Safe Environment Policy for Children and Youth
Table of Contents
Definitions of Relevant Persons and Roles
Definitions of Common Types of Abuse or Misconduct
Volunteer Application and Screening
Safe Environment for Children General Guidelines
Behavioral & Communication Standards for a Safe Environment
Additional Guidelines for Off-Site Activities
Reporting and Responding to Abuse
Policy on Sex Offenders in the Life of the Church
Policy on Excluding Behaviors Harmful to the Life of the Church
New Branches seeks to provide a safe, nurturing and dynamic Christian environment for all its members and visitors. We recognize the importance of ministering attentively to the special vulnerability of children to abuse. Children are our sacred trust from a loving God. The Safe Environment Policy put forth in this document is an effort to ensure that we have personnel, programs and procedures worthy of that trust.
The policy is available on the New Branches website to all New Branches visitors, members, and staff. New members are made aware of this policy in their welcoming materials. A community wide introduction to the policy is held annually. Staff and volunteers have further responsibilities as detailed later.
Additionally, concerns about possible abuse at home, school or in the community should be presented immediately. Our goal is for children to have a safe environment everywhere.
We recognize that this policy may not address all safety concerns. Any questions about possible unsafe behaviors, situations or policy violations should be addressed with appropriate staff, church council members, or local child protection authorities immediately.
Definitions of Relevant Persons and Roles
Adult: Anyone who is 18 years or older. Some high school students age 18 or older may be dually designated as adult and youth.
Child: For the purposes of this policy, a child is any individual under the age of 18. Children from age 12 through high school graduation may be referred to as youth.
Youth: Anyone aged 12-17 years or through high school graduation.
Staff and Contractors: Individuals who work for New Branches or partner churches for salary or wages.
Volunteer: An individual who provides services or ministry for New Branches or partner churches and receives no compensation in the form of salary, wages, or other benefits. This includes volunteers in ongoing leadership and supervisory roles as well as those in non-leadership roles.
Mandated Reporter: A person who is required by state law to report reasonable suspicions of abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation of vulnerable populations to the appropriate state agency. Typically, individuals who are not mandated to report suspicion of abuse may make a report to the appropriate state agency, even though not legally required to do so. All members of New Branches and partner congregations are invited to consider themselves mandated reporters.
Mandated reporters from New Branches and partner churches include paid staff who oversee or work closely with children and youth programs. However, the New Branches community expects all staff and volunteers to report concerns about possible abuse through the process defined in this document under the section “Reporting and Responding to Abuse.” Training on reporting abuse will be provided to staff, volunteers, and parents on a regular basis. Find more information about the State of Minnesota Mandated Reporting policy here.”
Partner Church: For purposes of this policy, Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community, Lake Nokomis Lutheran Church, and Living Table UCC are considered partner churches of New Branches.
Child Protection Services: A county social services program which receives and investigates reports of suspected abuse, neglect and exploitation. If a child or youth is in immediate danger, always call 911. The intake number for Hennepin County Child Protection is: 612-348-3552. Additional information about the department is available at www.hennepin.us/childprotection
Definitions of Common Types of Child Abuse:
Child abuse is the nonaccidental injury of a child by an adult or older child. It may be physical, emotional, sexual or neglectful.
Child Physical Abuse: Child physical abuse is the non-accidental bodily injury of a child through physical contact or mistreatment.
Child Sexual Abuse: Child sexual abuse is any form of sexual contact or exploitation in which a minor is being used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator, in other words, “any sexual activity with a child” (National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse, 1992). Child sexual abuse is criminal behavior that involves children in sexual behaviors for which they are not personally, socially, and developmentally ready. It includes behaviors which may or may not involve physical contact. It includes any activity meant to arouse or gratify the sexual desires of the adult or child. Sexual behavior between a child and an adult is always considered to be forced whether or not the child consents to it. Sexual behavior between children may be abusive depending on the power or age differences of the children.
