Safe Church Leadership for Church Councils
The Uniting Church in Australia believes that all people, including children, are made in the image of God. As a community of faith, we are committed to providing safe environments for all people including children, so that they may live life in all its fullness.
Church Councils as the governing body of the congregation have an important role to play in Safe Church leadership, both within the mission of the church and as officers and responsible persons under the law.
Good governance provides a strong platform from which the local congregation can serve the local community and serve Christ. It involves ensuring the Church meets the requirements of legislation, compliance and safety working in a way that is collaborative, transparent and inclusive.. The responsibilities of Church Council which particularly relate to the work of the Safe Church Unit are as follows:
- Promoting and living out the values of the UCA by establishing a culture where all people feel safe, cared for, nurtured and are heard.
- Upholding the Regulations of the Uniting Church(3.1.2 (a), (b)(i)(xi)(xiii), Code of Ethics and Ministry Practice and the Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders.
- Complying with child protection legislation and ensuring that all administrative functions associated with compliance are completed and records kept.
- Exercising oversight over the appointment of officers and leaders of congregational organisations, including both paid employees, ministry agents and volunteers.
- Have oversight over the various groups and committees that may exist within the congregation
- Approving activities carried out in the name of the congregation
- Ensuring the church is a safe place for all by implementing Synod policy, and having appropriate policies and procedures in place
- Church council appoint a Safe Church contact person and undertake periodic reviews
- Analysing and mitigating as much as possible, risks to safety for both children and adults.
Safety is more than just compliance. Safe churches are nurtured through a culture where leaders model best practice leadership. Examples of this are:
- Leaders work actively to develop a culture of safety , demonstrate safe behaviours and do everything they can to ensure the safety of others
- Leaders work collaboratively in teams and are accountable for their ministry
- Children, young people and vulnerable adults are given opportunities to participate in the decisions that affect them and are empowered to have a voice
- Approach all activities with a lens of safety and managing risk – what could go wrong? How can the risk be reduced or eliminated?.
When considering the safety of activities and programs for children and vulnerable adults, leaders should address the following:
- Address privacy and confidentiality – ensure that personal information is kept securely and only shared when appropriate.
- Parent/guardian permission is required for each activity including registration to participate, photo release and transport
- Leaders are aware of First Aid requirements for their local church programs and events
- Incident report forms and risk assessment checklists are easily accessible to leaders
- Risk assessments and emergency procedures are in place and known to all. Collect contact and emergency information for parents and carers
- Appropriate supervision is put in place for events and activities (including adult to child ratio)
- Permission or registration forms are used
- Collect relevant health information eg health issues (especially asthma and diabetes), anaphylaxis and other allergies
- Sign in/sign out registers show who has been in attendance
- Management of images and video footage – be aware of best practice
- Incidents and injury management – put in place a process to report injuries and incidents
- Put in place emergency response and evacuation procedures for your buildings
- First aid – have a first aid kit on hand that’s audited annually and a trained person in first aid if possible.
- Arrange safe transport
- Food safety – hygiene, handling, expiry dates, allergies, council regulations and requirements.
For more information see the Synod’s Risk and Compliance pages.
Church Council needs to understand their obligations for each area below.
Each congregation should have a safe church policy which reflects the Synod Safe Church policies but which is tailored to their specific context. Synod has developed a template to assist congregations to develop their own safe church policy.
The Synod Safe Church policies can be found in the resource section of the Safe Church Website and include but are not limited to:
Mandatory reporting relates to notifying the relevant authority of current concerns about the safety, welfare and wellbeing of a child. This may be because abuse or neglect is suspected which arises in the child’s life outside the church’s connection with the child or it may arise within the church context.
‘Mandatory’ (NSW) or ‘mandated’ (ACT) reporters are those people who are required by law to report suspected child abuse and neglect to specified government authorities. Along with mandatory reporters, everyone in the Uniting Church has a role to play to ensure children are safe and protected. Any adult with concerns about a child’s safety or welfare is expected to appropriately report those concerns and act in the interests of the safety of children.
Most people in a child related role are mandatory reporters which means they have a legal responsibility to report risk of significant harm to child protection authorities. It is important that Church Council ensure that mandatory reporters within their congregation are identified and understand their responsibilities. In NSW this is anyone who religious ministry or who provides religious services to children or who works with children as part of their role within the church. However, all NSW citizens have an obligation to report abuse under Section 316A of the Crimes Act. In the ACT, mandated reporters are identified by role, however all holders of a WWVP check should assume they are a mandated reporter until proven otherwise. Some people who do not hold WWVP checks may also be mandated reporters.
