuse;
- carry liability insurance that includes sexual abuse coverage;
- assist the development of awareness and self-protection skills for children and youth through special curriculum and activities; and
- be familiar with annual conference and other church policies regarding clergy sexual misconduct.
Background Check Forms
In addition to other screening requirements, criminal and maltreatment checks should be run on all staff and volunteers who will be working in direct contact with children, youth or impaired adults.
- A check with a background check service provider or the Arkansas State Police.
- Arkansas DHS has just made some changes to their Free online check as of July 1, 2021. Please look at the following directions and download the forms you will need to give to your volunteers. Maltreatment Forms are the second form of background check that needs to be done because it tells churches if there is an open investigation on a person. In contrast, the background check will report found charges.
- Fill out this form, then sign it in the presence of a notary
- Save notarized document on computer where you can easily find it
- You can also take a clear picture of both documents to upload using mobile device
- Click here to submit for 1 request (possibly 2 if paying) or click here to submit more than 1 request
- Select “None of the above applies, but you would like a registry check” when asked to provide a reason for registry check (this is another step, you are not starting the process over)
- When asked if you are a non-profit, please select “Yes”
- Enter requestor information if applicable (be sure to spell email correctly to ensure requestor receive results)
- Enter applicant information to ensure this information matches the form being uploaded
- Upload the notarized form by selecting “Choose File”
- If your notary uses an embossed notarization, please gently shade over it with colored chalk or lead pencil so that the embossing shows up when you upload the image to the site. Failure to do so could have you repeat the process for that volunteer form
- If notarized form is in more than one attachment (i.e. pictures), you can upload additional pages using additional files
- Click “Submit”
- You should always receive a confirmation with request ID
- In the event that your form is rejected, please be sure to read rejection comments.
- If the staff or volunteer will be working in direct contact with impaired adults, an Adult Maltreatment Central Registry Check is required instead of the Child Maltreatment Registry Check.
Below are the Arkansas laws regarding child abuse and abuse of impaired adults.
For free public access to the Arkansas Code, provided by the Bureau of Legislative Research, click here.
Laws Regarding Child and Adult Maltreatment
There are laws designed to reduce the incidence of child and adult maltreatment and to handle maltreatment allegations when they occur. Staff and all volunteers are expected to abide by all local, state and federal laws. The following information is a summary of some of the pertinent information. When questions arise, the actual statutes should be consulted.
1. Suspected Child Maltreatment
a. Identifying Child Maltreatment
The Arkansas Child Maltreatment Act defines “child maltreatment” as “abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation or abandonment.” Ark. Code Ann. § 12-18-103(6). The law further defines each category of child maltreatment and it should be consulted whenever maltreatment is suspected. See, Ark. Code Ann. § 12-18-103. Examples of child maltreatment include, but are not limited to:
Abuse – extreme or repeated cruelty, conduct that creates a serious risk of death or permanent injury, injury to the child’s detriment, injury at variance with the history given, any non-accidental physical injury including throwing, kicking, burning, biting or cutting a child, striking a child with a closed fist, shaking a child, striking a child on the face or head, interfering with a child’s breathing, pinching, biting or striking a child in the genital area, tying a child to a fixed or heavy object or tying a child’s limbs together, permitting a child to ingest a poisonous or mood altering substance including but not limited to alcohol, illegal drugs, and over the counter or prescription medications in improper amounts, and reporting fictitious illnesses to medical care providers.
Sexual Abuse – attempted, solicited or completed sexual intercourse, deviate sexual activity or sexual contact, indecent exposure, voyeurism, forced viewing or participation in pornography or live sexual activity or prostitution. Sexual contact includes any act of sexual gratification involving the touching, directly or through clothing of the sex organs, buttocks or anus of a person or the breast of a female, or the encouraging of child to touch an offender in a sexual manner.
Neglect – failure or refusal to take reasonable action to prevent abuse, sexual abuse or exploitation of a child when the person knows or has reasonable cause to know that the child is or has been abused; refusal to provide necessary, food, clothing, shelter, medical care or education, failure to appropriate supervise a child such that the child is left alone at an inappropriate age or under circumstances putting the child at risk of harm.
