Online Ministries and Child Abuse During COVID-19
Happy New Year! As we welcome in 2022, we are still living with COVID-19. Quarantining, virtual schools, and remote work are now a part of our daily lexicon.
This isolation is separating many of us from much-needed personal relationships and connections we get from school, work, social events, and houses of worship.
Human beings are social beings who need personal connection.
At this time of COVID-19 (even in 2022!), we need to be creative in how we connect with others. In the past couple of years, more churches and schools have developed online social meeting options ― whether they’re on Facebook groups, Zoom meetings, or Google Hangouts ― to stay connected with their members, including children.
The longer the pandemic persists, the more common these online social gatherings will become. Plus, as so many of the country’s children continue to learn online, more children and their families will find themselves comfortable with and proficient in the use of online technology that they might not have otherwise used.
And this is where the nature of child protection in your ministries may need to be fine-tuned. While many of our clients have technology topics in their Codes of Conduct and provide our Technology Safety training to their employees and adult volunteers and similar training through our children’s learning program, it’s importance directly within ministries may need to be addressed.
COVID-19 may be letting the proverbial online social tech genie out of the bottle for youth ministries.
It may be time for religious institutions to seriously re-evaluate their organizational technology policies, in particular as they relate to youth ministries.
For example, in-person ministries normally require two adults present at all times when adults are working or volunteering with children. How will this translate to online in your youth ministries?
Your organization may decide to allow “approved” online platforms which are under the control of the organization (or at least the accounts are controlled by your organization) to be used for youth ministries. And in the process of youth groups using authorized platforms, your organization will need to consider having multiple, background-checked, and trained online monitors and facilitators so there are at least two adults monitoring all online communication, whether child to child or between adults and children.
It’s no guarantee ill-meaning adults won’t go off-grid and use alternate communication channels, but it sends a strong message that can be reinforced in policies and codes of conduct that communicating outside approved platforms places the adult in a position of potential negative consequences. Your organization may also have the ability in online platforms to document communications if needed.
May we all come out of this pandemic strengthened and in a better place to help protect children.
Compass Child Protection offers online child abuse prevention training for organizations and individuals.