Each week thousands of children are entrusted to the care of Salvation Army corps and community centers throughout the Central Territory. From afterschool programs to overnight camps and in corps of all sizes, children make up a large part of ministry and outreach. An important component of this ministry is ensuring the comfort and safety of program participants and their parents or guardians, as well as leaders and volunteers.
In response to the need for consistent safety practices and procedures, in 2001 the Central Territory developed and implemented Safe from Harm (SFH). Designed to provide training and resources to educate leaders and enable them to minister to youth effectively and safely, the policy later expanded to include training for safe practices while ministering to vulnerable adults. Although SFH often requires adjustments and careful planning for compliance, according to Megan Olson, territorial Safe from Harm program director, the benefits far outweigh the challenges.
“I would love people to see that Safe from Harm isn’t just about being told ‘no’ and that healthy and safe boundaries and steadfast implementation of Safe from Harm creates a solid foundation to conduct ministry,” she said. “Eastern Michigan’s Safe from Harm has proven to be holistic, thorough, robust and committed.”
Throughout the Eastern Michigan (EMI) Division, SFH has been successfully implemented in the midst of flourishing ministries of all sizes. It is at the forefront of planning for corps and divisional youth programs and events. From thoughtful scheduling to integration of SFH in divisional leadership meetings such as Mission and Program Council, everyone, from the camp maintenance director to the divisional commander, is invested in and supports this important component of youth ministry.
“Safe from Harm makes it so parents understand we are a safe place for their children,” said Major Kim Ray, Bay City, Mich., corps officer. “They know they don’t have to worry because we’ve trained our leaders, planned ahead, and many corps are even certified by the state to care for children. It gives them confidence in us.”
As part of the division’s plan, each corps has a designated SFH coordinator/trainer who keeps track of records and ensures all volunteer and staff leaders at their location maintain up-to-date certification.
Twice a year, SFH is an integral part of divisional youth leader development trainings, where it is leveraged to educate, empower and equip leaders through discussion, resources and speakers who advocate for safe practices and address timely issues, such as creating safe virtual spaces for youth
to continue meeting during the pandemic and beyond.
“We have a mission to fulfill. If we can’t keep people safe, then we’re not fulfilling our mission,” said Charol McDonald, children’s ministries and Safe from Harm coordinator, who helps the divisional youth department set the example by providing resources and guidance for leaders.
“Our team is very intentional about making sure that Safe from Harm guidelines are part of the process from the minute we start planning activities and events,” said Captain Chrissy Cooper, divisional youth secretary. “One of the biggest questions we ask ourselves is whether we would feel comfortable sending our own kids to this program, and if the answer is no, then we rethink what we’re going to do.”
According to Charol, SFH certification isn’t only for active leaders, but is a valuable tool for all employees and volunteers. For example, corps members can be certified to serve as additional helpers who look out for potentially harmful situations and can intervene, such as monitoring bathrooms during worship services or filling in as the second adult if a regular leader is absent.
“As a parent and as an officer, I love Safe from Harm because it’s preventative care instead of reactive care,” concluded Captain Chrissy. “It’s about finding ways to protect our children from things happening rather than reacting after something has happened. It gives us a good framework for keeping our activities safe for kids and leaders alike.”