In this challenging time, many of us have been scrambling to keep church going and grappling with new technology. As we do so, it’s important we don’t lose sight of our responsibility to safeguard.

This article covers online aspects of​‘church in lockdown’, but there are more areas we need to consider, so we feature more on our website Christian Safeguarding Services.

Each church context is different, so it’s important leaders consider their own specific needs and challenges and assess the risks, developing a specific plan to manage the situation.

Scoping activity and assessing risk

First, take stock of where you are. Many activities will have swiftly moved online, and there may be others you plan to shift. Understand the scope of activity that you are conducting or planning to conduct online and identify and manage any risks.

Ask yourself:

  • Which activities have we already moved online?
  • Which activities do we want to move online?
  • Will the online meetings be open or closed groups?
  • Will unsupervised children, young people or adults at risk of abuse be involved?
  • Does the meeting require one-way or two-way communication?
  • Are these short-term measures or new opportunities going forward?

Principles

  • Any changes to our approach must include careful risk assessment
  • Maintain a record of changes 
  • Don’t compromise safety. Apply best practice safeguarding principles to a different context 
  • Where we need to change normal practice, aim for minimum change possible

Safeguarding is never about preventing legitimate ministry; we need to manage the risks rather than applying blanket rules that ignore the context. It’s not about lowering standards, but applying the same high standards to a new context.

Applying the principles

Explicit consent should be sought from parents where children are included

  • Communication via parents is preferable
  • Safe recruitment principles should not be compromised
  • Only those with DBS (Disclosure and Baring Service) checks should be involved in delivery 

If the activity can be delivered using a one-way format (e.g. a video hosting service) where material is posted online then downloaded, this is preferable.

  • Where one-way formats are used, regularly monitor to ensure no unauthorised content has been added.

If two-way interaction is required:

  • Password protect where possible
  • Public forums that restrict communication to groups rather than 1:1 should be used where possible

Where video conferencing formats are used, the same principles as in a physical space should be applied:

  • Numerical staff ratios don’t need to be maintained as children remain the responsibility of the supervising adult
  • Rules relating to having more than one adult present should be maintained as in a physical space
  • Risk assessments should be completed for activities
  • Maintain usual male / female ratios 
  • Children should not join the meeting until the necessary number of male and female leaders are present and active
    • Children should leave before the adults
    • Particular care should be taken as an absent leader (e.g. visiting the bathroom during the group) may not be as obvious as in the physical space. Being​‘logged in’ is not the same as being present!
  • Monitor chat logs where possible
  • Consider whether audio recording of the meeting is possible and permissible
  • Data retention would also need to be considered here
  • Consider how a child would engage with a leader if they needed a private conversation
  • Keep registers

Processes and decisions should be documented and clear

  • If this change is a temporary, and discontinued once lockdown is released, it may be better to leave the safeguarding policy unchanged, outlining the variations in a risk assessment
  • This should specifically reference the policies and procedures wherever there is a variance from the documented procedures
  • It should also indicate the duration of the variance (either as a date or by a specified condition, such as until public gatherings resume)
  • If the change is to continue as a new area of ministry, policies and procedures should be updated in the usual way

These are complex situations and simplistic approaches will not be safe. Our aim here is to provoke a thought process rather than provide all the answers. A fuller guidance briefing can be found on the Christian Safeguarding Services website.

We are, as always, happy to discuss specific situations with leaders. You can contact us by email at info@​thecss.​co.​uk or by phone at 07960751778

Paul and Sue Harrison


Christian Safeguarding Services iscommitted to providing services that are based on sound evangelical principles. Over the past 15 months, we have been delivering first-class and highly evaluated training every single week to evangelical churches across the UK.

Is your church or faith-based organisation a member of Christian Safeguarding Services? As an Evangelical Alliance Member you will only pay £100 a year. You will receive a 25 per cent discount on training any you buy from us as well as gain access to our premium resources.

We have now moved all our training online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Details of all levels of training can be found here.