The Safe Church Unit has detailed policies and guidelines for NSW and the ACT to assist Church Councils. Check the relevant guideline for details of who are mandatory/mandated reporters and their responsibilities.
The Reportable Conduct Schemes in NSW and the ACT are allegation-based schemes that provide a framework for how to respond to reportable allegations against ‘employees’ of the Uniting Church. The definition of ‘employee’ for the purpose of reportable conduct varies between NSW and the ACT, but at least includes all people who work with children whether in paid or unpaid roles.
It is important that all Church Councils ensure that all church workers are made aware of their responsibilities, have appropriate Safe Church Training and apply the relevant codes of conduct. (see the definition of “employee” in the Reportable Conduct Guidelines)
Church Council should also have appropriate recruitment and staff management practices to minimise the risk of reportable conduct occurring. For more information see
- Guideline - Working with Children Check (NSW)
- Guideline – Working with Vulnerable People Check (ACT)
- Background Check Policy
- Volunteer Policy
- UCA Ethical Ministry Code of Conduct
- Codes of conduct (for lay people)
The Synod strongly encourages anyone with concerns about the conduct of an employee or church worker or any concern relating to the safety or security of children to make a report.
Strong processes for selecting and appointing people will help ensure that the right people are placed in roles appropriate to their gifts and talents. Good recruitment also is our first opportunity to deter and prevent unsuitable people from gaining contact with vulnerable groups.
Background Checks form an essential element of the screening and testing of a person’s eligibility for particular employment or volunteer positions and assist in determining a person’s suitability for a role.
To ensure everyone’s safety and welfare, due care is to be taken when appointing any person to a role. Careful discernment is to be used as part of any appointment, and should be proportional to the responsibility and nature of the role. The checks to be done, and the rigour of the process should reflect the responsibility, requirements and risks associated with the role.
Tips on selecting and appointing people to roles;
- Develop written position descriptions for leadership roles
- Clearly articulate safe church requirements in position descriptions
- Clearly identify roles that work with children (including volunteer roles) and include the need for a Working with Children Check (WWCC) in NSW or Working with Vulnerable People Check (WWVP) in the ACT, and a system for checking these are in place and current.
- Decision-making about a person’s suitability should include gathering of relevant information, using knowledge of the person (either formally through interview, or informally), reference checks as well as all required background checks including WWCC /WWVP checks whenever required. Refer to Synod Background and screening check page
- Ensure an induction process and appropriate training takes place including safe church training, and that the WWCC or WWVP check is verified before the appointee commences working with children.
- Specify a trial period as part of the appointment to enable a review of the person’s suitability for the role
- Ensure that employees and volunteers are appropriately supervised, supported and reviewed.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Reponses to Child Sexual Abuse released its findings in December 2017. Since then the National Office for Child Safety has been established and various legislation has been put in place to respond to the findings.
The National Principles for Child Safe Organisations reflect the findings of the Royal Commission. In NSW the principles form the basis of the Child Safe Standards which are expected to be legislated in 2021. In 2019 The National Child Safe Unit (UCA Assembly) established a National Child Safe Framework which incorporates these standards as 10 Child Safe Principles.
Church Councils are responsible for ensuring that their congregations and other ministries can demonstrate that their practices and policies embed the Child Safe Principles. Information about the Child Safe Principles is available on the Synod website.
Actions for Church Councils
- Understand the UCA National Child Safe Framework incorporating the Child Safe Principles
- Undertake a self-audit against the Principles to identify any gaps
- Create a plan to address any gaps identified as part of the self-audit process with time frames included
- Undertake periodic reviews against your plan
- Report to Synod annually or as requested.
A person of concern (POC) is any person who has engaged in criminal sexual behaviour and /or is reasonably suspected of engaging (or seeking to engage in) harmful sexual behaviour toward another person. People who demonstrate other abusive behaviours which make other people feel unsafe and present a risk to the Church may also be included as a POC.
Our desire is to be inclusive, compassionate and respectful of all people, however the need to protect vulnerable people is paramount. This will be done by placing appropriate boundaries around the involvement of POCs in the church community by use of a Safety Agreement, where a risk assessment indicates that this is appropriate.
Church Councils play an important role in
- identifying persons of concern
- working with Synod to put a Safety Agreement in place for POCs
- Appointing monitors and supporting them to fulfil their duties as outlined in the Monitor Agreement through training and periodic review
- Oversight and review of the safety agreement
- Ensuring training is in place to identify grooming behaviour and boundary violations within the congregation
What to do if you think a POC is engaging with your congregation or entity?