Child Emotional Abuse: Child emotional abuse is any language or behavior directed toward a child by an adult that is intended to cause emotional anxiety, pain, or other severe emotional disturbance. It is mental or emotional injury to a child that results in an observable and material impairment in the child’s growth, development, or psychological functioning.
Child Neglect: Neglect is the failure to provide for a child’s essential needs such as adequate food, water, shelter and medical care.
Volunteer Application and Screening
All individuals volunteering for positions working with children and youth will be required to:
Fill out and sign the New Branches Application/Authorization form. This form includes authorizing a criminal background check. (Persons who are known to have committed acts of abuse will not be allowed to work with children)
Review and sign off on the New Branches Safe Environment Policy.
Be an active participant or member of a partner church for at least 6 months or serve only in the presence of a qualified volunteer or staff person until reaching the 6-month mark.
Participate in a face-to-face conversation with the partner church staff and New Branches leadership as appropriate.
Go through a Safe Environment Policy training at least every three years.
New Branches is committed to the following:
Providing a copy of the New Branches Safe Environment Policy to all staff and volunteers.
Running a background check on all staff and volunteers upon receiving authorization.
Providing training and orientation on the New Branches Safe Environment Policy for all staff and volunteers.
Handling all concerns brought by a volunteer or staff person confidentially, appropriately, and in a timely manner.
Preventing anyone known to have committed acts of abuse to work with children.
The first time a volunteer or employee completes the application process, notations of the following must be recorded on the last page of the application/authorization form:
Sex Offender Registry check on _______.
Personnel Interview (for staff) or Face to Face Conversation (for volunteers) conducted on ______ by _______.
Criminal background check completed on ______.
Reference checks (for staff only) completed on______ by _______.
Church participation (for volunteers) since approximately _______
Safe Environment Policy awareness training/orientation on ______.
Annually, the following will be completed, and notations made (unless a need arises to complete more often):
Update basic contact information.
Affirm and sign the policy annually.
Every third year, the following will be completed, and notations made (unless a need arises to complete more often):
BCA background check.
Sex offender registry check.
Safe Environment Policy for Children awareness training and policy orientation.
New Branches and partner church staff understand the confidential nature of these requirements. Therefore, each partner church will have a locked cabinet in which to keep background checks. Other volunteer and staff documentation, including contact information and policy sign-offs, may be made available to multiple New Branches staff (including staff from a different partner church) in case of need or emergency.
Safe Environment for Children Guidelines
Education & Training: Everyone will have access annually to a general training to foster a culture of safety and inclusion for all people. This broad overview addresses issues of vulnerability, power, and healthy boundaries.
All staff and volunteers as appropriate will receive additional specialized training every three years that should include:
Prevention, identification, and response to all forms of abuse and neglect;
Overview of child development norms;
An introduction to gender non-binary and LGBTQ+ needs;
The ways that children and youth can engage in self-advocacy; and
The needs of disabled children and youth.
Monitoring & Supervision: All staff and approved volunteers who work with children and youth must have ongoing supervision to support their efforts. Each staff or volunteer should know who supervises their work and how to contact the supervisor. A list of approved volunteers shall be maintained and kept in the office.
Staffing for Programs requires two unrelated adults to be present during any New Branches or partner church activity involving individual contact with children such as nursery, Sunday School or youth ministry events. On occasion, with consent of supervising staff, one adult volunteer may suffice in a visually accessible program space on church grounds that allows regular contact by a second unrelated volunteer (example: hall monitor) or staff. In those cases, there must be 2 or more children in the group and the door must be left open. If only one child comes, there must be 2 adults present. The following ratios are required for children’s activities:
1 child attending: 2 adults required
2 to 8 children: 2 or 3 adults required depending on the ages of the children
An additional adult is required for every additional 2 infants/toddlers, 3 preschoolers and/or every 6 elementary age children.
