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The All-Age Community

The church community is unlike many other communities that work with children and young people. The church community is an all-age community seeking to make space for all - all ages, all abilities, all backgrounds. Indeed one of the five core values of the Baptist family is that we believe that we are called to be inclusive communities, with a gospel welcome extended to all. See the article Gospel insights - a community of care for all.

Where an organisation’s sole focus is to work with children and young people, it is possible for that organisation to establish very firm boundaries such that anyone who is thought to be unsuitable to work with children and young people can be excluded from the organisation. While churches are in a position to exclude such people from holding positions of trust with children and young people, churches would want to do everything possible for those people still to find their rightful place within the community of the church.

In this kind of community there will be occasions when boundaries become blurred. For example, there will be times when it will not be at all clear whether the church is taking responsibility for the care of children and young people or whether the children, while on church premises, are still in the care and responsibility of their parents. There will be a number of occasions when children and young people will be present on church premises as part of the all-age community of the church where careful consideration needs to be given as to what it means to provide them with a safe environment:

The greatest difficulty is in defining who is responsible for the children and young people in these situations, and to what extent responsibility falls to the church to be proactive in taking precautionary measures.

The following examples highlight the dilemmas faced by churches:

 

Case study 1
A church organises groups for children on a Sunday morning which begin about twenty minutes after the start of the service and which end at the same time as the service ends. The leaders of the groups understand that they are responsible for the children as soon as the children leave the service until the group ends.

After the service tea and coffee is served. During this time the children and young people tend to move around the building freely and to entertain themselves in the church halls.

 

  • Who is responsible for the welfare of the children before the group starts, particularly if the children are not accompanied to church by their parents?

  • Who is responsible for the welfare of the children at the end of the service?


Case study 2
A church holds an all-age service. No groups are organised for the children. The service has not been planned by the Junior Church leaders. Many of the children come with their families, but a number of children come unaccompanied.

  • Do the Junior Church leaders have any responsibility for the children?

  • Who is responsible for the welfare of the children before the service starts?

  • Who is responsible for the welfare of the children at the end of the service?


Case study 3
A church plans a social event to which all ages are invited, although children and young people are expected only to attend with their parents. Once on the church premises the children and young people take themselves off for some of the time to do their own thing while the adults mingle and enjoy one another’s company.

  • Can the church assume that the children and young people are the responsibility of their parents at events like this?

  • Does the church bear any responsibility for their welfare and safeguarding?


Case study 4
A church puts on a musical or dramatic production. It wants to include the whole church family and encourages the participation of children, young people and adults. The rehearsals and the events themselves entail a large amount of interaction between children and adults.

Who takes responsibility for the welfare of children and young people in this situation?
Can measures be taken to ensure that all of the interaction between adults and children is positive and healthy?
 


Some general points need to be made with regard to all of these situations:

  • All of these situations give rise to circumstances where children and young people could be placed in a vulnerable situation should a bully or a potential abuser wish to take advantage.

  • These situations highlight the importance of the Safeguarding Children Policy being adopted, owned and understood by the whole church membership. The annual review of the policy should address areas of church life where adults, children and young people come together but where no formal children’s or youth activities are being organised. The report of the review should also give an occasion for educating the church meeting and helping all church members and members of the congregation to understand their responsibilities with regard to safeguarding.

  • Wherever possible it should be clear when representatives of the church are taking responsibility for the welfare of children and young people and when children and young people on church premises are in the care of their parents/carers.

  • Good and clear communication with parents/carers is imperative so that they understand when the church is taking responsibility for their children and when the church understands the children and young people are in the care of their parents/carers.

  • Whenever children and young people are on church premises, regardless of whether they are in the care of their parents or of the church, the church will be responsible for health and safety issues regarding the church premises.

  • If the church is aware of hazards affecting the welfare and safety of children and young people in the context of church-organised activities or relating to the church premises, it has a duty to take action to minimize the risks posed by those hazards.

Before and after church services

Sunday services are a time for fellowship. Before the service, members of the congregation greet one another and catch up on the week’s news and after the morning service has ended in many of our churches people are encouraged to linger over refreshments. Even churches that do not serve drinks after worship will find that members remain to chat. During this time children and young people are often mingling with the rest of the congregation or taking themselves off to play with friends. It is important that due consideration is given to ensure the safety and well-being of children and young people during these times.

It should be clear when workers take responsibility for children and young people and when they hand responsibility back to parents. It is not good practice to allow children under the age of 8 to leave their group or class unaccompanied. Churches with larger groups should have a system in place so that they know that each child has gone with the correct adult. Once the children have been collected from their group the responsibility for each child reverts from the group leaders to the parents or adult who is in charge of collecting them.

