Safe Congregation Policy
First Parish in Framingham
Safe Congregation Policy: Abuse, Harassment, Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence
I. Philosophy Statement
We, the members of the First Parish in Framingham (First Parish) are aware of the existence of abuse, harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence in our society, that it crosses gender, race and class lines, and that we as a congregation need to address these issues.
Our commitment, as Unitarian Universalists, to the inherent worth and dignity of every person and to justice and compassion, compel us to create a safe environment that protects children, youth, and adults from harm and promotes their spiritual growth.
First Parish is a special place that highly values the ideas of community and the search for truth. It is a place that encourages personal growth, allows for a variety of personal philosophies and supports individuals and families in their efforts to build better lives and a better society. As a caring, intergenerational community we can respond to those in need in broad and flexible ways.
Intent of Policy
This policy is intended to create an atmosphere in which safety is given high priority and is properly maintained. It is not intended to create an implied or expressed contract with any person. It is not intended to create a legally enforceable or binding representation.
This policy is written for all congregational participants, as well as for the minister and staff.
Employees of the congregation who are legally designated as “mandated reporters” will be guided by the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Behaviors addressed by this policy are defined below, for the purpose of this policy:
Abuse is a pattern of behavior that is used to control and/or dominate another person. Abuse can be physical, psychological, and/or sexual.
Types of abuse addressed by this policy:
Physical — includes actual or threatened imminent harm, such as hitting or shoving, kicking or throwing things. The harm or threat thereof may also be against family members, pets, or belongings.
Psychological includes being mistreated mentally and emotionally, such as being insulted, ridiculed, or threatened orally or in writing, including threats or damage to belongings.
Sexual — please see definition below for sexual assault.
Harassment includes unsolicited and unwelcome conduct that in the case of sexual harassment has sexual overtones. All forms of harassment can feel intrusive, intimidating hostile, offensive and/or humiliating to the victim. This includes physical, psychological, and sexual harassment. Stalking is also a type of harassment. We consider these three areas to overlap, but are focusing on the primary complaint. Unwelcome physical touch with sexual overtones would be considered sexual harassment
Types of harassment addressed by this policy:
Physical — pertaining to unwanted touch, contact or other physical intrusions on another’s space.
Psychological — pertaining to emotional and mental levels of pestering, intruding, stalking and similar repeated, unwelcome conduct
Sexual — pertaining to unwanted sexualized behaviors, which may be in the form of:
Physical Contact – touching pinching, brushing against, impeding or blocking movement, assault coercing sexual activities, etc.
Verbal Contact – sexually suggestive or obscene comments, sexual propositions, threats (including threat of job loss or other punishment unless victim engages in sexual relations), jokes about gender specific traits or sexual orientation.
Written Conduct – sexually suggestive or obscene written materials.
Sexual Assault includes any type of sexual activity with a child or youth or any sexual activity that one does not agree to including: inappropriate touching, vaginal, anal or oral penetration, sexual intercourse that a person has said “no” to, rape, and attempted rape. For the purposes of this policy, in addition to the criminal definition of sex crimes, sexual assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces or coerces a person into unwanted, non-consensual sexual contact or attention.
Domestic Violence: When any of the above behaviors occur in the context of an intimate relationship with the purpose or effect being un-negotiated control of one person over another, it may be referred to as domestic violence.
III. Screening and Hiring Paid Staff
At minimum, the following items should be included in the process for hiring all paid staff at First Parish:
- Written position descriptions, provided to all applicants
- Application forms, including: personal identification, multiple references and consent to contact references, current address, employment and volunteer history for at least ten years, any criminal convictions, and
- Signatures with date certifying that information provided is true and correct.
- Background checks
- Reference checks
IV. Response to Abuse, Harassment, Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence
As members of First Parish, it is our goal to educate and prepare ourselves so that we can respond rationally, compassionately, and with unity of purpose should we suspect or be confronted with an incident or disclosure of abuse, harassment, sexual assault or domestic violence.
We wish to respond to victims in a spirit of support and understanding, and to further justice and healing, remembering that:
The sources and solutions to the problem are diverse and involve us all. We desire to protect the children and youth in our care, to support survivors and foster an environment within which they can continue to heal, and to support offenders engaged in treatment and healing. It is our sincere belief that by honoring these commitments we will make a substantial contribution to the creation of a spiritual community that reflects our highest ideals.
A. The Safe Congregation Response Team
It is essential that disclosures be met with an appropriate and supportive reaction on the part of the person receiving the disclosure and the community. Inappropriate reactions or a lack of reaction can have the impact of repeating abuse for survivors and may inhibit survivors or offenders from seeking help in the future.
