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Book aims to help faith communities end abuse and neglect

   
 
   

Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Publishing Network joint release
September 17, 2010
-John Longhurst

WATERLOO, Ont. and SCOTTDALE, Pa.—Jeanette Harder’s goal is to help churches and communities become safe places for children.

“I strongly feel the need to prevent child abuse in church, but also in neighbourhoods, schools and anywhere else,” says Harder, a professor at the Grace Abbott School of Social Work at the Uni­versity of Nebraska at Omaha and author of the new book Let the Children Come: Preparing Faith Communities to End Abuse and Neglect (Herald Press).

Sadly, however, “scores of children are hurt every day by those responsible to care for them,” she says, noting that 3.7 million reports of abuse involving 5.8 million children were made to Child Protective Services in the U.S. in 2008.

In Canada, she adds, 217,319 child investigations were conducted in 2003, of which 103,297 (47 percent) were substantiated.

“Through abuse and neglect, the light in these children’s eyes is fading,” Harder says. “They are giving up on the hope that someone will ever love them in a way that doesn’t hurt. They need us to protect them, value them and give them life again.”

The most common type of abuse is neglect, which she defines as lack of care, food, education, medical care or supervision. Most of the abuse is perpetrated by people closest to children—their parents and caretakers.

“It’s important to teach our children about ‘stranger danger,’” she observes, “but it is also important to realize that more children are hurt by their caretakers or other people they know and trust.”

What can the church do to address this important issue? A good place to start is the Bible, says Harder, a member of First Mennonite Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“The Bible has a lot to say about strengthening families,” she says. “We find stories of Jesus blessing and taking time for children. We find parents valuing and protecting their children. We find instructions for healthy family relationships. Overarching all this, we find the importance of family and family relationships.”

At the same time, there are practical measures churches can take to safeguard children entrusted to their care, she notes. This includes having procedures and policies regarding work with children, educating everyone who works with children about abuse and neglect, always requiring that two adults be present whenever children are involved in a program or a class, putting windows into every classroom door, and screening everyone who wants to work with children.

It’s the last point that raises the most controversy, she notes.

“Nobody wants to believe abuse could happen in our churches,” she says. “But research and experience tell us that it does. We need training to recognize the signs of abuse and to know how to respond.”

For this reason, churches need a plan in place “before something bad happens, not wait until it happens.”

Through Let the Children Come, churches can find practical how-to ideas and guidelines for protecting children and ending abuse in churches, the home, extended families, neighbourhoods and schools. Harder adds that each chapter of the book contains real-life stories, discussion questions and action items,  while the appendix includes prayers, readings and exercises for use in adult education.

“Jesus commands us to ‘love your neighbour as yourself,’” Harder says. “The children in our families, our churches and the communities where we live and work are our neighbours. We must do all we can to keep children safe and provide them what they need to grow and thrive.”

Let the Children Come: Preparing Faith Communities to End Child Abuse and Neglect is available from Herald Press at www.mpn.net/letthechildrencome or by calling 1-800-631-6535 (Canada), or 1-800-245-7894 (U.S.). Price: /$14.99 CAD/$12.99 USD.

Herald Press is the book imprint of Mennonite Publishing Network, the publishing ministry of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.