3/4 of Responding Churches Now Have Policies!

Dove’s Nest is celebrating a significant increase in the number of churches reporting they have a written child protection policy. This finding appeared in a survey conducted by Dove’s Nest board and staff this spring, began as the organization is approaching its ten-year anniversary in 2019. 

In 2010, only half of churches reported having a child protection policy. In the 2018 survey, nearly three-fourths of churches reported having a policy.

The survey also found that large rural churches are the most likely to have a child protection policy. Small churches in urban areas appear the least likely to have child protection policies. 

Here are other findings from the survey to celebrate:

  • Most churches are requesting a written application, interview, reference check, and criminal background check for paid staff, and over half are conducting a child abuse check.
  • Nearing two-thirds of respondents said they have a policy on reporting child abuse, a significant increase—44% in 2010 to 65% in 2018.
  • There is also a significant increase in churches with a policy on responding to individuals who have sexually offended—from 22% in 2010 to almost 50% in 2018.
  • Nearly half of churches reported they used Dove’s Nest resources to write or update their child protection policy. 
  • Respondents indicated the Dove’s Nest website (www.dovesnest.net) was the most useful resource Dove’s Nest offers. 

Areas for continued growth that the study revealed include:

  • Only about half of churches are conducting a criminal background and child abuse check on volunteers, and about one-fourth are requesting a reference check, written application, and interview. 
  • Over two-thirds of Sunday school classrooms in responding churches have only one adult volunteer.
  • Nearly half of staff and teachers in churches have not received child protection training in the last year.
  • Less than half of churches incorporated a child protection theme into worship.
  • Two-thirds of responding churches have never taught Circle of Grace

“While churches have made significant strides toward protecting children and youth, they still have a long way to go,” says Jeanette Harder, cofounder of Dove’s Nest and board member. “Until more people accept the reality that children and youth in our congregations are being hurt by abuse, they won’t adopt and implement safe practices. The impact study evidences the difficulty churches face in keeping children and youth safe, and the value they place in an external perspective that an organization like Dove’s Nest can bring.”

The 2018 survey had a 20% response rate compared to the 2010 survey with a 32% response rate. The top responding conferences in 2018 included Western District congregations accounting for 21% of the responses, Central Plains Mennonite Conference at 14%, and Ohio Conference at 10%.

Dove’s Nest board and staff see new challenges have emerged surrounding pornography; internet safety; healthy boundaries for children, youth, and adults; supporting adult victims; child-on-child abuse; appropriate touch; and responding to offenders. The 2018 survey found that, on average, respondents would like more information on healthy boundary training for youth and internet safety.

Unlike the 2010 survey, this one included a qualitative component. Dove’s Nest conducted twenty phone interviews with church, denominational, and other organizational leaders who had received a training, consultation, or similar service from Dove’s Nest in the last three years. The organization engaged an external interviewer to conduct the interviews in hopes that interviewees would speak more openly about their experiences with Dove’s Nest. 

Interviewees expressed sincere appreciation and respect for the work of Dove’s Nest. They valued the high caliber of speakers and the external perspective in difficult situations. 

This impact study is likely skewed in favor of churches with child protection policies and practices in place. Although anonymity was offered, churches without a child protection policy may not have responded. Churches with little familiarity to Dove’s Nest may not have responded. Respondents were likely to have been exposed and positively inclined toward Dove’s Nest. 

Dove’s Nest leadership is grateful to the hard work of board member and cofounder Jeanette Harder, who made this survey possible and reported the findings. It was funded by a 2017 Schowalter Foundation grant. If you are interested in more details from the survey, email anna [at] dovenest.net.