A collaboration of organizations and volunteers from schools, worship centers and civic groups wants to ensure that the faith community is doing everything it can to safeguard children.
A workshop Friday will look at faith-based doctrine, facilities and personnel, with the goal being safer environments for young people.
The group hosting the workshop, Friends of Children: A Community Partnership, is striving to make another segment of society — churches, synagogues, temples and other religious organization — aware of child abuse and neglect issues.
"We are not targeting faith communities," said Amanda Harrison, regional trainer and coordinator for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services at Eastern Kentucky University. "We are going to high schools and middle schools, and I've done roll calls in the Lexington police department. It's not just the faith community, but that is a place where we want to become involved."
Sometimes members of a tightknit church, temple or synagogue community are more hesitant to report abuse, she said. They prefer to handle the issue quietly, out of the glare of public scrutiny. That also can be the mind-set of families, neighbors or any other close-knit group. But the priority should be the safety of children, she said.
"It is important to understand that no one is free of the risk of children being harmed," Harrison said. "Once you are aware, that is the first step."
Curt Ehrmantraut, a member of Friends of Children, said faith communities offer a good way to spread the word to a lot of people quickly and to get them more involved with community efforts at-large.
Training faith-based volunteers and administrators about ways to ward off potential dangers of child abuse is extremely valuable, he said.
"It's about how to make your places of worship safe," Ehrmantraut said. "It's about the training and screening of volunteers and staff."
Among the measures that can be taken is use of the two-adult rule, he said, meaning no child should be left alone with one adult. Also, building design should be considered, making sure there are no secret places without windows or doors.
The Rev. Micki McHugh, associate pastor at Lawrenceburg First Christian Church, where a child protective policy has been in place for three years, said it can be hard for the faith community to take that first step to ensure the safety of children.
When her church's policy was implemented, she said, the church incurred the expense of about 100 national criminal background checks. Fortunately, she said, most of the cost was defrayed by the church's insurance, she said.
"It's just about being intentional," McHugh said, adding that the church also needed to recruit more adult volunteers for some programs like the adult-child mentoring programs that once featured one-on-one meetings with a child and an adult. Those were changed to include another adult.
Other issues include safety inspections of cribs, toys and other items.
Also, the group will examine some child-rearing beliefs that might be distorted in faith-based communities. For example, the philosophy often quoted from Proverbs, "spare the rod and spoil the child," doesn't mean beating children, said the Rev. Jim Thurman, associate pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church.
In reality, a shepherd's rod is more often used for providing direction, he said.
Marion Gibson, director of Strengthening Kentucky Families, or SKY Families, said the workshop will cover four main topics:
■ How to recognize abuse and neglect.
■ How to keep the sanctuary safe.
■ Reporting abuse and neglect.
■ Confidentiality in the faith community.
And, Gibson said, the group will broach the subject of adoption and foster care. "Research shows that children do better if accepted within their (racial and cultural) communities," she said. "Faith is a community as well."
SKY Families conducts court-ordered parenting classes for families who are in crisis. "We get kids home sooner," she said.
Changes in the way children are taught, mentored and watched in our worship centers might cost a little more initially and alter our faith philosophies, but those changes will make our children safer. Who can argue with that?