Sexual Exploitation – permitting or encouraging a child to participate in prostitution or obscene photography or filming.
Abandonment – the failure of a parent to provide reasonable support.
Additional information and resources may be found at: www.stoparchildabuse.com.
b. Anyone May Report
Any person may immediately notify the Child Abuse Hotline if he or she has reasonable cause to suspect that child maltreatment has occurred, that a child has died as a result of maltreatment, or if he or she observes a child being subjected to conditions or circumstances that would reasonably result in child maltreatment. Ark. Code Ann. § 12-18-401.
c. Mandated Reporters are Required to Report
Some persons are “mandated reporters” and are required by Arkansas law to immediately notify the Child Abuse Hotline when they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been subjected to maltreatment, has died as a result of maltreatment, or when he or she observes a child being subjected to conditions or circumstances that would reasonably result in child maltreatment. Ark. Code Ann. § 12-18-201, 402.
Mandated reporters may face criminal or civil penalties if they fail to report maltreatment or suspected maltreatment. See, Ark. Code Ann. §§ 12-18-201, 202, 206.
Mandated reporters include, but are not limited to, child care workers, day care center workers, clergy and persons reasonably believed to be clergy, and anyone who is performing his or her employment duties with a church. Ark. Code Ann. § 12-18-402.
Reporting exceptions are made under Arkansas law where clergy have acquired knowledge of suspected child maltreatment through communications required to be kept confidential pursuant to the religious discipline or the denomination, or where there information received was from the alleged offender in the context of a statement of admission. See, Ark. Code Ann. § 12-18-401(29)(A)(B). The Book of Discipline provides that all clergy of The United Methodist Church are charged to maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences, except in the cases of suspected child abuse or neglect or in cases where mandatory reporting is required by civil law.” See also Judicial Council Decision No. 936.
Employers or supervisors of mandated reporters will not prohibit mandated reporters or volunteers from directly reporting to the Child Abuse Hotline, nor will anyone require an employee or volunteer to obtain permission or notify any person before making a report directly to the hotline. Ark. Code. Ann. § 12-18-402.
All persons reporting suspected child maltreatment in good faith are immune from liability, but it is a crime to purposely make a report containing false allegations to the Child Abuse Hotline if he or she knows the allegation to be false. See, Ark. Code Ann. §§ 12-18-107(b), 203.
2. Suspected Maltreatment of Endangered and Impaired Adults
a. Identifying Adult Maltreatment
Applicable laws are also designed to protect adults who cannot, due to physical or mental disability, protect themselves. Under Arkansas law, an “impaired person” is a person eighteen (18) years of age or older who has a result of mental or physical impairment is unable to protect himself or herself from abuse, sexual abuse, neglect or exploitation and as a consequence of this inability to protect himself or herself is “endangered.” Ark. Code Ann. § 5 28-101(7)(A) An “endangered” adult includes, but is not limited to, someone who is found to be in a situation or condition that poses an imminent risk of death or serious body harm and who demonstrates a lack of capacity to comprehend the nature and consequences of remaining in the situation or condition. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-28-101(4).
“Adult maltreatment” means adult abuse, exploitation, neglect, physical abuse or sexual abuse of an endangered or impaired adult. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-28-101; 12-12-1703. The law further defines each category of adult maltreatment and it should be consulted whenever adult maltreatment is suspected. See, Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-28-101, 12-12-1703 et. seq. Examples of adult maltreatment include, but are not limited to, acts against impaired or endangered adults such as:
Abuse – purposeful and unnecessary physical acts that inflect pain or cause injury; demeaning acts that would subject a person to ridicule or psychological injury in a manner likely to provoke fear or alarm; threats; unreasonable confinement intimidation; and punishment with resulting physical harm or mental anguish.
Exploitation – illegal or unauthorized use or management of funds or property, misuse of guardianship or power of attorney for profit, misuse of a person’s benefits or resources.
Neglect – failing to provide necessary food, clothing, shelter, supervision or medical care.
