Does a mission agency really need a Child Safeguarding Team?

Contributed by Rachel Spencer, World Team missionary serving in France

Biblical foundations

The safety and protection of the children around us is firmly rooted in an understanding of biblical justice. We can define biblical justice as the care and protection of the most needy and vulnerable in society through sharing resources, resisting oppression, and standing up for the rights of all people. This justice is based upon the knowledge of God, who created each individual with equal worth and dignity and shows no partiality in his love and care (see Exodus 22:21-27, Isaiah 10:1-4, Proverbs 31:8 and Luke 4:16-21).

Children have this God-given value and dignity but are among the vulnerable members of our society, often unable to protect themselves from those who would harm them or stand up for themselves when harm occurs. While it is difficult to find exact statistics, it is estimated that around the world, 3 in 4 children suffer physical or psychological abuse, and 25% of women report having suffered sexual abuse in childhood. Clearly, children are among those needy and vulnerable people whom the Lord asks us to protect and stand up for.

Does this happen in the Christian world?

It would be nice to think that such abuse couldn’t happen within Christian communities. Unfortunately, we don’t have to look far in the media to find cases of significant child abuse within churches, Christian schools and other Christian organizations. We live in a fallen world, and child abuse can occur anywhere. Furthermore, even a child whose family works with a Christian organization doesn’t usually spend their life in a Christian bubble; they may attend public schools, belong to sports teams, or just drop by their neighbors’ homes to play with their friends. Abuse can take place in any of these contexts and can, sadly, occur even within a Christian home.

There are also ways in which missionary life can, in fact, increase the risk to children. Crossing cultures brings certain risks: not speaking the language (and therefore being unable to communicate ‘no’ or ask for help), being unfamiliar with social cues and norms, and different and unknown expectations around children’s behavior can all contribute to this risk. Missionary families, especially in times of transition, live with high levels of stress and uncertainty and often have to deal with loss, frustration, and feelings of helplessness, all of which can put a strain on family life.

Finally, missionaries may often find themselves being sought out to help in situations in which local children are victims of abuse. As church leaders and respected members of the community, many missionaries are asked for advice on issues of child safety. Children may see the missionary as a ‘safe’ person to whom they can disclose abuse, and missionaries may find themselves working among the most vulnerable children, including those living on the streets and unaccompanied child refugees. It is vital that we know how to respond to and care for these children.

What are we doing about it?

Perhaps you found the last section to be a bit depressing? Do not despair! World Team, like many other Christian organizations and mission agencies, has put together a child safeguarding team, created a safeguarding policy and code of conduct, and has provided a wealth of training and resources for its members.

The safeguarding team has members based around the world, all trained in responding to child safety concerns by CSPN (the Child Safety and Protection Network – ), and all passionate about the safety and well-being of the children in our mission and under our care. The team responds to any concerns about the welfare of a child and will carry out child safety assessments and misconduct assessments when necessary. When a child is considered to be at risk of harm, the team helps implement a child safety plan and offers support and follow-up to the family as long as it is required. They also offer advice to families on issues such as internet safety, protective factors during cross-cultural transitions, and how to talk to children about sexuality and consent in age-appropriate ways.

World Team’s safeguarding policy outlines the mission’s commitment to valuing children and keeping them safe and its zero-tolerance approach to child abuse. There is also a code of conduct that every member of World Team is asked to read and sign annually. This code of conduct requires that World Team members actively protect the children in their care by minimizing isolation, increasing accountability, and maintaining a balance of power. It is also a requirement of the code of conduct that members will report any child safety concerns to their leadership or to the child safeguarding team.

The safeguarding team also provides training for all World Team members, including interns and volunteers. An initial orientation training covers topics such as the definitions of harm and abuse, how to recognize, respond to and report harm and abuse of children, and the requirements of the World Team code of conduct. Annual refresher training helps keep this information fresh in people’s minds and considers how to practically apply the safeguarding principles in a range of real-life contexts and situations.

Everyone is responsible

World Team has a child safeguarding team and policy in place because we believe that each child in our care is made in God’s image, precious to him, and deserving of care and protection as a vulnerable member of society. But the safeguarding team alone is not responsible for the safety and well-being of all the children in and around our mission organization; that would be an impossibly huge task! With the support and training of the safeguarding team, every World Team member can care for and protect the children they encounter in their everyday lives, thereby demonstrating the love and justice of God.