Youth Volunteers: In nursery and elementary programs 2 approved youth volunteers = 1 adult volunteer when they are supervised by one adult volunteer. 1 youth volunteer = 1 adult volunteer when 2 or more adults are present to supervise.
Youth programs or activities require a minimum of 2 adults, preferably of different genders, for up to 14 youths and after that another adult is needed for up to 7 additional youth.
Open Doors: Most children and youth programming should occur in spaces with unlocked doors, preferably with windows, so that parents, church staff and church members can check in without prior notice. Staff and volunteers among others will make periodic observations.
Control access to church office or meeting space in order to prevent access to sacramental or other alcohol, office files, computers or electronic devices and to make sure that rooms not in use are available to enter. We recommend that everyone with keys or electronic access to the church building or its interior spaces meets the screening and training requirements described previously.
Parent or Guardian Permission is required in written form for children and youth to participate in New Branches or partner church-sponsored programs both at the church and off-site. The forms are valid for one year though additional forms may be required for certain activities. Parents must present identification when dropping off or picking up their child. Volunteers may only release children to their parent unless parents notify staff, preferably in advance and in writing, if they are unable to pick up their child and will have another adult or family member with identification do so instead. Youth may transport themselves to or from church events as long as parental permission has been provided via permission form or by notifying staff or volunteers. This permission can be by text or email. Any verbal/phone permission must be witnessed by 2 staff or volunteers.
Photos/Videos of children or youth should only be taken with parent or guardian permission and may not be posted on social media or in New Branches or partner church communications without their and the youth’s consent. On the photo release form, parents, children, and youth will designate whether or not photos or videos may be used by another partner church of New Branches. At events where photos/videos are scheduled to occur, announcements will alert the community so those who do not wish to be photographed can make a choice on how to avoid the event or the photographer(s).
Clear identification of children and parents as well as sign-in and sign-out procedures are required for all activities. Youth who transport themselves to or from events must also sign-in and sign-out.
Diapering is done by parents. Nursery volunteers text the parent when needed.
Bathroom trips for children who need assistance require parent permission (as designated on permission form). The volunteer must leave the bathroom door or stall open or unlocked when assisting a child using the bathroom to ensure safety and privacy. When taking a group to the bathroom, the group stays together, takes turns using the facilities, and leaves together.
First Aid and Medications:
Current certification in First Aid, CPR and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is encouraged for all adults and eligible youths. New Branches will keep a list of staff, members and volunteers with active certification.
A first aid kit appropriately stocked for church and a travel kit for off-site events will be available. First aid kit use report forms and injury report forms must be completed and turned in to the staff supervisor.
Emergency situations or other situations that violate the terms of this policy may happen on-site or off-site. When a situation arises incidentally that violates the terms of this policy, the staff or volunteer involved will fill out an Incidental Policy Violations Form. These forms will be reviewed every year by New Branches or partner church staff or volunteers. In the case that a child or youth requires emergency transportation, the staff or volunteer shall make reasonable attempts to contact parents or guardians prior to providing a ride to the child and if possible, leave a detailed message including expected destination, departure, travel and arrival times. Whenever possible a second adult will accompany the driver and child. Supervising staff will be notified as soon as possible during or following a situation which violates this policy.
Behavioral and Communication Standards for a Safe Environment for Children
Adults who work with children and youth are expected to model healthy relationships and behaviors. The following expectations contribute to a safe environment for all at New Branches:
Physical Violence and weapons are never allowed. Adults must act to prevent and stop related behaviors and to report any suspected or observed rule violations to a supervisor immediately. These rules include.
No one is to hit or otherwise physically threaten or harm anyone ever.
No one shall have weapons of any kind at any New Branches or partner church event.
Emotional Abuse is prohibited. This includes bullying, harassment, degrading or risque jokes, or yelling in anger. Adults must act to stop these and related behaviors. Consult with a supervisor for assistance and to determine next steps.
