THE REBOOT BLOG | October 15, 2020
Youth Safety in A Post-COVID World
by Emma Flores and Becky Stegmann
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all acutely aware of how interconnected we are from healthcare to our labor force to transportation to our food supply. We are intricately reliant upon each other. We survive best in communities that look after and take responsibility for each other—wearing a mask, staying home, and social distancing are ways we can protect the most vulnerable.
Many churches are choosing to reflect this commitment to public safety during COVID-19 by moving to online worship and small groups, enforcing social distancing, and requiring masks as the reality of a pandemic has opened our eyes to the mutual responsibility we have as members of society and the body of Christ.
Why not apply this same understanding to our churches when prioritizing the ongoing safety of youth and children? One way to do this is to mandate abuse awareness training of all who interact with youth and children; this training is as essential to the safety of the entire church community as hand washing or wearing a mask. Church leaders should leverage this heightened sense of communal responsibility from COVID-19 in building a foundation of safety in all of our churches.
Abuse awareness training with adults and potential volunteers is often viewed as merely a box to check as opposed to an investment in the church’s ministry with youth—as a pre-requisite pass to validate a person’s past in order to work with minors, instead of training that could increase awareness, healthy engagement, and safety for the future. COVID-19 can help in shifting this mindset. This is a perfect time—as congregations re-imagine in-person gatherings—for every church to shift towards this training and their responsibility to the safety of children and youth.
The entire congregation needs to be committed to fostering a safe environment for all children and youth. Last fall, two of our Reboot Starter Cohort congregations hosted sexual abuse awareness training for their entire congregations—including youth—above and beyond such training requirements for any person serving in children’s or youth ministries. They are genuinely invested in cultivating cultures of safety—not merely systems for safety. These shifts in how church leaders think about abuse awareness training position congregations for significant ministry engagement rather than policy enforcement. Thankfully, many organizations specializing in abuse awareness training have released accessible materials to help pastors, children’s ministers, youth ministers, and volunteers navigate such training—even virtually during the pandemic.
The safety of children and youth is highlighted in the Bible. Psalm 82:3-4 reads, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Children and youth are among the most vulnerable to abuse in our churches. All adults have a personal responsibility to protect children and youth and prevent circumstances where abuse can occur. If we view abuse awareness training as a way for adults to take personal responsibility for communal safety, our churches have the potential to become a safe place for everyone.