With this in mind, we hereby authorize the creation of a Safe Congregation Response Team (Response Team). The Response Team will be made known to the membership with the names and phone numbers of members widely available to all members and friends of First Parish. The Response Team will be composed of five members: the Minister, the Chair of the Board of Assessors, the Director of Religious Education (DRE), a member of the Committee on Ministry, and another congregant who has expertise in this topic. In cases of conflict of interest, a team member may be excused from participation and replaced by a suitable alternate selected by the Response Team.
We recognize that the relationship between the minister (who is a member of the Response Team), and the person about whom allegations have been made will change. The team will provide a person about whom allegations have been made with ministry referrals as necessary. In addition, the team will ensure that the person about whom allegations have been made has the option of having a support person from within the congregation. This person will be included in the process.
Members of the Response Team will be well educated in this policy and will become knowledgeable about available resources for children, youth, and adults, and specific legal mandated reporting procedures for children and youth. Guided by the Philosophy Statement, their function, individually and collectively, will be to offer confidential support, advice, and counsel, with concern for the safety of all parties involved. They will be available to consult informally with members of the congregation about questions and concerns. The Response Team may also assist the Board of Assessors in making personnel decisions when the allegation has been made against staff, or may assist the Board in making decisions about the role of a member in the congregation. As a part of this process, the Safe Congregation Response Team may defer assessments to trained perpetrator treatment professionals in the community and will consult with an attorney.
The role of the Response Team is not to establish facts or conduct criminal investigations, though the committee may make assessments about whether it is safe for a person about whom allegations have been made to continue participating in the congregation, and in what form that participation may take place. However, gathering available information including any information that has been established as fact (through, for example, a court) may be part of the team’s work.
B. Known Sexual Offenders
Should a person who is known to have a history involving possible or known criminal sexual offenses wish to participate in the congregation, the Response Team will meet and gather information (including, as a part of this process, an assessment by a trained perpetrator treatment professional in the community and consultation with an attorney) to determine if it will be possible to safely integrate the individual into the congregation.
A person may be excluded from all congregational activities if they meet one the following conditions:
- Refusal to allow the minister to contact the treatment provider and parole officer
- Refusal to go for a risk assessment with a qualified therapist
- Refusal to sign a Limited Access Agreement
- Refusal to comply with the requirements of the Limited Access Agreement OR if a
- Report by a treatment provider indicated that the individual is at too high risk for recidivism
Should integration be possible, a contract or covenant will be developed with this individual specifying appropriate and allowable types of participation, and requirements for this participation if applicable. As a part of this contract or covenant notification to the congregation may be required. SEE Appendix for Contract/Covenant.
C. Procedure for Members and Staff Reporting Abuse, Harassment or Other Forms of Sexual Assault
All reports of abuse, harassment, or sexual assault will be handled according to state and federal law and the provisions of this policy. Law enforcement officials will be contacted whenever there is reasonable suspicion of abuse against a minor.
Specifically, the following reporting guidelines will apply:
- Reports Involving Minors (Children or Youth):
A witness to an adult physically or sexually abusing a minor shall call 911 immediately. If the minor talks to the witness or if there is a reasonable suspicion of abuse, the witness shall take notes at that time or immediately after the interaction. These notes shall include what was said or observed, with details such as names, dates, times, location, and witness.
Without making any accusations, the witness will:
a. Assure the minor that she/he is understood and will be protected.
b. Inform the minor about the response procedure and the next step in the process.
c. With the help of the Response Team, make a verbal report to Child Protective Services or law enforcement as soon as possible. The matter should be reported to one of the members of the Safe Congregation Response Team as soon as possible but not later than twenty four (24) hours. Other that as indicated above, all information will be kept strictly confidential.
d. The Safe Congregation Response Team will provide ministerial services to the minor’s family and will make referrals to appropriate community service.
2. Reports by Adults, not involving a minor
a. If there is immediate danger 911 shall be called first and then a member of the Response Team will be informed.
b. If danger is not immediate, a report to a member of the Response Team will be made as soon as possible.
c. Other than as above, all information shall be kept strictly confidential.
3.Reports made against the Minister:
a. The person making the report shall make a confidential statement, orally or in writing to a member of the Response Team.
b. That member of the Response Team shall then contact the President of the Board of Assessors who will convene the Response Team without the Minister.
c. The Response Team will immediately take steps to convene, to gather facts, evaluate, take action to assure the safety of anyone at risk, report to the Board of Assessors with recommended actions, and provide a response to the person making the report.