The Synod Safe Church Unit must be notified when:
- you become aware or suspect that a person of concern is engaged with a congregation or entity of the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and the ACT
- you are a person of concern who seeks to engage with a congregation, group or entity.
If a child is in immediate danger please call 000 and report your concerns to the police.
For more details please refer to the Persons of Concern website page which includes policies, templates and other resources or contact the Safe Church Unit firstname.lastname@example.org
Safe Church training is a key component to ensuring the safety and welfare of children and vulnerable adults in our church community. It helps to develop a common understanding of safety and child protection across the Synod of NSW and the ACT, and gives people the tools to play their role in ensuring that church communities are safe places for all to grow and worship together .
We provide Safe Church Awareness Training to all Uniting Church Ministry leaders and Church Council representatives so they can maintain safe places and programs, and to congregation Safe Church Persons, however any church member can request to undertake Safe Church Awareness Training.
All holders of WWCC and WWVP checks must undertake Safe Church Awareness Training and Safe Church Refresher Training every three years
Safe Church Awareness Training can be delivered either face to face or as self-paced online learning.
Please refer to the Safe Church Training page for current information on Safe Church Awareness Training
Church Councils are responsible for the health safety and welfare of everyone participating in church activities. Church Council should ensure that risk assessments on church activities and premises including activities for children and vulnerable adults. Resources for risk management can be found on the Synod’s Risk and Compliance pages. Church councils should also note the requirement for an annual risk checklist to be completed by all congregations. Church councils will be contacted by the Synod’s Risk and Compliance Team with further details.
Online safety is especially important as more churches provide their services and meetings online. While the internet is a great tool for churches, those involved in online activities need to be conscious that the content is potentially available to anyone, especially if it is recorded and placed on social media.
There is a wealth of information on the e-safety commissioner’s website for parents, children and leaders to help us keep everyone safe online. The UCA National Safe Church Unit also has a training webinar which can be accessed here: (1) Watch | Facebook
Top tips for streaming your service or engaging using an online platform
- Consider how professional boundaries apply online including transparency, conduct, contact (especially with children) and content
- Stream from an open environment such as the kitchen or living room, rather than a bedroom.
- Check what's in your background so that others don't see personal items or people who aren’t intended to be part of the meeting
- Wear what you would usually wear to church
- Be kind and courteous. Bullying, offensive or inappropriate behaviour is not okay.
- Be careful who you share personal information with online.
Conducting services or meetings;
- Ensure the privacy of people is protected eg use first names only in prayers or comments, don’t give outpersonal phone numbers
- If the chat function is used, ensure that it is moderated. Disable chat functions where groups have not been kind or appropriate.
- Ensure children and adults are informed about expectations/codes of conduct when attending online activities, and how they can report concerns
- If children are to be part of the service or visible online, ensure a parent consent form has been signed
- Persons of Concern need to operate within the restrictions put upon them by both Safety Agreements with Synod and/or any other legal restriction. If online access and participation in the event is allowed under their Safety Agreement and legal conditions, a Person of Concern may join, but only when a monitor is present.
- Do not share links to zoom meetings on social media or on websites
- Ensure the meeting host has the system knowledge to end the meeting if needed, remove unwanted intruders or mute and turn off the video . Consider having a ‘waiting room’ and admit people to the zoom meeting from there.
- There should be two leaders for any online activity for children and they should be online before children arrive and remain online until all children have left the meeting.
- The same requirements for WWCC or WWVP checks apply to online activities as if the activities were running in person
- If you use zoom break out rooms for children’s activities ensure at least two leaders are present in each room.
Synod has created a number of templates and guidelines that will be useful for Church Councils. They can be found on our Resources for Adults and Children page on this website
- Homepage | eSafety Commissioner e-Safety Commissioner website has a wealth of valuable resources
- The eSafety Guide | eSafety Commissioner e-Safety Guide for commonly used communication platforms
- Cybersmart Challenge | eSafety Commissioner Video’s for children on cyber safety
- National Safe Church Unit Webinar (1) Watch | Facebook
- Code of conduct Lay leader
- Code of Ethics and Ministry Practice for Ministers
- Safe Church Commitment Statement
- Safe Church Contact Person Role Description
- Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 No 157 - NSW Legislation
- Children’s Guardian Act 2019 No 25 - NSW Legislation
- Child Protection (Working with Children) Regulation 2013 - NSW Legislation
- Working With Children Check Renewal Forum - YouTube
|Uniting Church in Australia
PO Box A2178, Sydney South NSW 1235
|(02) 8267 4351|