Sexual Abuse– deviate sexual activity, sexual contact, or sexual intercourse with another person who is not the actor’s spouse and who is incapable of consent due to mental or physical disability.
Additional information and resources may be found at https://humanservices.arkansas.gov/divisions-shared-services/aging-adult-behavioral-health-services/adult-protective-services/.
b. Anyone May Report
Any person may immediately notify the Adult Abuse Hotline if he or she has observed or has reasonable cause to suspect that an endangered person or an impaired person has been subjected to conditions or circumstances that constitute adult maltreatment or long–term care facility resident maltreatment or where he or she has reasonable cause to believe that an adult or long-term care facility resident has died as a result of maltreatment. Ark. Code Ann. §12-12-1708.
c. Mandated Reporters are Required to Report
Certain persons are required by law to report adult and long-term-care facility resident maltreatment. Those persons include but are not limited to clergy or others reasonably believed to be a minister or other similar functionary of a religious organization. See, Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-28-110, 12-12-1708(a)(z)-1709. The Book of Discipline provides that all clergy of The United Methodist Church are charged to maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences, except in the cases of suspected child abuse or neglect or in cases where mandatory reporting is required by civil law.” See also Judicial Council Decision No. 936.
All persons reporting suspected adult maltreatment in good faith are immune from liability, but it is a crime to willfully make a false notification to the Adult Abuse Hotline if he or she knows the allegation to be false. See, Ark. Code Ann. § 5-28-110 (b).
Safe Sanctuaries®: The Church Responds to Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation of Older Adults
Joy Thornberg Melton (Author)
In this Safe Sanctuaries® resource, Joy Thornburg Melton, an attorney and a minister, offers valuable, practical advice to help churches reduce the possibilities for abuse and exploitation of elders.
Who are we talking about?
- An adult eighteen (18) years of age or older who is found to be in a situation or condition which poses an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm to that person and who demonstrates the lack of capacity to comprehend the nature and consequences of remaining in that situation or condition.
- A resident eighteen (18) years of age or older of a licensed long-term care facility who is found to be in a situation or condition which poses an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm to that person and who demonstrates the lack of capacity to comprehend the nature and consequences of remaining in the that situation or condition.
- A person eighteen (18) years or older who as a result of mental or physical impairment is unable to protect himself or herself from abuse, sexual abuse, neglect or exploitation and as a consequence thereof is endangered.
To report suspected elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation in Arkansas:
- 1.800.482.8049 – Adult Abuse Hotline
- 501.682.8425 (For suspected elder mistreatment in long-term care facilities, Pulaski County)
- 1.800.582.4887 (For suspected elder mistreatment in long-term care facilities, outside of Pulaski County)
- 1.800.332.4443 (Arkansas domestic violence/battered women hotline)
Arkansas DHS Division of Aging and Adult Services
The mission of the Division of Aging and Adult Services is to promote the health, safety, and independence of older Arkansans and adults with physical disabilities.
National Council For Aging Care
Responding to Suspected Maltreatment
The church should never ignore or tolerate suspected child or adult maltreatment.
A. What to do When Maltreatment is Suspected
Whenever maltreatment is witnessed, reasonably suspected by, or reported to Staff, Adult Volunteers or Youth Volunteers, they should:
1. Treat the allegation seriously and with respect for everyone involved.
2. Immediately take steps to see that any involved Child, Youth or Impaired Adult is in a safe environment. Genuine care and support should be offered to anyone who is suspected to be a victim of maltreatment.
3. Immediately (within 24 hours) make a report to appropriate abuse hotline:
Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-482-5964
Arkansas Adult Abuse Hotline: 1-800-482-8049
The person making a hotline report should document in writing the date and time that the report was made and the name and title of the person from the hotline taking the report.
The church should not require anyone to obtain permission from anyone or to notify anyone at the church before making a report to the child or adult maltreatment hotlines, nor should it prohibit anyone from making a report to the child or adult maltreatment hotlines.
The church should prohibit retaliation against anyone who, in good faith, reports allegations of child or adult maltreatment, or who cooperates with any investigation. Anyone who is found to have participated in retaliatory conduct should be subject to disciplinary action which may include termination.
