Moving from Safe Principles to Safe Cultures: Safe Ministry Check

When it comes to making our organisations ‘safe’ the principles are all reasonably clear; the five characteristics outlined above provide a right framework for making this happen. But how do we roll these out in practice? Especially when it comes to many Christian organisations.

Most Christian organisations are much more than their staff, they are largely made up of the many volunteers who serve the organisation and other people out of a deep convictions about the value of what they’re doing. They are not paid; but they are committed to the vision of the organisation and the people under their care.

One of the mistakes Christian organisations have made in the past is to look at what they need to do to be considered complaint, and then essentially impose those compliance requirements on their volunteers. And since the list of compliance requirements for Christian Organisations are quite complex, this unintentionally feels like a burden on the volunteer workers. For example, Christian organisations are required to;

  • Have a Safe Policy and Plan, plus ensure they have issued it to each volunteer,
  • Have a Code of Conduct, plus ensure that every volunteer has agreed to it,
  • Ask every volunteer to make a personal disclosure about any previous incidents or accusations,
  • Ask every volunteer for two referees (one from a supervisor within the organisation and one from an individual outside the organisation) plus ensure they have contacted and recorded those referee responses,
  • Ensure their volunteers have received some training in how to identify and report abuse plus ensure this training is up to date,
  • Then, if they are working with children, ensure they have a verified State check plus be aware of when that check will expire.

However, when our organisations make these compliance issues the focus of our safeguarding practice we can unintentionally communicate that we value compliance over the important work that our volunteers are doing, and we miss the opportunity to connect our volunteer’s convictions with the safeguarding culture we want them to have.

Culture is different from compliance… Culture is how your volunteers feel about being safe, it’s how they value safe behaviours in themselves and others. It’s their personal commitment to looking out for vulnerable people and a willingness to call something out or report something if they have a concern.

Culture is for everyone – not just the volunteers. A safe culture is one where everyone – the kids, the members of the group, the band members, the event participants – they all care about the safety of one another. Culture is a heart issue, and demanding safety compliance doesn’t usually create a safeguarding culture.

The ideal: Integrating compliance with a focus on creating a safeguarding culture

However, there is a pathway that we can navigate that doesn’t put compliance and culture in opposition. And this is what we’ve tried to create in partnership with Ansvar. It starts with an understanding that most of the people in our Christian organisations are there for really good reasons, one of which is that they think it’s important to love people and help them. And that’s the same motivation that drives our organisations to safeguard vulnerable people.

This is the motivation we at Safe Ministry Check want to help organisations tap into with their staff and volunteers. A common desire from the top down to love people well. Here’s how we encourage many Christian organisations to do it;

  1. Communicate (from the leadership) that you value the work your staff and volunteers do for people, and you want to help them and support them as they seek to care for people who might be vulnerable or face abuse in various forms.
  2. Get those volunteers, together with the people they are caring for to discuss what it means to be vulnerable, how they might identify if someone experiencing abuse, and what they should do if they have a concern for someone’s safety. To do this, we’ve created a set of 4 short videos (around 3-4 minutes each) and association discussion questions. Volunteers watch these either on their own or with the people they’re caring for and together discuss the importance of looking out for each other’s safety. Right there, in the space of 30-45 mins, you’ve taken a massive step in establishing a safe
    culture – not only in your organisation but also in the community that your organisation cares for.
  3. After they’ve done this, tell the leaders you want to help them be even more prepared and supported if they come across people who are experiencing abuse, by asking them to do a further 30min online course about how they should behave as leaders and how they should respond if someone reveals they’ve been experiencing abuse. We’ve also created this video material (and a further one designed for volunteers and staff who are responsible for leading large teams and sit over whole programs). The brilliance of this course is that it asks the volunteer to complete all the compliance requirements as part of the training course. It integrates the importance of screening and vetting volunteers into the culture setting activity of supporting them as they care for other people.

At Safe Ministry Check, we’ve been able to help thousands and thousands of volunteers, staff and even group participants engage meaningfully in short online courses. And rather than making them feel like a hoop they have to jump through or a burden that frustrates them, we keep getting feedback from churches, ministries and the people in them who tell us how much they loved doing the course and how it empowered them to make safeguarding others a central value in their work. Make managing your compliance as easy as possible; so you can focus on culture.

The last practical point to note is the organisational energy that can be taken up trying to manage the baseline compliance requirements. Our organisations can get dragged into the mire of chasing forms and names and dates and verifications – and all that energy can quickly become our focus. We can find ourselves aiming at compliance alone, rather than a culture that loves safeguarding people.

That’s why we’ve developed a compliance management system built into Safe Ministry Check online. It allows you to see where everyone in your organisation is up to with their training, referees, screening and verifications. It tells you when people’s checks are about to expire and it automates the referee checking and working with children check verifications – saving your organisation hundreds of work hours per year. Using a tool like Safe Ministry Check helps you embed a safeguarding culture in your organisation, while ensuring you’re also meeting all your compliance requirements.

Culture? Check!
Compliance? Check!
Safe Ministry Check!

Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash