When I was in seminary, one of my field placement assignments was an inner city church. My primary job was to be a Sunday school teacher for the kids – the only teacher. There were usually fifteen kids from age five to fifteen. Many of them were related so they helped take care of the others, but oh my! That was a lot of responsibility. The kids, for the most part, were great! But I was concerned with their safety and the message we were sending them. There were no where near enough adults in the mix for their safety.
My concern with the lesson we were teaching them was that it was ok to be alone with an adult they didn’t really know. These kids had never seen me before and they were supposed to trust me because I was Miss Jackie and other adults said they should trust me. The pastor of the church did not appreciate my concerns and primarily ignored me.
I was reminded of this experience over the weekend. Two men had come by our house last week, hoping to buy some of the scrap metal we had around the farm. We had arranged for them to come back over the weekend. One of the man brought two of his kids. I didn’t mind that the kids were here, but I was concerned that their father just let them go with me to show them around. I had asked if I could show them some of our potato plants, and stay close to the van, but the kids then wanted to see the basketball hoop, the pumper machine (to air up the little boy’s basketball), and the cat (who stays in the house). Our property isn’t huge, but there was no concern on the father’s part that he didn’t know me and I was going to be alone with his kids. I knew I wouldn’t do anything to the kids, but I was again concerned with the lesson being taught.
The father was busy and didn’t seem too concerned where the kids went, assuming that because I was an adult, I’d keep them safe. Too many adults assume their kids will be safe because they are with a “responsible” adult. But how does one really know? There are no signs people are forced to wear that say, “Your kids aren’t safe around me.” It would be nice if we could do that, but most people would never be identified because so many victims never tell.
The little boy, who had his fifth birthday last week, wanted to know if he could go in the house and see our cat. I said I didn’t think that was a good idea, not that I minded if they came in the house, but because it wasn’t a good precedent to set for them. It really is not ok to go in a stranger’s house to see their cat, dog, get candy, watch television, whatever. It just really isn’t safe. The little boy wasn’t doing anything wrong and he was just curious, but it was not something I was going to contribute to. He may never think twice about it, but I didn’t want to teach him that it was a good idea.
Knowing that abuse exists and is so prevalent is a good thing, but it has certainly opened my eyes to things we do, and allow our kids to do without question. In a recent conversation with Jennifer, she described a meeting at a church in which the church wanted to implement policies to make kids safer. She raised the point that everyone should go through training, not just Sunday school teachers and the pastors. People in the meeting got upset because they did not think they janitor should have to be trained. It was the rational that the janitor never had direct contact with the kids, so there was no reason why the janitor should be required to participate. Jennifer raised the point that the janitor never had contact with the children, except when a child went to the bathroom and the janitor was cleaning in there. Then people started to get the picture that child abuse is often a crime of opportunity, and child molesters will make any opportunity.
This story is not to say that all janitors are waiting to molest children. It is just an example of people who slip through the visible cracks because we aren’t willing to think broadly enough to include as many people as possible when dealing with child abuse. Sadly, there is no way to look at anyone and know whether or not children are safe around them. Parents have to be educated about the risks, be realistic about abuse really happening, educate their kids in age appropriate ways, and always, always, always be vigilant and listen, even to things that are unspoken.
If you have a scenario you’d like to run by Jennifer or I about keeping kids safe, please email either one of us and get the conversation started to keep kids safe.