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NEYM Youth Ministries and Child Safety
Youth workers with New England Yearly Meeting, Friends Camp and the affiliated Monthly Meetings have been given a sacred trust: to help the youth and children of NEYM grow in the Spirit, and to grow safely. While we often focus on the content of our programs, we are also conscious that our way of being with youth is as important as the content the program provides—children and youth follow our lead, and we teach mostly by example. For our programs to be successful and safe, youth workers, youth, and parents need a common language and understanding of what makes for a safe and trusting environment. In order to ensure the physical, emotional and spiritual safety of participating children and youth workers, we should agree on some guidelines in our work with children and youth. This general understanding also requires us to be specific and clear in our language and expectations.
An important part of this work is raising awareness about the potential for sexual abuse. There are many definitions of sexual abuse—for the purposes of this document, we will define sexual abuse as any sexual activity with a child by an adult or another child who is older or more powerful. (For further information about the definition and dynamics of sexual abuse, see "Sexual Abuse, Additional Information" in the appendix.) It is much easier to create conditions that prevent the occurrence of abuse than to detect its occurrence or the presence of potential perpetrators. Our efforts here focus primarily on prevention.
In recent years, we have learned of the potential for hurt and abuse of children and youth in different faith communities. The effects of the sexual abuse of a child in a faith community are catastrophic and far reaching. Everyone is hurt – the abused person may carry scars and memories for their entire life; the victim’s family and friends can be traumatized; the community in which the abuse occurs may be deeply wounded and divided, and the perpetrator often lives in a world of isolation, and secrecy. There is also the risk that they may continue the abusivebehavior. In instances where allegations prove false, there is still damage done to all involved. Reputations may be unjustly destroyed beyond repair, and the seeds of distrust can live on in the community for years afterwards. No segment of society, including the Religious Society of Friends, is immune to the dangers of sexual abuse. In fact, parts of our own community have been damaged by incidents and accusations of abuse. If we are honest with ourselves as Friends, we acknowledge that the same potential for hurt exists in our community as in others, and that mindfully attending to issues of safety is the best way to protect individuals and the community. Denial of the possibility of hurt does not prevent hurt—if anything, it heightens its likelihood. We acknowledge that we can never fully prevent all harm, and we wish to recognize the important role of everyone involved in a faith community for healing should abuse occur.
In this document there is a distinction between “policy” and “practices to support policy.” The policy has been adopted by the organization of New England Yearly Meeting, which means there is a legal obligation that it be followed. Practices are ways of pursuing the policy, and may vary depending upon the program.
The policies and practices in this document will provide all of us with guidance for how we care for the safety of our children and youth.
Introduction approved by Youth Ministries Committee October 30, 2016