One-to-one Conversations with children and youth, in person or on the phone, require precautions such as having another unrelated adult present or at least capable of visually or auditorily observing the interaction. Any off-site one-to-one conversations must be scheduled in a public place with the supervisor informed in advance. Staff and volunteers are discouraged from initiating a private relationship with any unrelated child or youth away from New Branches or partner church activities.
Social Media, Electronic and Text Communications with Children and Youth These are powerful tools for connecting with young people but carry tremendous risk for abuse. Digital communications are not confidential, provide opportunities for bullying and create “virtual friendships” with unclear boundaries and levels of commitment. Laws regarding mandated reporting of suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation of children or youth are applicable in the virtual world. New Branches and partner churches are committed to addressing the challenges of this rapidly evolving technology. The following are our current standards and practices:
Program volunteers may not initiate one-on-one digital communications with children and youth via email, social media, text or video call without another staff person, adult volunteer or the child’s parent present or simultaneously copied. If a child or youth initiates one-on-one conversation with a program volunteer, the volunteer should inform a church staff member or copy a church staff person on any responses. Communications between adult volunteers and children or youth should be primarily limited to logistics or time-sensitive updates. Messages should be timed for after school and before bedtime hours.
Church staff may initiate and respond to one-on-one communications with youth, including around sensitive or vulnerable topics or disclosures, provided they share the instance and general theme of the communication with other New Branches partner church staff members. New Branches and partner church staff members and New Branches policy committee members may request at any time to spot-check the phone of a fellow staff person to confirm that communications between staff and children or youth are appropriate. Messages should be timed for after school and before bedtime hours.
Parents or guardians should be members of any social media group maintained or invited to any video conferencing held on behalf of New Branches or partner church children and youth.
Virtual/online meetings may not allow an adult and a youth to be alone together in either the main room or a breakout room. Participants shall behave as if at an in-person church event and be mindful of their clothes and background views seen by others.
New Branches requires that virtual meetings use a platform that has password protection controls and meets professional or institutional standards which include the following:
Hosts must be able to:
turn off the audio and video of individual participants,
disable the virtual background feature,
prevent private chats and
remove participants if necessary.
In public programs, all text chat should go through a moderator and not be instantly viewable via public channels.
Participants should not be able to share their screens or files unless enabled for a specific purpose.
It is recommended that last names of youth are not revealed on screen.
Youth meetings and activities should not be recorded unless needed for a specific purpose and with consent of youth and adults.
General Behavior Standards Summary
DOs: Adults are encouraged to interact with children and youth by:
Having ongoing spiritual practices: prayer, song, service work, study, etc.
Listening to them and advocating for their inclusion and participation in the community and in worship
Observing their interactions objectively and praising or problem-solving thoughtfully in response.
Offering appropriate physical expressions of care so long as the child or youth does NOT object and which may include:
high fives and fist bumps;
handholding while walking with small children or in a group prayer;
brief touching of shoulders, hands, or arms including quick hugs
blessing with hands on child’s head or sign of the cross on forehead briefly as part of a prayer.
Phrasing spoken prayers regarding sensitive topics in a careful manner so as
not to alarm or confuse children. (Examples: kidnapping, abuse, murder)
DON’Ts: Adults shall not under any circumstances:
Touch children between their chest and knees unless lifting or carrying them to keep them safe. The exception is when parents have given permission to help with simple bathroom assistance (help with snaps, buttons, zippers etc.)
Provide children or youth with alcohol or with marijuana, drugs, cigarettes, tobacco products, e-cigarettes, vapes or pornography.
Arrive under the influence of or consume alcohol, illegal drugs or misused legal drugs at any New Branches event when children or youth are present.
Engage in illegal, sexual, romantic, illicit or secretive conduct with any child or youth nor allow any other adult to do so.
Discuss their own sexual activities, fantasies or their own use, or abuse of drugs or alcohol with children or youth apart from planned, pre-approved educational programs.