4. Reports made Against Staff
a.The person making the report shall make a confidential statement, orally or in writing, to a member of the Response Team.
b. That member of the Response Team shall contact the President of the Board of Assessors who will arrange for a meeting of the Response Team. If the staff person is a member of the Response Team, the team will convene without him/her.
c. The Response Team will immediately take steps to convene to gather facts, evaluate, take action to assure the safety of anyone at risk, report to the Board of Assessors and the staff person’s supervisor with recommended actions, and provide a response to the person making the report.
5. Reports made by Church Staff
Staff members should refer to the laws of the Personnel Policy Manual for additional information when matters are related to their employment.
D. Response to Disruptive/Offensive Behavior
Appropriate steps may be taken whenever the behavior of a member or guest has the effect of interfering with another person’s personal safety and/or, in extreme cases, spiritual growth. The minister, church staff, and church officers all have the right to exclude or remove from the church premises, by any lawful means, any person whose conduct is so disruptive and/or offensive as to impair the functioning of the church. This conduct may come to their attention by direct observation or by oral or written complaint of another member or guest. The objectionable conduct may be in person, by mail, by telephone, or by other means.
If the complaining person and/or church official (such as minister, staff member etc.) believes the person committing the objectionable behavior is not aware that his/her actions are disruptive or offensive, the offender should be approached in this way:
1. Clearly and directly tell the person what action is disruptive and/or offensive.
2. State that you expect the person to stop the disruptive/offensive behavior.
3. Firmly tell the person that if his/her action persists, you will file a formal action with the Response Team.
If this effort is ineffective or if this approach is deemed unacceptable or unsafe, the person making the report can contact the Response Team orally or in writing. The Response Team will meet as soon as practical to gather facts, evaluate, take action to assure the safety of anyone at risk, and prepare a response for the person making the report.
The Response Team may resolve the complaint by recommending to Board of Assessors that they do any or all of the following:
1. Terminate committee, teaching, or other volunteer positions
3. Require that the offender begin therapy or treatment to remain a church member;
4. Remove an offender from church membership
5. File formal charges under state or federal law
E. Religious Exploration Program (RE)
Children and youth (minors)—which we will define for the purpose of this section as any person under the age of 18 or any person enrolled in our children or youth programs (abbreviated RE) are an especially vulnerable part of our community. Protecting them is a central part of congregational life.
Congregational protective measures for our children and youth will include:
- Screening and hiring of staff paid or volunteer:a) Hiring of paid staff will include, at minimum, all steps listed elsewhere in this document.
b) The Director of Religious Exploration must be informed whenever a new volunteer agrees to work with our children or youth.
c) Recruitment, of volunteers who will work with children or youth on a more than one-time basis must be approved by the Director of Religious Education, who is authorized to make a final decision about the candidate’s suitability for the work.
d) Except for some one-time volunteer positions, all volunteer candidates must be active participants in the congregation for at least six months before being considered for any work in the RE program.
e) A background check will be completed by the Director of Religious Exploration on all volunteers who work with children or youth on a more than one-time basis. Any volunteer, short or long term, who has not yet completed a background check, must work within view of a volunteer or paid staff person for whom a background check has been completed. For as long as a volunteer continues to work at First Parish, background checks will be completed at least every two years.
f) All paid staff at First Parish will receive a background check, which will be repeated every year. All background checks, whether completed for – volunteers or paid staff, will be kept in secured storage.
g) If the results of a background check on a volunteer candidate indicate potential risks should the candidate work with children or youth, the Director of Religious Education and the Minister will together make a decision about the candidacy. If potential risks are indicated on a background check of a candidate for a paid position, the hiring authority may consult with the Response Team before making decision about hiring the candidate.
h) All volunteers working at First Parish and all paid staff will sign a copy of our Code of Ethics for leadership with children and youth.
i) Because individuals cannot maintain responsibility without appropriate authority, authority is granted to program staff to require that a volunteer step down from a particular position based on staff discretion. Dismissal of paid staff will be conducted consistent to Personnel policies.
a. “The Two-Adult Rule”— No fewer than two adults will be present at all times during any RE program, subject to the following exceptions:
*For the purposes of the nursery, one youth who has a Sunday Supervisor and the Director of Religious Exploration checking in on the nursery regularly may qualify to meet the two-”adult” requirements for the care of children 0-3 years old as long as there is a window into the nursery. However, if an adult (such as the parent of a nursery-age child or an adult staff person) is in the nursery along with the youth, other adults must be present in the building and again, there must be a window into the nursery.
* In the cases of sensitive conversations between a child/youth and the Minister or Director of Religious Exploration, whenever possible this should occur in a room with an open door within view of others. However, if having the door open is not appropriate, as long as the room has a window to the outside or into the rest of the building, and as long as other adults are present in the building, the door may be closed.
