Safety Policy FAQ
Q. How is this policy similar/different than the previous Southwest Texas Policy?
A. There are many similarities (45% of policy mandates) in the Rio Texas Conference Policy when compared to the SWTX policy. These include the requirement for all local churches, district, and conference ministries to have a policy that reflects the mandates of the conference policies. Similarities also include language on abuse, reporting, requirements for drivers, and requirements regarding over-night events. There are a few instances (27%) when the language is strengthened- changing "mays" to "shalls," and providing a timeline for screening (every two years). This is done in an attempt to strengthen our policy, to create a policy that is reflective of current Safe Sanctuary guidelines, and to ensure all persons in the bounds of our conference are safe. Finally there are a few new items (27%). This includes the accountability process, and the much needed addition of photography, communication, and online communication guidelines. Again all of this has been done to create a faithful policy that is relevant to the needs of the modern church and that ensures accountability, excellence, and fruitfulness in all that we do as we strive to ensure all persons in the bounds of our annual conference are safe. For an indepth comparison see the Rio Texas Conference analysis and comparison of the safety policies.
Q. How did the task force decide on the expectations in the preliminary policy?
A. Each task force member brought expertise and training to this important conversation. We considered current research on abuse, we spoke with experts in the field, and we prayerfully assessed current expectations and best practices that might ensure the safety of the vulnerable in our conference. We strived for excellence as we listened to God and worked to identify the most faithful way to keep the vulnerable safe. Many of the expectations now in the preliminary policy come from the expectations set by United Methodist Insurance and current SafeSanctuaries mandates.
Q. What if I am leading a Summer camp, retreat, or ministry?
A. The Rio Texas Conference Child, Youth, and Vulnerable Adult safety policy was adopted at annual conference in June 2017 and goes into effect June 2018. Therefore, churches and organizations should have an implementation plan in place for 2018 summer ministries.
Q. How often will Rio Texas Conference Certification Facilitated Sessions be made available? How long will this take?
A. Trusted con Confianza certification facilitated sessions will be offered online 3 times a month. In person trainings will be offered twice a year in each district. Churches or ministries needing additional online or in person sessions can book a training through the Office of Intergenerational Discipleship in the Mission Vitality Center. Individual sessions will be booked based on 2 month lead time, minimum of 10 persons attending, and schedule availability of the facilitators. The trainings will be 2 hours.
Q. How long will it take to move through the application process (Screening and training)?
A. The Rio Texas Conference works alongside Safe Gatherings to screen, train, and track Trusted con Confianza certifications. Approval time will be dependent on how quickly references are received, a background check is processed, and when a person is able to complete the training. While we will work to make this as efficient and as quick as possible it is important that ministry leaders work with us- planning ahead and being intentional in getting persons screened and certified a few weeks before they will be needed to lead ministry.
Q. Why do staff and volunteers need to go through the screening and certification process every two years?
A. This recommendation came in response to much research and conversation with other UMC conferences, insurance companies, and professionals. A 2 year re-check is recommended since it allows time for criminal history to be entered into the system and ensures that we have done our due diligence to confirm that all ministry leaders (Staff and volunteer) have a clear criminal record. This is especially important as it relates to driving records. Screening those in ministry with the vulnerable is required by Texas state law.
Q. Can youth/children under 16 still assist in ministry?
A. We want all persons no matter their age to be able to serve in a variety of ministry roles. The policy does not prohibit youth/children under 16 from serving or assisting. However- it does identify them as vulnerable persons in need of supervision. If you have youth/children under 16 serving they will not count towards your mandated 1:8 certified adult leaders. They can still be trained and invited to assist- just not in a supervisory role.
Q. How does the required 5 year age gap between ministry leaders and participants apply to college students serving with youth?
A. THe 5 year age gap is a standard of the industry as recognized by the United Methodist Church and Discipleship Ministries. This is the minimum standard of our denomination and a standard by which we will be held accountable. Students 18 and older can become certified ministry Adult Leaders and are invited to work as one of the required adult supervisors when they are 5 years older than the oldest participant. To reduce risk, it is recommended that college age Adult Leaders are utilized in ministry with junior high school or elementary school age children. College students can assist with youth less than five years younger, however they will still need 2 unrelated Certified Adult Leaders present.