Leave New Branches property or activities with a child or youth without prior permission from the parent or guardian. The exception for staff and volunteers is when there is a medical or family emergency.
Additional Guidelines for Off-Site Activities
The expectations for safe environments and behavioral standards as described above should be observed off-site.
Parental or Guardian Permission must be on file for each child and youth involved in church-sponsored programs both on site and away from the church location. These forms are good for one year. The person in charge of the trip, retreat, or event shall carry completed medical release forms, including permission for emergency medical care and emergency contact information.
Transportation: Parents of children or youth may transport an unrelated child or youth to or from a church activity as long as the parent of the unrelated child or youth is notified or unless they requested transportation support from the driver. The parent of the unrelated child or youth must be provided with contact information for the driver.
The following rules apply when transportation by volunteers is being provided for designated New Branches and partner church activities that originate and end at the church site.
Children legally required to be buckled into a car seat or booster seat must be
transported using the appropriate safety seat. All other passengers shall wear a safety belt while in the vehicle.
The driver must be a registered and background checked volunteer with New Branches or a partner church.
Children or youth must sit in the back seat when a volunteer is providing transportation.
The designated leader of the event will not permit any adult to drive who appears to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Driver must be at least 21 years of age, have a valid driver’s license, proof of insurance and agree to comply with state laws about seat belt and cell phone use.
One adult must never transport only one child or youth except in case of emergencies.
A copy of the valid driver’s license and insurance card must be filed with church staff before a driver is approved to drive on church sponsored activities.
Overnight Activities: In overnight programming, particular attention will be given to historically excluded or unrecognized people such as LGBTQ+ and disabled individuals. The goal is to provide accommodation and action in order to maximize social integration for all, minimize stigmatization of any participants, equalize opportunities to participate, and ensure participant privacy and safety.
There shall be at least two adults present for all trips, retreats, and other times that children and youth gather at or away from the church building. At least three adults representing more than one gender are preferable to ensure adequate and representative supervision at overnight activities.
Whenever New Branches or partner church children and youth are involved in church- sponsored overnight activities, they must be given appropriate privacy in the areas of sleeping, changing, and bathing. Specifically, an adult must never be permitted to sleep together in the same room or tent with an unrelated child or youth.
For co-ed overnight events, parents will be informed of the sleeping arrangements in advance. The required written permission slip from a parent or guardian must expressly acknowledge that the activity is co-ed. There must be adults of multiple genders present at co-ed overnight events.
At single gender overnight events, at least one of the adults present will be of the same gender as the children and youth attending.
Adults participating in overnight activities are required to submit to a criminal background check and there must be a staff or a certified approved volunteer in the leadership/supervisory role at the event.
No bed, cot or sleeping bag shall have more than one person sleeping in it.
It is acceptable for all participants to sleep in the same open area when dressing rooms and bathrooms provide appropriate privacy.
Children and adults must never be permitted to bathe or shower in the same facility at the same time.
TRAVEL: Travel presents challenges to normal safety protocols. The following policies will help groups prepare for a variety of potential scenarios in domestic and international travel.
Adult leaders and chaperones must be provided in greater minimum ratios due to the possibility of leaving an adult behind with a participant in the event of a medical or family emergency. A 1:5 ratio is recommended for youth 9-14 years and 1:7 for youth 15-18 years. Mixed age groups require the ratio for younger children. Regardless of size, no group should travel with fewer than three adult chaperones. For some trips, New Branches or partner churches may authorize the 3rd chaperone (such as a tour guide) to meet the group at their destination and/or to be on standby to join the group if needed.
The travel administrator should be an adult, age 25+, who is responsible for all aspects of the trip, including carrying all necessary documentation contacts and forms such as medical releases, emergency contacts, itineraries and cash and/or credit card capacity to address emergencies.
