It’s finally time to take our next step to keep kids safe.
For the past two years, Y2AM (the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America) has been hard at work developing an exciting and critical system to help keep children safe. In early July, the Clergy Laity Congress enthusiastically and unanimously approved these new Policies for the Safety of Children and Youth.
This is an exciting time for ministry work in the Archdiocese and, to help you understand what’s next, we’ve answered the most common questions we’ve received about the new Policies:
(NOTE: We've also prepared a short video series which you can find at the end of this post.)
Why is youth safety important?
We can’t understand youth safety if we don’t first understand ministry. Ministry, as we continue to stress, is primarily about the person of Jesus Christ. It’s about bringing people to the Lord and inviting them to live out their relationship with Him in the Church.
Ministry is grounded in Christ and oriented towards His Kingdom. And, to be effective, it needs to be done in a safe and healthy environment.
Scandals and distractions can undermine even the best ministry work. Abuse and traumas not only harm young people but also alienate them from the Lord. We simply cannot bring young people to the Lord if we don’t first create ministry environments that are safe, healthy, and above reproach.
That’s exactly what the new Policies will help us achieve.
How are the Policies different from the Youth Protection Manual?
If you’ve ever served as a summer camp counsellor, you’re familiar with the Youth Protection Manual (the “YPM”). This was the first set of youth safety rules that the Archdiocese ever adopted.
Yet the YPM only applies to Metropolis camps and retreats. And, while an important part of ministry, these critical programs are just a small part of the full spectrum of Youth Ministry Programs and Events.
Unlike the YPM, the new Policies apply to all Youth Ministry Programs or Events across the Archdiocese (at the parish, Metropolis, and Archdiocesan levels). And they bring three key improvements to our youth work:
First, the Policies create a new category of ministry workers, called Youth Workers, who will be the only people eligible to participate in Youth Ministry Programs and Events.
Second, the Policies set forth clear policies about how to report inappropriate behavior.
Third, the Policies establish a simple system of compliance to ensure that all Youth Ministry Programs and Events across the Archdiocese are safe, healthy, and Christ-centered.
What exactly is a Youth Ministry Program or Event?
Any program or event that is primarily held for Children or Youth is a Youth Ministry Program or Event. This include everything from JOY and HOPE and GOYA youth groups to Sunday School, parish basketball teams, Greek schools, and parish dance groups.
If the Church is hosting a program or event for Children or Youth, then it’s our job to make sure that program or event is a safe space for all participants.
How can I become a Youth Worker?
Becoming a Youth Worker is simple. And it’s a necessary first step if you’d like to participate in Youth Ministry Programs and Events.
First, you need to register (or re-register) every year with your parish. This helps us know who our Youth Workers are and how to contact them. And it makes sure that we can track the next critical steps.
Second, you need to complete online training every year. We’ve worked with our youth safety vendor, Praesidium, to completely redesign the online modules we used to use for summer camp training. This online course (which takes about an hour and a half to complete) is thorough, engaging, and incredibly informative.
Third, you need to successfully pass a background screen once every two years. This helps establish that all our Youth Ministry Programs and Events are safe environments staffed by reliable and trustworthy people.
Once you complete these three simple steps, you’re a Youth Worker who is eligible to serve in Youth Ministry Programs and Events across the Archdiocese.
What does all this cost?
The Archdiocese is pleased to report that both the youth safety registration database and training materials are offered to all communities and parishioners in the Archdiocese free of charge. The only cost associated with becoming a Youth Worker will be the cost of the background screen.
Praesidium will be offering potential Youth Workers access to their most rigorous background screen for just about $18 dollars. While some jurisdictions will see higher prices (given the costs associated with certain state databases), this is an incredibly affordable way to have confidence in the safety of our Youth Ministry Programs and Events.
How do I report inappropriate behavior?
The Policies cover two different kinds of reports.
First, as a matter of law, all people who have responsibility over young people are known as “mandated reporters.” Youth Workers fall into this category. If a mandated reporter sees Abuse or suspects Abuse, he or she must immediately report this to state authorities.
Again, this is a matter of law. And the Policies reflect this.
Second, there are also situations that do not rise to this level. For example, a person might witness behavior that seems inappropriate or is a violation of certain parts of the Policies. If this doesn’t rise to the level of Abuse or suspected Abuse, then the Youth Worker must simply intervene to stop this behavior and report it to the Supervisor within the Youth Ministry Program or Event.
How will we track compliance?
This is a critical piece. Our challenge as an Archdiocese is not simply to adopt youth safety procedures but to demonstrate that we comply with them.
To do so, we have established a simple process that begins in the Parish.
First, the parish Administrator will prepare a roster of all the Youth Workers in the Parish. He will indicate that (a) these are the only people who are participating in Youth Ministry Programs or Events in the parish, and (b) they have all been registered, trained, and screened as required by the Policies. The Parish Administrator will then send this certified letter, signed by the Parish Priest and Parish Council president, to the District/Metropolis.
The District/Metropolis Y2AM Director will receive these letters and then prepare her own. She will prepare a roster of Parishes in the District/Metropolis and draft a letter that will indicate (a) which Parishes have submitted their certification letters, (b) that she has completed a random spot check of Parishes to ensure there are no discrepancies, and (c) that the District/Metropolis roster contains the only people participating in Youth Ministry Programs and Events in the District/Metropolis. The District/Metropolis Y2AM Director will then sign and send this certified letter to us at the Archdiocese.
Finally, Y2AM will receive these letters and prepare our own compliance letter. We will prepare a roster of the District and Metropolises and draft a letter than will indicate (a) which District/Metropolises have submitted their certification letters, (b) that we have completed a random spot check of the District/Metropolises to ensure there are no discrepancies, and (c) that the Archdiocese roster contains the only people participating in Youth Ministry Programs and Events in the Archdiocese. We will then sign and send this certified letter to the Legal Committee of the Archdiocese.
This final certification letter will be a semiannual snapshot of our compliance with the Policies across the Archdiocese.
When do the Policies go into effect?
At the request of our Hierarchs, who are strongly committed to youth safety, the Policies will go into full effect on September 1, 2019 (the start of the new Ecclesial and Ministry Year). In the interim, we will be available to help Parishes with the registration and certification process.
As of September 1, 2019, no Youth Ministry Program or Event will be allowed to function if it is not in full compliance with the Policies.
This is our pledge to Children and Youth across the Archdiocese. It is our pledge to all parents across the Archdiocese.
It is our pledge to you, the faithful, who deserve to know that every Youth Ministry Program and Event across the Archdiocese is a safe place where young people can encounter our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.
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BONUS: Y2AM is working on a brand new ministry training course, which will be available August 20th. In the meantime, subscribe to our newsletter to hear the latest about the course. And check out a keynote address Steve recently delivered for more of Y2AM's vision for ministry.