Responding to Child Abuse

Dear Christ Church,

There have been numerous people reaching out to me both in our church and our community who are deeply troubled by the breaking news story of alleged sexual abuse of two children by the owner of a child’s daycare in Queen Village.  My heart has been grieved, as I have walked past that daycare many times.  These things are always terrible, but it hits even harder when this happens so close to home.

Here are a few thoughts about how we should respond:  

1.  Pray for the victims

As we just read at our child dedication this past Sunday, “ Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD.”(Psa 127:3 ESV).  Children are a precious gift from God and this is what gives us confidence to pray to God for there to be comfort and restoration for these young ones.   God is not unmoved by what happened.  He hates all evil and there is nothing more heinous than abusing the life of a vulnerable child.  So church let’s pray to God for him to bring about supernatural healing for these children and their families.  Also, remember that the abuser’s family are victims of his behavior as well.  I don’t know if he molested anyone in his family, but there is no one who is attached to him who is not affected by his choices.  His family must be devastated.  Please keep them in your prayers also.

2. Share the hope of Christ

In the love of Jesus there is healing for the brokenhearted, restoration for the broken spirit and renewal for the broken innocence.  One of my deepest sorrows has been working with victims of sexual abuse and seeing the scars that they bear in their souls.  But one of my deepest joys is seeing the true power of Jesus make people anew.  When terrible things happen like this it can be a natural question to ask, “Why would God let something like this happen?”  I don’t think trying to answer that question though, brings much comfort.  Comfort comes not from knowing the why, but from knowing the who.  I often find myself saying, “I don’t know why God let this happen.  But I do know who God is.  He loves you.  He loves you so much that he died for you.  He is here with you now and he wants to cry with you and be a comfort to you.”  This is not a time for quick and trite answers, but to enter into people’s grief.  Cry their tears with them.  May our hearts be broken by the things that break the heart of God.  But may we also have hope in his love and gently offer that hope through our tears.

3.  Be vigilant with your own children

Most parents spend most of their time talking with their kids about being careful around strangers.  That is a good thing to do.  However, don’t let that make you think that you have your kids covered.  90% of child abuse comes from someone that they know.  How predators operate is by getting close to children and winning the trust of their parents, so that they can be gained access to abuse the child.  Here are a few suggestions about how you can protect your child from sexual predators.

  1. Don’t allow secrets

Predators work by starting to get your children comfortable with keeping secrets.  It might start out as giving candy and saying, “Don’t tell your parents.”  The more your child learns not to tell you things the more of a target they become.  Don’t allow secrets of any kind to be kept, even if they are perfectly innocent.  When we have our kids buy gifts for each other, we explain how that isn’t a secret, but a surprise.  Surprises always get found out.  Secrets don’t and they only hurt.  We talk about this almost on a weekly basis and regularly ask our kids if anyone has asked them to keep a secret.  We don’t make a big deal about it.  We just have it as a regular part of what we talk to our kids about.  So far, we’ve only found out about a lot of little crushes.  But we want to have that rhythm built in.  If anyone says “Don’t tell your parents.  It’s a secret.”  It doesn’t matter if they are family or friends, encourage your kids to tell.  And never ask ask a child to keep a secret.  You might think it is cute to help them sneak a snack or something like that, but your innocent actions are making a vulnerability in them.

2. Teach them about boundaries

Children should not feel ashamed or embarrassed about their bodies.  However, they need to understand that there are boundaries about what is and isn’t private.  Encourage dressing in privacy and taking baths by themselves (unless they are in bathing suits).   

3. Let them make their own boundaries

While we want our kids to be respectful to others it should be totally fine for them to not shake hands, give hugs or kisses to people if they don’t want to.  They need to know that no one can tell them what to do with their body.  Again, even if it is a family member that you totally trust, by forcing your kids to give Aunt So and So a hug, you are teaching them that they need to do things, even if they are uncomfortable.  Predators target kids who have loose physical boundaries and who don’t stop them as they get more and more physical.

 

4. Use correct anatomical language

It might sound cute to talk about winkies, hush hushes, etc…, but you are robbing your child of the ability to know what their body actually is.  Made up body parts teaches dissociation which allows predators to move in.  Also, if your child doesn’t know the names of their body parts, then they can’t tell you if they ever are touched inappropriately.  And studies show that if a child speaks with anatomically correct language, predators are far less likely to target them, because they fear a child that is educated.

5.  Regularly ask questions

Have it be a regular part of your relationship with your kids that you ask them questions that could uncover potential abuse.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Has anyone, even in our family, asked you to do something lately that has made you feel uncomfortable?
  • Has anyone asked you to keep a secret?
  • Do you know that you can tell me anything and that I will always love you?  Is there anything you’d like to tell me?

6. Be a safe person

We all want to think that our children trust us and would tell us immediately if something happened to them.  Sadly, that  is often not the case.  Predators will tell your child that you will get mad at them if they tell you.  They will do whatever they can to drive a wedge between you and your child.  You need to regularly affirm for your child that they can tell you anything and that they will never get in trouble for telling the truth.  Make sure your actions follow through on that.  Our children learn far more from what our actions say than what our words say.  Do whatever you can to build trust with them and to show them that they can feel confident to speak to you. Don’t come down on them for what they might disclose, but celebrate honesty.  

 

7.  Be aware of our church’s child protection policies.

We want to make our Sunday service as safe as possible for each and every one of our children.  

A.  Per PA Law every Christ Church Kid’s volunteer is background checked at the state and federal level and undergoes FBI fingerprinting.  Sadly many places stop simply at this requirement.  However, most of the occurrences of child abuse are from perpetrators who pass a background check.  So while this is a good step to take, by itself it is not adequate.

B.  No Christ Church Kids volunteer is ever to be alone with a child.  Two adults must be present at all times.  This might make bathroom runs more cumbersome and require us to have more adults in each class.  But I’d rather have us work through the headache of finding more volunteers so that this policy can be implemented, than put a child in an at risk situation.

C.  Every child is assigned a badge that has a unique number on it and a card with the corresponding number is given to their caregiver.  Only someone with that card is allowed to pick up the child from Christ Church Kids.  

D.  Our policies can only do so much.  The biggest key to protection is creating a culture where all adults are on alert and on the same page as it comes to our children’s safety.  To that end, we will continue to provide education to each new child care worker, as well as review safety steps with the entire congregation from time to time.  Many eyes make a safe place.  To further help you have conversations with your child, here are some recommended resources from our Christ Church Kids leaders, Steve and Megan Crowell:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1942572301/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_hdrIzbZN1XSF8

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1878076493/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_VdrIzb6Y26AT8

Now, God would not be honored if this post only succeeded in making you fearful.  The Lord must be trusted with our children.  Parenting is a daily exercise of faith.  However, God would also not be honored if we did not vigilantly seek to protect the precious lives that he has given us to raise.   I hope this serves you to know how to pray, share, and be vigilant.
 

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeff

Twitter @Pastor_Jeff

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