Workers' Information, Rights and Procedures Following Assault
Allegations Against Church Workers
Allegations of assault against church workers and involving children in the church's care are among the most difficult and sensitive issues facing the Presbyterian Church, because they involve two parties for whom we have a responsibility - our workers and the children in our care. However, while accepting that a person is innocent unless proven guilty, the Church must adopt the stance that the care and protection of children is of paramount importance.
The Presbyterian Church policy is that all allegations of assault (physical, emotional, sexual or neglect) will be treated seriously and confidentially.
A minister or office bearer of the Church who perpetrates sexual abuse could be charged with an ecclesiastical offence of conduct inconsistent with biblical principles. The GAA Code of Discipline deals with the relevant procedures and includes provisions for suspension in the case of a minister or other paid office bearer. It should be noted that any member of the Church may be disciplined for improper conduct. Usually where such conduct is also a breach of criminal law, then the relevant Church court having jurisdiction would not pursue action apart from procedures in secular courts, although it may do so.
A: Action to be Taken to Protect Interest of the Child
In the event of assault allegations being made against a church worker who is in direct contact with children as part of his/her normal duties, the church may suspend the duties of the worker (on full pay, where employed) whilst investigations proceed. There are likely to be two or three separate investigations:
Police: following notification by the church, the Department of Community Services will decide whether there is sufficient information for a police investigation. DOCS may involve the Juvenile Services Division or the local police. Should the result of the police investigation be that charges are laid against the subject of the allegation, the church reserves the right to suspend that person (without pay, where employed) pending the result of the case in court.
DOCS: sometimes, whilst there is insufficient evidence on which to base a charge against a person by the Police, DOCS investigations may turn up evidence establishing that there are sufficient grounds to warrant the separation of the child from contact with the subject of the allegations. On such cases the church will conduct its own investigation and will, where the situation warrants, deal with the matter under established disciplinary procedures.
The church: The church
reserves the right to conduct its own investigation into
the events surrounding the allegation. Where it is
established that the behaviour of the church worker who
is the subject of the allegation, while not constituting
assault, is in the opinion of the church inappropriate
and open to misinterpretation by the person making the
allegation, or it is established that related behaviour
has occurred in the past on one or more occasions, then
depending on the seriousness of the church worker's
behaviour, there may be a cause for disciplinary action
or termination of employment or duties.
Whilst termination is unlikely without previous disciplinary action procedures being adopted, the church may take this course where it is established that, by the behaviour of the worker, there has resulted in an appreciable negative consequence for the child involved.
It must also be noted that this does not in any way diminish the responsibilities of the employer with regard to the Industrial Relations Legislation or Unfair Dismissal Laws. Appropriate supervision and written appraisals should be carried out regularly and recorded on the worker's personnel file. Any serious concerns should be recorded and kept on their file, with written warnings being issued, and the employee being given opportunity to remedy.
Transfer of Positions of Responsibility
After allegations of assault have been made, the subject of the allegations should be prevented from further contact with the child and the following procedure applies:
The church worker's roster will be rescheduled to roster him/her off duty until the investigation is completed, or
In a church agency, the worker may be relocated to another centre or be allocated different duties
In a church agency, the child may be relocated to another centre or programme.
B: The Period and Conditions of Suspension
The suspension period will depend on whether the police lay charges and whether the case goes to committal and/or trial, and will be at least as long as is required for the police and DOCS to conduct their investigation and for the church to complete its investigation. During this period the paid worker may be required to undertake other duties.
C: Suspension Procedure
Due to the need for maintaining confidentiality so as to protect the interest of the child and the integrity of the investigation, the employer, when suspending a church worker, will not divulge information about the investigation to the church worker.
Words such as the following should be used when suspending a worker in such a circumstance:
"Due to an alleged incident in which you have been implicated, I am suspending you on full pay (where applicable) until there has been time to have the incident investigated. I will be in touch with you on a regular basis over the next few days to provide any information I can, given the circumstances.
In the meantime, I would encourage you not to discuss the matter with any other person, apart from myself, authorised police or DOCS representatives who may be in touch with you in the near future. You may choose to consult a legal adviser to represent your best interest in this matter and/or a support person such as a minister or counsellor.
At this stage, I believe the period of investigation will take some days, but I cannot be sure and I will keep you informed. Please make sure you are contactable over the next few days.
You will be receiving a confirmatory letter outlining this conversation."
Recommended Policy Practices
(See Appendix 5)
It is recognised that some behaviours are unacceptable in the Church as they are abusive from one, or a combination of - physical, emotional, or sexual points of view, or from just plain neglect. Therefore, the following policy practices are recommended for adoption by the local church:
Each position of responsibility, approved by the Session, should be accompanied by a Statement of Duties which should be signed by the worker and the duly authorised officer of the church.
If in physical contact with children and youth, leaders should take care to respect the child's feelings and privacy.
Leaders normally should not visit children or youth in their own homes unless a parent is present and/or the leaders visit in pairs.
Leaders normally should not drive children or youth home unaccompanied.
Before any proposed camp is approved, Camp Parents must be approved by the Session.
Camp parents should ideally be a married couple over the age of 25 years, of known maturity and of known Christian commitment.
On camps, strict segregation of dormitories is to be maintained, with dormitories being supervised by a person of the same sex as the children or youth in them.
Leaders should always seek to foster a relationship in which sensitivity and trust enable children and youth to view them as people in whom they can confide.
When a child or youth confides in a leader that he or she is the victim of sexual or other abuse, that leader will refer the matter to the Minister or appropriate person. (refer to section 6 - Notification of Disclosure)
All leaders have a responsibility for one another so as to prevent any breach of trust towards children and youth.
Age of individuals is recognised as one of the determinants in deciding what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
Minister, workers, and members of the church are expected to set an example to others and behave in a manner which will not bring the church into disrepute.
Any member charged with child abuse, when this is known to the church, may be suspended immediately from any positions of responsibility in the church until such time as the matter is resolved to the satisfaction of the church.
Adult and youth members are expected to respect the privacy of others during activities that require undressing, dressing or changing clothes. Leaders should set an example by protecting their own privacy in similar situations.
Nude swimming, or other such activities, are forbidden.
No youth member is permitted to sleep in close proximity to an adult, other than a parent or guardian of the youth member, unless there is significant separation, and privacy of all parties is respected.
Under no circumstances should an adult ever share accommodation with one youth member only. Should such a situation arise however, a report outlining the circumstances should be provided to the Minister/Church at the earliest opportunity.
Initiations and secret ceremonies are prohibited. All aspects of children and youth programmes are open to observation by parents and other interested adults.
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