If children under the age of 8 attend unaccompanied by any adults either:

  • their parents/carers should be informed of the level of care that the church is able to take for their welfare (ie when they will be in the formal care of workers); or

  • the workers in their groups should take responsibility for them from the time they arrive at church to the time they leave. A meeting point and time should be agreed before the service. After the group finishes, the worker will be responsible for the child until the child leaves the church premises.

It is not wise for children under the age of 8 to be on church premises unless they are in the care of an adult. Either it should be insisted that children under the age of 8 are accompanied by a parent/carer (or another adult identified by the parent/carer) when not part of an organised children’s group, or during those times the church should make arrangements for an adult to supervise such young children.

The church should be aware of any particular hazards to children and young people during these periods:

  • Are children and young people congregating in rooms in the church with no adult supervision?

  • Are there any hazards associated with the serving or preparing of hot drinks?

  • Is it possible for young children to wander from the church premises unsupervised onto a road?

  • Is there a canal or riverbank near to the church that poses a potential hazard?

  • Are there any areas of the church building that should be out of bounds for children and young people or where children and young people should be closely supervised?

    • The kitchen should normally be out of bounds to children and young people.

  • Does the church have an open baptistry?

  • If there are any adults in the congregation who pose a risk to children and young people their behaviour should be closely monitored during these times. If your church has a known offender attending it is important that the conditions of the offender’s contract are fully enforced and adhered to. (Click here for further information on how to respond when a known offender is present.)

  • At the end of the service, two people should carefully check that the church building is empty and that all children and young people have left the church premises before the building is locked.

Family or All-Age Services

The particular challenge of family or all-age services is that no one may understand themselves to be responsible for the formal care of the children and young people who attend. Indeed some churches may decide to hold an all-age service occasionally or regularly because they are unable to find the volunteers required to lead the children’s and young people’s groups. It is imperative that the parents or carers of children and young people understand the basis on which their children are attending the service.

  • Any parents who are present should know that they are not entrusting their children into the care of others but remain responsible themselves for the welfare of their children.

  • Any parents who send their children unaccompanied should understand the level of care and supervision that their children will be given.

  • Where children and young people are expected to attend a family service because it is a parade service for a uniformed organisation, the parents or carers will have a proper expectation that their children and young people are in the care of the officers or leaders of the organisation.

  • Again, it is not wise for children under the age of 8 to be on church premises unless they are in the care of an adult. Either it should be insisted that children under the age of 8 are accompanied by a parent/carer (or another adult identified by a parent/carer), or the church should make arrangements for an adult to supervise such young children.

One option that is available to churches is to decide that all children up to an age determined by the church should be in the care of a named adult when they attend an all-age service. If children are brought by their parents/carers or by another adult with the permission of their parents/carers, then the parent/carer (or the adult who brings the child) will be assumed to have responsibility for the child. Other adults will then be assigned by the church to take responsibility for any other children who attend the service. This latter group of adults will need to be appointed under the church’s approved safeguarding procedures.

An alternative is to make it clear to all parents/carers that the church does not take responsibility for the care of children and young people who attend all-age services and that all children and young people will be deemed to be in the care of their parents/carers or an adult to whom the parent/carer has entrusted their child. If a church adopts this position, contingencies will need to be in place should a child under the age of 8 arrive at church unaccompanied. Even if it is clear that children and young people are in the care of their parents for a family service, the church will continue to have a duty of care with regard to the wider welfare issues for the members of the congregation including children and young people.

The Multi-Generational Dramatic or Musical Production

The experience of putting on a dramatic or musical production that brings the whole church family together can be a powerful way of building relationships across the church family. However, care should be taken that the church’s Safeguarding Children Policy is not compromised during the process, thus putting children or young people at risk. However, neither should fears about safeguarding issues make such a project unworkable, because it is thought that everyone who has any kind of contact with children or young people will have to have a DBS Disclosure.

Children and young people will be appropriately protected if the following guidelines are followed:

  • named people will be responsible for the care and welfare of children and young people during the rehearsals and production

  • these people will be appointed under the procedures laid down under the church’s Safeguarding Children Policy and will be fully conversant with the church’s policy and procedures

  • at least two of these named people will be present whenever children and young people are involved in rehearsals and for the production itself

  • these named people will be responsible for ensuring the welfare of children and young people and in particular will be vigilant to ensure that all interaction between adults and children is appropriate and does not pose a risk of harm to children and young people

 
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