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When a Known Offender is Present

The church should be a community that is welcoming and open to all. It is a place for people who have failed and for people in need. Those who have abused children and young people in the past are to be included in this welcome. However, the gospel imperative to welcome the sinner needs to be set alongside the gospel imperative that the protection of children and young people must be paramount.

There is a very particular challenge when it comes to those who sexually abuse children or young people. Current research suggests that sexual offending can be a kind of addiction whereby patterns of behaviour are deeply ingrained in the character of the person. However, old the offence, ex-offenders continue to pose a very real threat to children and young people and this should be borne in mind when welcoming them into the church community. Experience has also shown that those who abuse children can be very persuasive in expressing remorse and in presenting themselves as people who are now living a different way of life. As abusers are often people who are able to get on well with children and young people and whom children and young people are ready to trust, the Christian community has too often misunderstood what it means to practise forgiveness and has entrusted such people with the care of children and young people. (See Forgiveness and Rehabilitation)

When it is known that a person who has been convicted of sexually abusing children or young people is attending your church, it is important that their behaviour within the church community is properly managed and that a contract is put in place. There are also times when it will be appropriate to take such measures with a person who has faced a series of allegations about the sexual abuse of children and young people but has never been convicted (such allegations may be revealed on an Enhanced DBS Disclosure under relevant non-conviction information). If an offender is on the Sex Offenders’ Register they will be monitored under guidelines known as the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). In the latest guidance there is provision to require a written contract to be in place if the offender wishes to attend a place of worship.

In determining the details of the contract:
  • there should be a discussion about who should be informed of the nature of the offence and the details of the contract

    • the rights of the offender to re-build their lives without everyone knowing the details of their past offence should be balanced against the need to protect children and young people

    • the Safeguarding Trustee/Deacon, the Designated Person for Safeguarding and the Minister should always be informed

  • the Designated Person or the Safeguarding Trustee/Deacon should determine whether the person is subject to supervision or is on the Sex Offenders’ Register

    • if so, the Designated Person or the Safeguarding Trustee/Deacon should make contact with the offender’s specialist probation officer (SPO) who will inform the church of any relevant information or restrictions that the church should be aware of

  • The Designated Person or the Safeguarding Trustee/Deacon should inform and take advice from the Regional Minister in the local Baptist Association.

An open discussion must be held with the person concerned in which clear boundaries are established for their involvement in the life of the church. A written contract should be drawn up which identifies appropriate behaviour. The person should be required to sign the contract. The contract:
  • will identify the meetings the person will attend

  • will specify that they will always sit apart from children

  • may ask that they are always accompanied by a befriender on church premises

  • will require the person not to attend small group meetings where children or young people are present

  • will require that the person declines hospitality where there are children or young people

  • will state that the person will never be alone with children or young people while attending church functions

  • will require the person to stay away from areas of the building where children or young people meet.

The contract should be monitored and enforced. Those who offend against children and young people can often be manipulative. If the contract is broken certain sanctions should be considered.
  • If the initial contract allows the person to attend the morning service where children and young people are present, a new contract might require them only to attend an evening service.

  • If only a few people know of the person’s conviction, more people might be told in order to protect children and young people. In doing this a balance has to be made between protecting the civil liberties of the offender, the requirements of the Data Protection Act and the protection of children and young people. Any disclosure of the person’s criminal background would need to be the minimum necessary to achieve the aim of safeguarding the children and young people in the church’s care.

  • Ultimately, it might be necessary to ban the person from attending the church. If you are concerned that the person might join another church you should not forewarn other local church leaders by giving details of the person concerned to all local churches. Rather you should ask other local church leaders to inform you if any new person joins their church. If the person joins another fellowship it would be appropriate to indicate your concerns to this specific church leader. If the person is on the Sexual Offenders Register the Safeguarding Trustee/Deacon should make the offender’s Specialist Probation Officer (SPO) aware that they have been banned from the church and reasons for this.

A template for a model contract with ex-offenders can be found on this website but churches are strongly encouraged to take advice and guidance from a Regional Minister before implementing any contract. Some churches, aware of the needs of offenders to be re-integrated into society in a way that protects children and young people, have established what have become known as ‘circles of support’ for those offenders who are governed by a contract in the life of the church. The organisation Circles UK has worked closely with criminal justice agencies in developing this significant initiative.

 
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