Q. I have a volunteer who has only visited our church for one month- is there a way to waive the 6-month waiting period?
A. There are multiple stipulations in the preliminary policy to help with this. If a person has not been a member of your church for 6 months you and your pastoral staff might decide to: ask the individual to provide an additional reference that affirms their positive leadership in another place of ministry. confirm previous ministry experience or certification within the Rio Texas Conference.
Q. How will background check results be reported to in the new system?
A. Background check results will be reported to the individual, local church, and conference office via communicaton from SafeGatherings. The local church or leadership ministry can decide how to proceed in response to the background check findings. The conference office and district superintendents are available to help with this process.
Q. How will we handle undocumented volunteers?
A. Persons who do not have the documents needed to complete a background check can serve as an Assistant leader. An Assistant Leader is any person 16 years of age or older who has been through the application and safety certification process, but does not qualify for a background check. Assistant Leaders must work under the Supervision of two Adult Leaders.
Q. Will persons with a current RedStar background check be added to the new system to be notified when it is time for renewal or will they need to be rechecked by the new system?
A. Not at this time. Currently the RedStar background check does not meet the minimum required standards for accurate screening. Therefore persons will need to be screened again. This can be done immediately or by June 2018. Since churches will have a year to complete this task many persons will be in need of a rescreening by June 2018. Churches are therefore encouraged to plan to have all volunteers rescreened by June 2018.
Q. How much will this new process cost our local churches?
A. The minimal background check run by Safe Gatherings for Trusted con Confianze certification includes a scan of the national criminal database, 7-year county of residence, and national and state sex registry. While the total cost for a minimal background check is $15, the conference will subsidize this cost by paying $5 towards this fee. Therefore, the total required by churches is $10/person.
Q. I am a member of a small rural church- does the safety policy apply to my congregation?
A. Yes- All churches, no matter their size, must work to ensure vulnerable persons are safe. Having responsible, screened, trained, and certified adults present is essential to keeping the vulnerable and the adults who work with them safe. This is not a way to limit ministry but it is a way to build ministry that the world can trust. Having a safety policy that is followed by your church says to members and visitors that you take the safety of their children, youth, and vulnerable adults seriously. We want persons in our communities to know we take this seriously and that our churches are safe places where they can bring their children to learn about and experience God’s love. This might require us to do ministry differently. The safety task force team members have served churches small and large, rural and urban. We know that every context for ministry is unique. We are here to help you develop best practices for ensuring vulnerable persons in your congregations are safe. This might mean walking your space to see how the policy can be implemented in your context, or helping create a volunteer recruitment and support plan. A great resource for this work is: Smaller Church Youth Ministry: No Staff, No Money, No Problem! by Brad Fiscus
Q. In lines 38 & 39 of the Rio Texas Conference Child, Youth, and Vulnerable Adult policy, the Abuse section, Letter D reads: "In the case of Abuse allegations, the senior pastor, District Superintendent, and/or Bishop shall be notified immediately. Parents or legal guardians should be notified in appropriate circumstances.” What would prohibit parents and/or guardians from being notified of an allegation?
A. This guideline is written to protect children who are suspected of being harmed by their parents and/or guardians. If a person suspects that a child has or is being abused by a parent or legal guardian then the parent/guardian should not be notified. Parents/Guardians should not be notified if they are connected to the source of the abuse. The intent is to protect the child from their perceived abuser.
Q. Does the Safe Sanctuary policy apply to groups/individuals who are renting space from us?
A. We advise churches and ministry organization to insure that renters provide the same protections as required by the safety policy. For guidance and best practices for working with outside organizations please see the outside group resource at: riotexas.org/saferesources.
Q. Do outside groups working with children, youth, and/or vulnerable adults have to go thru the Rio Texas Conference Trusted con Confianza safety certification process & abide by the same guidelines?
A. Unless churches have a licensed facility, all events held at the church must follow their church's safety policy and thus the conference policy. If churches decide to proceed in another manner they should do so under the advisement of legal counsel. Check out the working with outside groups resource. to help you with this work.
Q. Are Boy Scout Troops, Girl Scout Troops, or other organizations exempt from the Rio Texas Conference policy?
A. If a troup or other organization is a ministry of the church and/or is chartered or sponsored by the church, then they must adhere to the RTC and the local church safety policies. If churches make arrangements for other groups to use their facilities, then they should do so under the advisement of legal counsel. Check out the working with outside groups resource. to help you with this work.