Risk for any religious organization — overseeing youth

children risk

By Crispin Ketelhut Montelione

risk management risk retentionThe largest risk for any church organization is overseeing youth.

The main goal is to create a safe environment as the basis for any child’s encounter with God to be safe and open to receive Him; this is the responsibility of caring adults.

This article outlines the issues and solutions surrounding the three greatest areas of risk to children — location, culture and human predilection — and ultimately identifies how every single person has a valuable role to play.

Some risks to children are more obvious than others. There’s increased risk within church environments, because of an assumption of trust and safety. We can drastically reduce risk to children in virtually any church environment as long as we’re vigilant and have specific “Access control” and “Monitoring programs” procedures.


Off-site ministry locations pose special problems, because the ministry is conducted outside of the typical monitoring of others. Examples include personal homes,

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vehicles, parks, public locations, sport facilities, etc. It’s important to understand that Code of Conduct / Policy requirements still carry over to any location where ministry is conducted, including the Internet.

The Internet is an off-site “location” that can be very conducive to ministry. Various types of access to the Internet that can be beneficial or harmful include: tablets, smart phones, “smartphone” watches, social media apps and gaming devices.

The very nature of interaction over the Internet is that communication is outside of the sight and hearing of others. What children and adults access and post can be harmful to youth, and could affect their reputations, safety, and can even increase their risk of harm. As adults, we must ensure that our online behavior is above reproach; it must be as transparent as our behavior in person, with oversight and monitoring of all youth Internet activities, and installation of blocking and filtering software. Instead of using personal accounts, we must also ensure that employees / volunteers use church accounts to communicate with the youth during appropriate daytime hours, copying parents on all correspondence.


Culture affects safe environments in two main ways:

1) The collective organizational culture of an entity — where tradition within the entity becomes culturally acceptable and establishes the norm regardless of actual behavior.

2) An individual’s cultural identity — which determines that a particular behavior is appropriate or not. This can be impacted by personal values, family and ethnic traditions, country of origin, etc.

The combination of these two types of culture gives individuals more or less access to children. This can negatively affect the safety of youth, even when the individual has good intentions, and the culture could condition a child to more easily accept questionable behavior by someone who has bad intentions.

Multifaceted training provides a solution and makes it entirely possible to correct the cultural impact on safe environments. Safe- environment training must have proactive and reactive elements, and engage the participant to learn tangible steps in prevention and response to problematic situations. Educating the location means learning and modeling appropriate behavior that is public, appropriate and non-sexual, and identifying potential warning signs of inappropriate relationships.

Developing a culture for safe environments and modeling that behavior from the top down via leadership support helps individuals learn to compensate for their individual culture and the collective organizational culture. And, it reminds them to always remain conscious of known risks and their personal role in mitigating those risks.

Human predilection

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Many elements are intrinsic to human nature that create human predilection to weaken or interfere with systems designed to protect youth, such as: feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, laziness, not wanting to suspect inappropriate behavior from people we love, denial, disbelief, and detrimental mentalities of “not my child” and it “couldn’t happen here.” We’ve learned so much, but consistently tend to make the same mistakes through human error. Consequently, individuals who know the right thing to do ignore it, and good people don’t act on an issue they could or should have followed through on.

Appropriate, comprehensive and consistent safe-environment training — along with updated policies, vigilance and specific procedures — can eliminate the threats to children presented by the location, culture, and human predilection.

Crispin Ketelhut Montelione is the Associate Director of the VIRTUS® Programs, a safe-environment program suite via NCS Risk Services.


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