4. Where the report involves an allegation against Staff or an Adult Volunteer, or is alleged to have occurred during any church sanctioned event, the reporter should immediately (within 24 hours) notify the Program Director or Senior Pastor. The Program Director or Senior Pastor should in turn notify the District Superintendent of the report. If the suspected maltreatment involves the Senior Pastor, the reporter may instead inform the SPRC Chairperson.
If a Program Director, Pastor or any mandated reporter is made aware of a maltreatment allegation, and was not physically present when the hotline report was made by the reporter such that his or her name is also included on the report as a reporter, he or she should also make a hotline report and should document in writing the date and time that the report was made and the name and title of the person from the hotline taking the report.
5. Cooperate fully with any and all investigations conducted by the civil authorities and encourage others to do so where applicable.
6. Where the report involves an allegation against Staff or an Adult Volunteer, or is alleged to have occurred during any church sanctioned event, two persons, including a Program Director, the Senior Pastor and/or the SPRC Chairperson should notify the parents or guardians of the Child, Youth or Impaired Adult that a report was made (unless the accused is the parent or guardian). A pastoral visit may be arranged for family members of anyone suspected to be a victim of maltreatment, if desired.
7. Refrain from any attempt to notify or confront the accused, or to conduct a personal investigation of the alleged maltreatment. The church should respect the capability and authority of the civil authorities such as the Arkansas Department of Human Services, the Office of Long Term Care and law enforcement officials to conduct all necessary investigations and should defer to those entities with respect to investigations of the alleged incident. The persons to whom the report was made, and/or their designees, may, however, review the allegation of any occurrence to determine recommendations for further action, if any, to care for all persons involved and to reduce risk of further occurrence, if applicable.
8. Where the report involves an allegation against Staff or an Adult Volunteer, or is alleged to have occurred during any church sanctioned event, the person or persons who make a hotline report should also fill out an event report noting the time and date of the hotline report and any other pertinent information. The report shall be directed to the church’s legal counsel. The church’s insurance company should also be notified of the allegation.
9. When allegations are made against Staff, the Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) in cooperation with the Senior Pastor where appropriate, shall review the information available and should develop specific recommendations regarding that Staff member as may be appropriate.
10. Treat the person accused of maltreatment with dignity and respect, while taking immediate steps to prevent that person from having contact with Children, Youth and Impaired Adults at any church sponsored event until the civil investigation has taken place and the allegations are resolved.
11. Maintain the confidentiality of the information with respect for the investigation process and privacy of all persons involved.
Staff and Volunteers with information regarding suspected maltreatment should not share information about the allegation with anyone except the appropriate Arkansas protective, regulatory and law enforcement authorities, the Program Director and Pastors of the church. If Staff or Volunteers receive inquiries from any other source, they should simply state that all inquiries should be answered by the church spokesperson.
The Senior Pastor, or other appropriate designee, should be the sole spokesperson for the church in all matters relating to the allegation. All inquiries from church members, other persons or the media should be referred to the Senior Pastor or his or her designee who should respond as may be appropriate under the circumstances.
It’s hard to know what to say when a child, youth or adult discloses a history of abuse to you. Here are some suggestions you can use to talk to the individual.
Remember, when you are talking with a victim, it is NOT your job to investigate the crime. Leave that to the authorities. You are there to provide protection, comfort and a tangible sign of God’s grace to a hurting child of God.
Helpful Responses to Abuse Disclosure
- Tell me more.
- It wasn’t your fault.
- No child ever deserves to be abused.
- I believe you.
- God didn’t cause you to be abused.
- I’m so sorry that happened to you.
- You are not a leper.
- I don’t know what to say or do to help, but here is a name of someone who can.
- God loves you and so do I.
- I will never hurt you.
- You are safe here.
Hurtful Responses to Abuse Disclosure
- What did you do to deserve that?
- Spare the rod, spoil the child.
- No way!
- He/she really didn’t mean to hurt you
- It was for your own good.
