The Rev. Steve Brackett

Assistant to the Bishop

In November, we will begin using a new program to provide protection of children training.

For many years, the Safeguarding God’s Children boundaries training program served the congregations and other ministries of our synod well by providing group, in-person training to help rostered ministers (pastors and deacons), staff, and volunteers learn behaviors and policies that would help keep children safe in their context; recognize warning signs of abuse in children; and recognize warning signs in potential perpetrators of abuse. 

But there were limitations to this program.  First, it was very difficult to ensure that everyone who needed training received training.  If some could not attend on the day training was scheduled or were not able to participate in all three hours of training, it was burdensome to find another future training nearby that they could attend.  Second, there was no process for automatically repeating training within a few years, and no way to immediately train new staff and volunteers.  Third, the core training materials are not updated.  The Safeguarding God’s Children videos and training materials are now 17 years old.  Retraining using this system involves using the exact same training materials.  Finally, the pandemic has made it impossible to hold Safeguarding God’s Children trainings for ministry sites who want to retrain staff and volunteers, or who have new staff or volunteers to train.

For these reasons, the S.A.F.E. Ministry Team (Synodical Advocates Focused on Education, Prevention and Healing of Sexual Abuse) and the staff of the Northeastern Iowa Synod have approved entering into an agreement with Safe Gatherings.  

The Safe Gatherings system is comprehensive – integrating abuse prevention and boundary awareness training with background checks and reference checks for all staff and volunteers who are working directly with children, youth, and vulnerable adults. 

When employees and volunteers are trained to identify potential abusers, recognize the signs of abuse, and know how to handle reporting, they are better equipped to work together to help prevent abuse from happening.

The Northeastern Iowa Synod has established an enterprise account with Safe Gatherings, as have nine other ELCA synods.  Because we have an enterprise account, all of our synod congregations and other ministries are eligible to participate in this program.  There are several advantages to the Safe Gatherings program.  First, staff and volunteers can participate in the training according to their own schedules and timelines.  It is self-directed, so there is no need to complete the training in one sitting.  This eliminates the problem in the past of figuring out how to train someone who missed a scheduled group training.  And new staff can be trained immediately, rather than having to wait for a scheduled group training.  Second, Safe Gatherings manages the process of sending out reminders when it is time to repeat the training.  We are asking participants to repeat their training every three years.  Third, the Safe Gatherings materials are updated regularly to keep them fresh and relevant.  Finally, the online format allows all ministries within the synod to easily train all staff and volunteers—even during the pandemic!

Two disadvantages of the new program are that there are no opportunities for group discussion during training, and there is a fee for each individual to cover the application, reference checks, background check, and the online abuse prevention training.  Regarding the first disadvantage, we know that over the past 15 years our evaluations for Safeguarding God’s People training always complimented the opportunities for group questions and discussions.  But there is nothing to prevent you from scheduling a group meeting of staff and volunteers once all have completed the training in order to discuss what they learned and to ask questions.  Regarding the second disadvantage, the fees may be a little hard to swallow at first, but I think that in the end everyone will agree that the comprehensive nature of the Safe Gatherings program in helping to keep our children and vulnerable adults safe is well worth the cost.

Information on getting connected with the program and the costs associated with the it will be shared in the November issue of the Northeastern Iowa Star newsletter, and through communications that will be sent to all rostered ministers and congregations by Safe Gatherings and the Synod Office.

In addition to protection of children training, CongregationU, the sister company of Safe Gatherings can help provide training on a wide range of topics for rostered ministers, staff, volunteers, and laity.  We will require all rostered ministers to complete the Clergy and Ministerial Ethics course through CongregationU.

For more information about Safe Gatherings, visit their website at https://safegatherings.com/.  For more information on CongregationU, including a list of courses offered, go to https://safegatherings.com/congregationu/.

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.

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