ARITF ‘Essentials’ curriculum made available in Indianapolis

The Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force has launched the curriculum it hopes churches will use to train volunteers in preventing sexual abuse and responding to those who have experienced it.

ARITF members Jon Nelson, lead pastor of Soma Community Church in Jefferson City, Mo., and Kris Buckman, youth and kids missionary at the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, spoke on the Cooperative Program stage in the exhibit hall during the first day of the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting and Pastors Conference.

Buckman said the group set three goals following last year’s annual meeting in New Orleans: “One is to find a permanent home for abuse prevention and response within the SBC. The other was to come up with a resource that kind of followed the resource that came out last year in New Orleans. And, then, the third one was to get the ministry check website up and running.”

During the panel, Nelson and Buckman outlined the curriculum and how churches could put it into practice.

The resource called “Essentials: Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response” went live June 9 on the ARITF’s website.

Buckman said the curriculum revolves around five questions:

• Does your church provide ongoing sexual abuse awareness training for staff and volunteers working with children, youth and vulnerable adults?

• Does your church have a robust screening process for staff and volunteers?

• Does your church have written abuse protection policies which are actively implemented by your staff and volunteers?

• Does your church have a plan of how to respond to allegations of abuse and to officially report abuse both outside the church and within your church?

• Does your church provide resources to help care long-term for trauma survivors and their families?

The group encourages churches to take a 5-5-5 approach to the curriculum.

“We recommend taking five of your leaders … and having them walk through the five video sessions,” Buckman said.

Each video is 30 minutes or less, according to the group.

At the end of each video session are a few next steps for the group to take. Once the group has accomplished those next steps, they’ll be ready for the next session.

“It will take several weeks, if not a month,” Buckman said, “to implement the next steps because they involve things like searching for a background check company, searching for a company to provide the sexual abuse awareness training, getting applications copied and tailored to your church and sent out and getting them returned.”

Buckman said the curriculum includes a list of recommended background check providers.

“Working through your state convention might be one of the best options,” Nelson said, as many conventions have relationship with background check providers.

“I’ve heard some of them even give scholarships,” he said.

The leaders said the curriculum is appropriate for churches of all sizes. Small churches should not discount the process because “90 percent of children who are abused are abused by someone they know and trust,” according to Buckman.

She also knows of a larger church in her state that used the curriculum and “even they found gaps in their policies and procedures and gaps in their prevention systems.”

“When we have low barriers in our churches as far as not a lot of screening mechanisms and not a lot of overall awareness … we become almost sitting targets for predators,” she said.

Nelson recalled a person he encountered during a recent training before a mission trip. The person was being trained to recognize the signs of sexual abuse and began to look agitated, Nelson said.

Nelson waited until the session wrapped up and approached the person privately to ask if they had been sexually abused. The person initially said no but came back to him the following day to say his observation was correct.

“It was not an easy process,” he said, “but I can tell you, as a small church pastor, two years ago I wouldn’t have known anything about it.”

— Brandon Porter serves as associate vice president for convention news at the SBC Executive Committee.