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  • Jun21Wed

    Whose Responsibility Is It? (The Board - Part One of Five)

    June 21, 2023 Melodie Bissell
    Filed Under:
    Policies and Procedures

    The Board should provide effective governance when developing and implementing a plan to protect the vulnerable sector that the organization serves. This includes having clear and compelling documents concerning the structure, operations, and beliefs consistent with safeguarding children, youth, and vulnerable adults.

    In North America, the standard of care calls for the Board and Leadership to oversee the protection as appropriate to their organizational structure. Since Board members are ultimately responsible for governing the not-for-profit, we recommend the Board delegate the oversight of safeguarding to a sub-committee of the Board.

    We also know that insurance companies require that under the direction of the Board that policies be developed, approved, implemented, and periodically reviewed.

    A common statement we hear from clients is, “One of our board members says it is better not to have a policy than to have a policy and not follow it!”

    WRONG! Neither option is good or wise and certainly not what we would ever recommend. Today, there is NO EXCUSE for a Board member pleading ignorance! The Standard of Care in North America is well known for thoroughly screening volunteers with applications, interviews, reference checks, and background screening. The standard of care is providing policies and training to prevent harm and injury from happening. Not to do so, will not protect the organization from vicarious liability. 

    However, having a policy and not following it will also put an organization at risk. Terrance Carter (Managing Partner with Carter’s Professional) states, “Board members should be aware that they could be exposed to personal liability if they permit their organization to work with children or other vulnerable persons where the Board has failed to implement an appropriate abuse prevention policy that has been customized to reflect the specifics of their organization. Failure to follow the protocol set out in the abuse prevention policy could also lead to liability, so it’s important that an organization that has the foresight to implement a policy also makes sure at the policy is strictly followed.”

    Another responsibility of a Board is to approve motions that demonstrate that they are committed to safeguarding.

    The following are motions a Board could consider:

    Motion #1: Move to establish a sub-committee of the Board to oversee the development and implementation of Plan to Protect® for safeguarding children, youth, and vulnerable adults. This sub-committee should be made up of no less than three people and should include representation from leaders within the organization, those who work with children, parents, and other stakeholders, a senior leader, and a member of the Board.  The sub-committee must ensure that they meet their insurance company’s requirements to qualify for abuse coverage and the standard of care followed by other similar organizations that serve the vulnerable sector. Once the sub-committee is in place, the first phase of responsibility is the development/updating of policies, procedures and forms that reflect all segments of the vulnerable sector that are served. The second phase would be the screening and training of volunteers and staff. The third phase ensures that all documents relating to the vulnerable sector are retained and stored securely.

    Motion #2: Move that the safeguarding policies and procedures of the organization that will be approved by the Board include the following:

    • Commitment to providing a safe environment.
    • Declaration of zero tolerance for abuse, harassment, or neglect.
    • Purpose statement being the prevention of harm of children, youth and vulnerable adults and the protection of personnel from false or wrongful allegations.
    • Definitions of abuse.
    • Robust screening and training of personnel including, but not limited to, obtaining
    • Police record checks.
    • Requirement for documented procedures including, but not limited to, registration, attendance, documentation management, appropriate touch and washroom guidelines.
    • Elevated precautions for high-risk activities, including off-site trips, social media, photography, mission trips, small groups, retreats and conferences.
    • Prohibited activities.
    • Health and safety.
    • Reporting and response of incidents of abuse.

    Motion #3: Move to become a member of Plan to Protect® to have access to updates, to the Plan to Protect® manual, access to their professional development, training and resources, and to draw on their expertise and consult for issues that arise.

    Motion #4: Move that annually there is the formation of an ad hoc sub-committee of the Board (or hire an external auditor) which conducts a yearly audit of the Plan to Protect® policies. The responsibility of this sub-committee is to audit the compliance of the policies and procedures and to submit a follow-up report to the Board as to their findings and recommendations for changes to the policies or follow-up of areas of non-compliance. (For more information join our Special Interest Webinar on Thursday, May 11th at 12:00 pm EST).

    Motion #5: Move that the Plan to Protect® policies and procedures be reviewed every year and updated as needed.

    Motion #6: Move to establish a policy that clearly states the parameters and restrictions for individuals who participate in our programs who are known convicted sex offenders.

    Motion #7: Move that the Board establish and lead a sub-committee of no less than three people to establish a crisis management plan to be implemented if and when a critical incident occurs, such as an incident that could potentially bring harm or disgrace to the church or it’s reputation within the community, such as abuse, fatal or severe injury, embezzlement, etc

    Motion #8: Move that the [name of the role, i.e., Executive Director, Senior Pastor, Chair of the Board] be the designated spokesperson for the media. In their absence, the [name of position, i.e., Lead Pastor, Chair of the Board] be the second person to be the designated spokesperson. No one else should talk to media on behalf of the organization or in their role as a staff member or volunteer. 

    Motion #9: Move that the organization prioritize and adopt the best practices for data retention, back-up, data storage, privacy, including compliance with applicable statutes.

    Motion #10: Move the approval of the Plan to Protect® Policies and Procedures that have been customized for programs and events. Ensure all policies are in keeping with a high standard of safeguarding, legal requirements and insurance requirements.

    Finally, the Board should be aware of any prior abuse allegations that may will help current leadership understand the risks and importance of safeguarding standards and measures. As an organization committed to safeguarding, the Board should reflect a commitment to healthy governance through a Board that regularly meets to address governance matters, is committed to governance training, and with Directors who each actively participate in Board meetings. The Board will maintain a commitment to overall good governance and has legal documents in place, including a Constitution, Bylaws, Statement of Faith and Beliefs, Code of Conduct, and Lifestyle Statement(s) related to its vision, mission and beliefs.

    Board members operate as one voice, meaning exceptions to policies should be made by the Board as a whole, not just one or two individuals on the Board.

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