- Surely you misunderstood,
- It was all in your imagination.
- Forgive and forget.
- That was then, this was now.
- Get over it.
- This, too, shall pass.
- Did you like it?
- __________would NEVER do anything like that.
- You ought to be ashamed of yourself accusing Mr./Mrs. _______ of such a horrible thing!
- That would never happen here.
- I don’t want to talk about it!
- If we make this public, it will break up your family.
- Honor your father and mother.
- It was God’s will.
- There is a reason God caused you all this suffering.
The needs and resources of local congregations vary significantly and therefore local policies and procedures designed to accomplish these things will and should differ. This checklist and sample policy are intended as a resource for topics to consider when drafting a local church policy, and not as a substitute for reasonable decision making with the guidance of clergy and local legal counsel.
Here are three sample documents that can serve as a guide when writing the section of you Safe Sanctuary® policy that deals with people who are accused and convicted offenders in the life of your congregation.
Is your church writing or revising its Safe Sanctuary® policy?
Here are links to a recommended book and to the General Board of Discipleship page on Safe Sanctuaries®. For a checklist and some sample forms, go to the “Sample Forms” part of this section of our website.
If you could purchase only one book about Safe Sanctuaries®, this is it.
Safe Sanctuaries®: Reducing the Risk of Abuse in the Church for Children and Youth
Joy Thornburg Melton (Author)
This book includes everything your church needs to know about policies and procedures for protecting children, youth and vulnerable adults. The author is an attorney and United Methodist Deacon.
Here is a United Methodist site outlining a variety of information about Safe Sanctuaries®.
- Getting Started
- Annual Conference Initiatives
- Frequently Asked Questions
- If You Are a Victim
- State Sex Offender Registry
- Training Download
The Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church is committed to ensuring that we provide safe places of worship and fellowship to everyone we serve. As part of that commitment we are providing information on Safe Gatherings as a resource for you in this important area.
Safe Gatherings is an online abuse prevention program that screens and educates staff and volunteers to help prevent abuse of children, youth, and vulnerable adults in group settings. When employees and volunteers are trained to identify potential abusers, recognize the signs of abuse, and know how to handle reporting, they are better equipped to prevent abuse.
Upon successful completion of the Safe Gatherings application, background and reference checks, and online training program, each applicant will receive documentation of approval valid for two years, and will have continued access to the online training program for one year.
The price per applicant for the individual church program available through the Safe Gatherings website is $37. This includes processing of two electronic references, a national and county of residence 7-year background check, national and state of residence Sex Offender Registry check, and the 1.5-hour online abuse prevention and boundary awareness training.
Contact the Safe Gatherings team at contact@SafeGatherings.com or 888-241-8258 to provide the contact information for your church or group.
As soon as the church or group is set up within Safe Gatherings, your applicants will be able to follow the links below to begin their Safe Gatherings approval.
Click here to start the Safe Gatherings process – https://safegatherings.com/app/get-started
Click here to login to your Safe Gatherings application after you have completed your registration– https://safegatherings.com/app/login
When applicants follow the link to get started, they will need to select:
-Language Preference (English or Spanish),
-Type of Organization (Church or Faith Based Organization),
-Denomination (Methodist), and
-State where their church is located.
In the next field, they will start typing any part of your organization name, ex: “Asbury”, and a list will appear in a dropdown menu where they will select the organization name where they are seeking approval to serve.
Individuals can login to their account at any time to check the status of their application.
Contact the Safe Gatherings team at email@example.com or 888.241.8258 for additional information or with questions about the program.
Online Training from CongregationU
CongregationU provides more than 45 online courses on practical topics relevant to your church or faith-based organization. Topics include human resources, security and safety, risk management, health and wellness, and more. Several courses are also available in Spanish.
Rooftop pricing enables your church or organization to cost-effectively train everyone in your congregation, including leaders, volunteers and members. Pricing is based on average weekly attendance.
Set Up Account and Purchase Courses
Click here to set up an account and purchase training courses.
Contact the CongregationU team at firstname.lastname@example.org or (866)862-5855 for additional information or with questions.