Medical Certification designee: One adult should hold a current medical certification to handle any needed triage, medication administration or first aid. Common certifications include: EMT/Paramedic, RN/LPN/Nurse Practitioner, Physician’s Assistant, Medical Doctor, Wilderness Medical Responder or Outdoor Emergency Care certification. If a certified person is not available, another responsible adult will be assigned to handle prescription administration as noted on the medical release forms. A clinic near the destination will be identified ahead of time.
Copies of all documents, including a copy of personal health insurance cards should be left with an accountable person at the church office who can also serve as the local emergency contact for communications between the traveling group and families at home.
International Considerations include the above plus the following:
Check in with the U.S. Department of state on travel requirements, including visas.
Every traveler’s passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your return date.
Determine what vaccinations, testing or documentation is required or recommended.
Be sure at least two cell phones in the group have active coverage at your destination(s).
Have a back-up communication plan (internet, app, etc.) with the local contact at home.
Responding to Concerns and Reporting Abuse
Any adult who witnesses, learns of or has reason to suspect the abuse, neglect, or exploitation of children or youth is strongly encouraged, and all mandated reporters are required, to contact the relevant county’s Child Protection Services Department or the local law enforcement agency. The New Branches community ALWAYS reports instances of abuse externally, and never attempts to deal with them “in-house.”
If a child is in immediate danger, always call 911. Otherwise, the intake number for Hennepin County Child Protection is: 612-348-3552. Other counties’ intake numbers and/or additional resources are available 24 hours a day by calling the United Way information line at 211 or 800-543-7709.
Failure to report suspected abuse of children may be a crime. Reports may be made confidentially or anonymously. Every state provides immunity from civil liability for persons required to report suspected abuse in good faith and without malice. Simply stated, “in good faith” means that the person submitting the report believes what he or she is reporting to be true.
A person may suspect or learn about abuse by noticing signs of abuse or by being told of abuse by the child, the perpetrator or another person. Some signs of sexual abuse are included at the end of the Appendices along with additional definitions of specific types of abuse.
If anyone is unsure when, where or to whom they should make a report; or if they are confused, have doubts, or are unsure about what they saw, please consult with the designated staff or committee.
Before or after making a report, notify appropriate staff and/or church council members depending on who is the most relevant or accessible New Branches or partner church representative. This community leader shall designate a follow up team of one staff and one council or two council members who will represent the New Branches organization in order to:
provide support and counsel to the reporter,
ensure confidential treatment of the report,
cooperate fully with authorities,
make decisions regarding disciplinary action,
disclose information to parents, guardians and/or the community only as needed to ensure the safety of children and youth and
keep a written confidential record of the report, investigation and outcome.
Staff and volunteers who fail to report child abuse or policy violations will face disciplinary action by New Branches leadership. An alleged perpetrator who is a staff, volunteer or community member of New Branches or a partner church will be removed from any position or event involving contact with children in the New Branches organization until the allegation is resolved.
Policy on Sex Offenders in the New Branches Community
Convicted sex offenders, registered sex offenders, or those who have been convicted of a sex related offense who wish to participate in the life of the church by attending worship, attending church functions, as a church member, or as a visitor must identify themselves to partner church staff and New Branches leadership prior to participating. A limited access agreement will be required to safely welcome them into the community. This agreement will include a practice of “companioning,” which requires a sex offender to be in the presence of a designated individual at all times when in the building or at church events. This agreement could also include specific designations about when and where the offender may be in the building. New Branches leadership along with appropriate staff at partner churches are responsible for the enforcement of this policy.
Policy on Excluding Persons Who Behave with Intent to Harm
New Branches leadership and/or individual church councils of partner churches reserve the right to require a limited access agreement of any person who exhibits behavior that rejects or abuses the welcoming nature of our community. If the individual’s abusive behavior continues and threatens harm to the community’s worship and interactions, New Branches or partner church leadership reserves the right to exclude the individual from church membership, property or events. These decisions are not exercised lightly and are at the sole discretion of a majority of an individual partner church council or New Branches leadership. These groups are responsible for the enforcement of this policy.