March 7, 2012

07CN: Abuse Prevention a Priority for Adventist Risk Mgt.

Abuse Prevention ?a Priority
for Adventist ?Risk Management

Insurance unit working to shield minors, fulfill church’s mission (Posted Mar. 8, 2012)


A new child protection program from the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s risk-management unit is galvanizing efforts to shield minors from abuse and misconduct.

Through training for adults and children, as well as background screening for employees and volunteers who work closely with minors, Adventist Risk Management’s (ARM) Child Protection Plan equips local leaders to make the church a safe place, said ARM vice president and chief risk management officer Arthur Blinci.

“It’s part of our mission to help protect the ministries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” said Blinci, citing Children’s Ministries, Youth Ministries, Pathfinders, and Adventurers as a “core component” of those ministries. “Faith-based communities have a moral, ethical, and legal responsibility to protect children from harm when they’re in our care,” he said.

The church has made significant strides toward achieving that goal. In North America many church employees and volunteers are “mandated reporters,” Blinci said. This means they have a legal obligation to report abuse or allegations of abuse that occur within the church setting. By 2003 the church’s North American Division had drafted a protocol for dealing with sexual misconduct and child abuse. Late last year the division voted a new child protection policy mandating that every level of church administration implements training and screening programs for volunteers.

2012 1507newsARM

 PREVENTING ABUSE: ARM vice president and chief risk management officer Arthur Blinci wants to put tools and resources in the hands of local church leaders. A partnership with Shield the Vulnerable equips them to better protect children, he said. [PHOTO: ARM]

The Adventist world church has also been proactive about writing guidelines and voting policies to protect minors. Indeed, at the church’s General Conference session in 2010, delegates voted to add to the Church Manual specific language guiding the appointment of church employees and volunteers who work closely with minors. They agreed adults leading out in Pathfinders, Vacation Bible School, children’s ministries, and Sabbath school programs “must meet church and legal standards and requirements, such as background checks or certification.”

Still, Blinci said, policies, guidelines, and good intentions go only so far. Adventist Risk Management routinely handles a couple dozen cases of child abuse every year and has spent some $30 million on indemnity cases over the past two decades. Many U.S. states have open statutes of limitations, allowing older claims of abuse to be raised and litigated. 

What the church needs are tools and resources to put in the hands of local church administrators and leaders, he said.

“We’ve heard for so many years from church members, ‘How do we do it?’ ” Blinci said.

Now Adventist Risk Management is providing an answer. Through a partnership with Shield the Vulnerable, the organization’s new Child Protection Plan offers online training for adults on addressing abuse, neglect, predators, bullying, boundaries, and respect. It also provides age-appropriate information for children on recognizing and reporting abuse.

Shield the Vulnerable—a California-based service provider that frequently works with faith-based, nonprofit organizations—also offers background screening for employees and volunteers as a “critical” line of defense, Blinci said.

“So often, especially on the volunteer side, there’s typically no screening. You want to volunteer for children’s ministries? Great, come on, we can use you,” he said. “Now, when potential volunteers know before they even apply that you’re going to run a criminal background check, if they have a propensity, they’re not even going to volunteer.”

While creating the Child Protection Plan, ARM discovered that the church’s Lake Union Conference had already partnered with Shield the Vulnerable and piloted its training and screening programs in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and a portion of Minnesota.

Blinci expects all 59 of the North American Division’s conferences will follow suit in the coming months. Through Shield the Vulnerable, a conference or other administrative unit creates an account that tracks progress as they train volunteers and perform background screenings. “It goes all the way down to the local church and school level,” he said.