* The two-adult rule will be followed whenever possible for transportation. However, exceptions to the two-adult rule for the purposes of transportation will occasionally be approved by the program staff if necessary due to the length of travel, size of car, etc. In this case, the adult must transport more than one child or youth at a time, and preferably travel in a multi-vehicle caravan.
* For children, the two adults must be present in the same room with the children. For middle or high school youth, there may be times when it is reasonable for the two adults to be in separate areas of the building for short periods. However, at overnight events for youth, during sleeping hours, two adults must be present in the room that any adult occupies with youth.
* Off the church grounds of First Parish, adults must follow the two-adult rule or, in certain circumstances, can be in a public location with a youth for predetermined, limited periods.
b. Phone access for 911 should be available during any RE program.
c. “The Five-Years-Older Rule”— No one who is less than five years older than the oldest possible child/youth in a particular RE program will be allowed to be in a supervisory role. In addition, no one who is younger than thirteen years of age will be in a supervisory role.
d. A window is located on all classroom doors. Windows shall remain uncovered while children or youth are present.
e. “Advance Notice Rule”— Parents/guardians will be given advance notice and information regarding events in which their children/youth will be participating. Parents and program staff must be notified before the event if a volunteer or paid staff person will be alone with a child or youth; parents must give permission for their child/youth’s participation in such a situation.
f. A written covenant of participation will be developed and remain available for First Parish. The covenant will be a statement in which the participants and leaders agree to things such as taking part, giving their best efforts, respecting others, treating others as they wish to be treated, etc. For overnights, retreats, trips, and similar events, rules will be stated at the beginning of the event.
3. Boundaries and Touching
The purpose of this part of the policy is not to prevent touch, but to promote a positive, nurturing environment through healthy touch and healthy touch boundaries. For children and youth, adults always carry more power than children and youth. Children and youth cannot—developmentally and legally—consent to particular types of touch.
a. Touch should occur only when another adult is within the vicinity. This guideline is especially important, but not limited to, when diapering a baby or helping a young child change clothes or use a restroom. Touching behavior should not give even the appearance of wrong doing. In ministry with children or youth, we must foster trust at all times; our behavior should be above reproach.
b. Touch should be appropriate for the developmental age of the child or youth. For example, young children may decide to sit on the laps of adult caregivers. However, the same behavior between an older child or youth and an adult leader would not be considered appropriate.
c. While adults may initiate appropriate, limited touching with a child or youth (putting a hand on a child’s shoulder for a moment to get his/her attention, for example), adults must respond to verbal or nonverbal feedback from the child about the touch and must immediately withdraw any touch which the child or youth seems to find uncomfortable.
d. In general, hugs, lap sitting, and similar touching should be initiated by the child or youth rather than the adult, and should never occur without consent. The adult should respond to the child or youth’s need for comforting, encouragement, or affection, and not base touching on their own emotional need.
e. When playing games as a part of a First Parish activity, particularly those that involve touch, participants must always be able to opt to observe rather than participate; guidelines for appropriate touch (on someone’s shoulder vs. on their leg) should be provided, and adults should remain vigilant about ensuring that consent is continual.
f. Adults are responsible for protecting children and youth in their care from inappropriate touching by other children and youth in their care. For example, adults should take care that when two children are wrestling with one another on the playground, both children are genuinely consenting to this play.
g. Promptly discuss any questionable behavior by other adults interacting with children or between children or youth with the Director of Religious Education or Minister.
V. Administration of the Policy
A. Annual Review of the Safe Congregation Policy
Together with all paid staff, the Safe Congregation Response Team will review compliance with the Safe Congregation policy and potential risks annually. The Safe Congregation Response Team will report to the Board of Assessors at the conclusion of this review. As needed, the Safe Congregation Response Team will draft any necessary changes to the Safe Congregation Policy, and the draft will be sent to the Board of Assessors for approval.
B. Activities Covered by These Policies
All activities of the First Parish in Framingham are included within the scope of these policies. Outside groups that use our church facilities will be informed of this policy as applicable and strongly encouraged to comply with sections of the policy that apply. Those groups that use the building on a regularly scheduled basis will be required to comply with the policy as if they were a part of the congregation.
C. Waiver of Policy
Church policies may be waived occasionally for exceptional circumstances. The goal of First Parish is to maintain a high degree of safety. At times, practical considerations may change the level of protection possible. Policies will be waived only in exceptional circumstances and must be authorized by the program staff person in charge. All waivers will be documented in writing, and the Safe Congregation Response Team will be informed of the waivers in a timely manner.