Protecting our children

Clinton_VillageUnless we have buried our heads in the sand, we should all realize that our children can be at risk anywhere. As people of faith, we like to presume that those with a similar faith have similar ideals, similar morals, similar integrity – but this isn’t always the case. As was demonstrated in all too stark relief, quite recently, even those of us whom we consider pillars in our community can let us down dramatically.

In 1996, Hillary Rodham Clinton reminded us that It takes a village to raise a child. While some people, such as Bob Dole, who, during his RNC acceptance speech in 1996 criticized Clinton with the comment “… it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child”, the truth is that none of us acts entirely independently. We are all interdependent – even if we should choose to live alone, in a forest, as a hermit. We all affect the environment, we all affect the quality of air and water. And nobody can exist on Earth, apart from the influence of other human beings.

But if we choose to live in any city or town, and if we wish our children to be educated, culturally aware and to contribute in a meaningful fashion when they too become adults, it does take a village to raise a child. As parents, we cannot be child care providers, educators, physicians, opticians, dentists, playmates and each and every person and relationship that our children will need. To grow up healthy and educated, our children need relationships with many people – they need parents and friends and teachers and doctors and child care providers. While, as parents, we might satisfy some of these relationships, we cannot fulfill them all. This means that we will need to be able to trust other individuals to, at times, care for our children.

Recent events though, have shown us that our Pagan community is not exempt from the presence of predators in our midst. Even some people who we have come to trust as leaders are able to let us down. Like any other group of human beings, some among us are good, some are not. And the question that many of us are faced with is this: how do we know who it is that we can trust?

We might consider who it would be that we might trust with anything truly valuable. Who, among our friends might we trust with a great deal of money? There might be many we would trust with a few hundred dollars – but what about a few tens of thousands of dollars? When the stakes increase, we tend to be a bit more cautious, and the list of those we trust tends to diminish.

How much do we value our children? Can we possibly place more value on any amount of currency than we do on our children?

How do we insure that individuals with whom we trust our money are responsible with that money? One way we ensure that people are responsible with things of great value is to avoid entrusting such things to a single individual. If multiple people are responsible for a thing, then it is more likely that it will be treated responsibly.

When it comes to our children, we should avoid any situation that allows a single individual to have sole supervision of those children. It’s up to those of us who are parents to investigate any child care situation. With festival season just beginning to ramp up, many of us who are parents may be bringing our children to various festivals. Many of these festivals do have child care areas. It’s up to us as parents to look at these child care areas closely. It’s up to us to satisfy our selves that our children will be properly cared for. One way to do that is to volunteer at the child care area our selves. I know of few festivals that don’t seek out volunteers – and there is not much of a better way to know something about the child care area than to participate our self.

As a whole, groups of people – a village – are much more trustworthy than single individuals. The village also is able to handle situations that would be much too difficult for a single individual. If there is only one or two adults watching a group of children, and an emergency situation happens, that may well be too much for such a small group of adults to handle. Consider the situation where there are two adults and 10 children – if one child takes ill, that means that one adult will be caring for nine very concerned children – it’s not an optimal situation.

As a rule of thumb, there should be one responsible adult for every five children, plus one further adult. If there are five children or fewer, that means two adults. With six to ten children, there should be three responsible adults. If you find that there are too few adults for the number of children, again, volunteer!

Even better though, recognizing the value of collective action, find other parents who share your concerns – prior to the event, and work together. Recognize the value of a village and work with other parents and the event coordinators to insure there is proper coverage for the child care area. If the particular event doesn’t have child-care, consider organizing something with the help of other parents.

If we’re uncomfortable with the child care system, then there should be no reason to leave our children with them. It might be that we want to attend a particular workshop, but for whatever reason, we’re not 100% comfortable with the child care situation. But we can’t deceive our selves with the notion that “because this is a Pagan event”, the child care will be okay. It’s up to parents to put the safety of our children first – we need to trust our instincts, and it’s far better to miss a particular workshop than to put our children at risk. Whatever the situation, it should be the safety of our children that comes first.

So taking care of our children at festivals is something that we can do, but what do in other situations we do when we have suspicions about a particular individual?

There are some groups that seem to advocate for immediate action against someone the moment an allegation is raised. But it’s important to remember that an allegation is not proof. Certainly some allegations can be more credible than others, and when a serious allegation has been made, we certainly should not simply dismiss it.

If there are any unaddressed allegations of harm to children, we shouldn’t trust those individuals with the care of children. We shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that an allegation implies any misconduct, but we also need to consider the safety of our children. Those of us who are in positions of leadership need to take such allegations seriously. If we are in a leadership position, it’s likely that we are mandated reporters.

In 27 states, members of the clergy are mandated reporters – this means that if we have reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected, that we who are clergy are mandated to report in these states. In 18 states, ANY person who has reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected is required to report.

But there is a difference between a legal requirement to report and a moral duty to report. We may not be a mandated reporter in our locality, but if we suspect some sort of child abuse – do we just let it go? Do we pretend that somebody else will do the reporting if the suspicions are sound?

If any of us has any legitimate reason to suspect the abuse of children, it’s up to us to do something with that suspicion. By “legitimate reason” I don’t mean that we simply think someone looks creepy. But when our children tell us that someone has made improper advances, we need to listen to them. And if it’s clear that those advances are repeated, that is a legitimate reason. If touching is repeated, or obviously not accidental, that is a legitimate reason. If we hear from children that someone has tried to take photographs of them while naked – they are asked to remove their clothes – or asked to perform some sexual act – that is a legitimate reason. And when we hear that, we need to act.

What form should that action take? If we are the leader of the group or event, we call the authorities, and we insure that person stays away from children until the allegations are addressed to our satisfaction. If we’re not the leader of that group or event, we speak to the leadership with our concerns. It might be that we are told “Oh, that individual is just eccentric, but doesn’t mean any harm”. Remember that all too often, this is how a number of people who harm children have been perceived. It’s up to us to take action at that point and tell that person in leadership that there is legitimate reason to take action, and that we will be calling the authorities our self, and then we need to do what is safe for our children and remove them from that situation.

But there are times that we can go too far. We can’t allow our selves to take direct action against individuals based on nothing more than rumor. A rumor isn’t legitimate evidence of guilt. Taking to Facebook or the Internet and destroying a person’s reputation with unproved allegations is not the way to address things. People are sensitive when it comes to our children, and allegations of child abuse don’t easily go away. A public charge of such a crime, whether it is legitimate or not, will likely permanently destroy an individual’s reputation. When we have legitimate suspicions, we deal with them, but we need to be careful not to destroy people based on nothing but rumor.

This is the job of our village – to build a healthy community – to take care of our children, to collectively insure that nobody harms them, and to foster a community that will not tolerate predation of any sort.

If you would like to see a summary of the laws regarding reporting, one can be found here: