Required Training

On Monday, I got an email from HR reminding me that, as part of the school’s Harassment Prevention & Business Skills initiative, I needed to complete an online Sexual Harassment for Employees course.

I did it that same day, largely because if I don’t get to a work email almost immediately, it can slip out of my mind. And I prefer not to forget to do things that are required for my employment.

The training was basically a series of videos essentially aimed at letting us know what constitutes sexual harassment, with the dual purpose of ensuring that (1) if we’re harassed, we understand our rights and what we can and should do about it, and (2) we don’t do things that constitute sexual harassment. After watching the videos, I had to take a short multiple choice quiz to pass the course. All in all, it took something less than half an hour to complete.

This isn’t the first training like this I’ve taken. I’ve done similar courses in the past for work. Also, I coach my son’s soccer team. Before AYSO will let you coach, though, you have to do an online child abuse prevention class, and an online concussion awareness class. The classes are meant to ensure that coaches understand AYSO policies about interacting with children and AYSO policies regarding dealing with potential concussions, in hopes of eliminating (or, at least, reducing) the harms children might face. Again, the classes feature interactive videos and slides, followed by a multiple-choice test to ensure that coaches have at least a basic understanding of what the classes taught.

Coincidentally, while I was taking my class, my wife, who is a teaching artist in Chicago schools, was doing her DCSF Mandated Reporter training.[fn1] She’s also done the AYSO coach training, and the Girl Scout leader training (which is way more intense than any of the other trainings either of us have done).

As I was doing my training, it occurred to me: the church really ought to offer (and require!) this kind of training for at least a large portion of its members.

Why? At least a couple reasons. First and foremost, we do a lot of interacting with children who are not our own children. The bishop interviews new 8-year-olds for baptism, and interviews teenagers on a semi-regular basis.[fn2] Primary teachers and youth leaders and Sunday School teachers interact with our children. They hold positions of trust and authority, similar to the position of trust and authority that AYSO coaches and school volunteers hold. The church recognizes these dynamics; all children must be taught by two responsible adults.

Two-deep adults is definitely good; in fact, it’s what Girl and Boy Scouts and AYSO require. But it, standing alone, probably isn’t sufficient, or at least these other organizations don’t think it is. In addition to two-deep, they require training to help their volunteers understand what should and shouldn’t be done, how to recognize signs of abuse, and what to do if they see those signs.

Similarly, we have hierarchies of power in the church, hierarchies that can lead to what is effectively sexual harassment. A bishop insisting on hearing all of the details of a congregant’s sexual behavior, for example, is not only unnecessary, but probably harassing. And a bishop introducing the idea of masturbation to a 12-year-old, or asking prurient and unnecessary questions about a congregant’s behavior, is similarly bad. These things may not be legally actionable (unlike at a workplace), but they shouldn’t be happening. And harassment training seems like one good way to communicate that message.

And the thing is, this kind of training is easy to deliver. Like I said, every one I’ve done has been online, featuring slides, video and audio presentations, and quizzes. Roughly half an hour seems more than enough to deliver the information organizations want their employees and volunteers to receive. And the church could develop its own proprietary training (AYSO does this) or it could license training from a provider (my employer does this).[fn3]

Providing this training would almost certainly help our children and adults who would potentially face harassment or abuse. But it would also help adults who may not be at risk of abusing or being abused, so that they understand what they need to, and ought to, do. For instance, in Illinois, clergy are mandated reporters. Do bishops know they are? Do they know what it means to be a mandated reporter? Do they know what they’re obligated to do as mandated reporters? No idea; maybe they receive some sort of training about it. But I suspect they don’t, or, at least, if they do, I suspect it’s a written document they’re supposed to read, without any kind of evaluative process to make sure they actually read and understood it.[fn4] (By contrast, my wife says her DCSF training told her specifically what to look for, how she was supposed to report things she was supposed to report, and what would happen after her report.)

I’m pretty sure Primary teachers are not mandated reporters in Illinois (though they may be in a different state). But their lack of legal liability for reporting abuse doesn’t mean they don’t have responsibilities for the well-being of children. Like volunteers at AYSO, in the Girl Scouts or the Boy Scouts, it’s important that teachers not abuse children in the ward, and affirmatively know how to look out for children’s well-being.

And you know what? In wards I’ve been in, there’s a very good chance that at some point, any given member will be asked at least to substitute for a primary class or a youth class.

So here’s what I propose: every member of the church take an annual youth protection-style online certification course, complete both with instruction and a minimum number of right answers on a test to ensure they’ve got the material. (The test doesn’t need to be hard or long: the ones I’ve done are relatively short and straightforward—the point is to make sure class participants understood what they learned, not to trick them out of understanding it.) The class would probably take not more than half an hour, based on the classes I’ve done. And half an hour a year isn’t that big of an ask, but if it is, it’s totally the kind of thing that two fifth-Sunday lessons a year could be devoted to. Use half an hour to do the course, and then let ward members take the test on their phones or on a computer when they get home.

Similarly, require bishops (and maybe RS presidents and EQ presidents? and maybe some or all other ward members? but at least bishops) to take an annual sexual harassment course, with a similar test-passing requirement.

And put teeth into it. Anybody who hasn’t taken and passed the youth protection course within the last 13 months would not be permitted to teach or otherwise work with kids under the age of 19. Full stop. And a bishop who didn’t take and pass the class would be released, or would otherwise be prohibited from exercising his ecclesiastical responsibilities (with perhaps a member of the Stake Presidency, bishopric, RS presidency, or EQ presidency who was up-to-date on the training stepping in temporarily).[fn5]

These training programs wouldn’t eliminate child abuse or sexual harassment, of course. Individuals are capable of acting badly if they choose to act badly. But it would give innocent leaders and adults knowledge of what is and isn’t permissible, and would give them the tools to deal with problems in a productive manner. It seems like a significant amount of benefit, both for the institutional church and for its members, at a very small cost.

[fn1] She has also done the fingerprinting, TB test, and background check required for Chicago Public Schools Level I approval.

[fn2] Last time my bishop interviewed one of my children, he asked me if I wanted to join them. I did, of course, and was going to request it, but he surprised me by making the offer spontaneously. And note that this was prior to the recent policy change; he did it entirely of his own accord.

[fn3] Note that the training that my employer licenses isn’t 100% relevant to my job; it’s focused on, like, sales offices that have direct report relationships. But I’m a tenured academic, without subordinates or anybody who I’d call my boss. Still, it’s good enough to let me know what I need to do and not do, even if not every single example reflects the way my job works.

[fn4] And look, I realize the church has an abuse hotline for bishops to call. But to use the hotline, bishops have to know that they need to call it. In some situations, it’s presumably easy to know. But calling requires affirmative action of bishops, which requires that they know they’re confronting a circumstance that might mandate reporting. And that’s not always clear—training would help bishops in Illinois (and other places where bishops have a duty to report) to have a better idea when what they see might indicate abuse and trigger their obligation to report.

[fn5] But wouldn’t that let someone easily get out of calling he or she doesn’t want? somebody might ask. Of course it would. And that’s not a bad thing: afaik, callings aren’t meant to be punitive. If someone believes he can’t be a good primary teacher or bishop, that may well be right. Moreover, the safety of our children and the other members of our wards is far more important that getting a particular person in a particular calling. If a person’s not willing to take the training, that person shouldn’t be working with children, for the sake of the children.


  1. I’m about halfway through Tara Westover’s “Educated,” and I can’t help but think how different she and her siblings lives would have been had her primary teacher or someone else in her ward reported the abuse she and her siblings were going through. They would have been significantly better off if they had been raised by grandparents or other relatives, rather than by their abusive, extremist father.

  2. Sounds like a great idea. But the Church can only afford to replace 4 solid classroom doors with 4 doors with window per building per year. Where will we find the money to prepare materials and properly administer the program?


  3. This is actually the thing I worry about most with the church leaving the BSA. Good riddance to most BSA programs, but anybody with a calling in cubs or young men had to complete the BSA “Youth Protection Training” biennially in addition to receiving an initial background check when first called. Also, each cub scout rank and a couple of the Boy Scout ranks required the boys to review a child abuse prevention booklet with their parents or leaders. Separately, there was the “Guide to Safe Scouting”–admittedly ignored by many wards, but certainly not all, which limited the range of activities youth groups could participate in.

    These trainings weren’t perfect, but they were pretty good, and they were certainly better than the nothing we’ll have going forward.

  4. adano, I think that’s an important point: we don’t need to wait for perfect. Pretty good is far better than nothing, and without BSA, the church qua church doesn’t have any formal youth protection training.

  5. I just completed the BSA Youth Protection training (it’s requited for all scout leaders). We may be pulling out of Scouting, but wow – that training is fantastic (if somewhat sobering). Agreed, everyone working with youth (scouts or not) ought to be required to take (heck, they ought to be anxious to take) something similar.

  6. Indeed. Sexual harassment courses should be required for bishops and other leaders. There is this attitude pervasive in the LDS church that the members don’t need these sorts of things because they are better than the so-called “world” and wouldn’t think of engaging in such acts.

    But, I also don’t understand why the LDS church doesn’t just mandate that all youth interviews and interview with women be done with at least two adults in the room (a bishop and one of his counselors) and that it put an end to sexually explicit questions to minors. There have to be two adults to count tithing. There have to be two adults to teach minors. And then they excommunicate the guy who documents thousands of cases of abuse behind closed doors and asks that the leaders make real changes to the current policy. Unbelievable.

  7. I don’t think there is much interest from the church in giving basic training on policies and procedures. It would be so easy to vastly improve the extent to which anyone who holds certain callings in the church is trained on important matters. Even improving the handbook so that the instructions are clear instead of muddled would be ridiculously, stupidly easy. There is so much low-hanging fruit in improving how the church training on simple policies and procedures that vast improvements could be made just by hiring 1-2 people for a year.

    This is super cynical, but it’s hard to not looks at just how bad all training is for church leaders and conclude that it isn’t on purpose. I’m not sure if it is a legal liability thing or a cultural thing, but the church seems very reluctant to do anything that would suggest some level of responsibility over local leaders. When a leader does something that is bad, the church always distances itself and calls it a local problem. If they start taking responsibility, they would be acknowledging a degree of accountability.

  8. Jack Hughes says:

    I’m very much in favor of more training such as this. As much as I detest the BSA, their youth protection training program is an excellent model; considering the BSA’s deep ties to the Church, I don’t know why we haven’t adopted that kind of training more widely (there is no equivalent training for YW leaders), and I’m worried about what kind of training (if any) will take its place when the LDS-BSA divorce is finalized next year.

    But also consider that things like workplace sexual harassment training that many of us receive every year tend to be perfunctory, and exist mainly to protect the company/institution from liability rather than to protect the (potential) victims or positively influence the culture. I’ve seen enough instances in recent years of the Church working to cover its own backside at the expense of individuals, to the point that even a sincere attempt by the Church to make positive changes on this front might seem disingenuous or insufficient to me.

  9. And even though so many do go through the BSA training, that does nothing for the girls and their leaders or teachers.
    I’m the only Activity Days leader. We currently have two girls. I have six sentences in Handbook 2 and then the girls’ edition of “Faith in God”, but no other training or support. Our ward is working on two-deep teachers on Sunday, but my resources don’t say AD needs two leaders. I drove the girls to an activity last night, and nothing has been communicated to me that driving them around without another leader is not appropriate.
    My girls seem to be great girls from great families. I don’t know the warning signs to look for, nor do I know where to get help should I become aware of a bad situation. I support training.

  10. Only recently have I realized that the access we give random people to children and personal information is completely insane. I made the realization in my singles ward after a couple of uncomfortable/worrying encounters with a new member to our ward, but I think the same thing applies to this discussion: someone gets baptized or moves and joins a congregation and bam, they have access to the ward directory that provides a list of children under 18 AND their addresses. Requiring at least some sort of training before allowing people to work with children is the bare minimum we should be doing. Right now a predator can join a ward (either by moving in or becoming a new member) and start teaching children the next day – to say nothing about the predators who are already in the ward, right now, working with children and youth. At least if there’s some sort of barrier – you can’t substitute, teach, or do anything with kids under 18 unless you’ve taken the training – we can pick off the low hanging fruit. Youth should also be receiving training – teenagers are particularly vulnerable to abuse. Most parents wouldn’t send their 5 year old off to church with a relative stranger, but youth are ferried around by other youth and random leaders all the time. I remember one of the youth in my ward used to get a 30 minute ride from seminary to school every day by a random ward member – and we’re ok with that, somehow.

  11. I participate in a youth organization that requires finger-printing, backgrounds checks, annual training (on various topics). All of this is wonderful and I fully support it and wish the church did the same. However, there is one drawback in our organization that would apply to the church. You mentioned that you immediately completed all your training because your job depended on it. In my all-volunteer organization, getting the other leaders to complete their forms and training is a huge hassle. It took us 9 months last year to get everyone updated so they could work with kids because the whole thing was so time consuming. And guess what, if they didn’t complete all the work, they couldn’t take leadership/teaching roles with kids, and that didn’t seem to motivate them at all.

    I have no doubt that if the church instituted the same practices, they would have the same problems. The die-hards would all take care of their forms/training immediately. The majority would trickle in. Some percentage wouldn’t want to be bothered and wouldn’t be able to have callings (oddly enough, we have quite a few part-active members in our Primary, YW/YM).

    Again, I’m all for mandated checks/training. But I can see what a problem actual implementation would be on keeping a ward functioning.

  12. In addition to concern for abuse, we need trainings that remind youth leaders not to drive recklessly, including excessive speed, when driving other people’s kids in their cars.

  13. Sam, what makes you think the Church and its leadership have the slightest interest in preventing sexual harassment of women or traumatic intervews of minors? It’s not that they don’t understand that the training you outline in this “wouldn’t it be nice if …” post would be effective. They just don’t care. They are simply interested in other things (like protecting the unfettered discretion of bishops) and view the problems you discuss as either very minor problems or not as problems at all.

  14. Dave B., I don’t have an inside scoop on what church leaders are thinking. Your view reflects more cynicism than comes naturally to me, though. This strikes me as an easy and cheap fix, and one that would be attractive both if the church is looking to improve the experience of women and children and if it’s looking for PR points. It’s the kind of thing that has a very low cost, with potentially an outsized return.

    Will the church adopt this idea? IDK. When I was preparing an article just before I went into academia, I wrote in the footnote something about Congress adopting my idea. My advisor just laughed; that’s not how it works, he explained. Congress doesn’t necessarily read and adopt academics’ tax positions. OTOH, to the extent our research becomes the language of tax, eventually, it may make inroads. Similarly, I have no illusion that a blog post is going to effect immediate and radical change in the church. But ideas have their own power, and can find their way into the discourse, eventually effecting change.

  15. So if I find my calling to be bothersome, I can not take the annual training and then get released?

  16. jader3rd, see fn5.

  17. Great idea. Thanks, Sam.

  18. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Oddly enough, when the Fortune 500 firm for which I employ makes me take mandatory computer-based training, I come away wanting to engage in more sexual harassment and also to start using obscure ethnic slurs.

  19. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    **for which I work.

  20. For what it’s worth, this type of training (online short instructional lesson slides followed by multiple choice questions testing for comprehension) already exists for everyone with a calling that allows them to handle financial donations to the Church. People with the relevant callings login to their account to receive the training. Compliance is confirmed through the semi-annual internal audit process. So there is no technical barrier to implementing the process Sam suggests. The current infrastructure already supports it.

  21. In theory it sounds great. In practice its another level of meetings for people to attend. BSA requires this and its frankly exhausting

  22. Bbell, did you read the post? I don’t think an annual half-hour commitment is that much but, like I said, if people disagreed, there’s no reason it couldn’t be done during church. Also like I said, I’ve done two of these in the last month or so, one for soccer and one for work. My wife has done at least two of them (I’m not sure when she did her Girl Scout one) in the last month. It isn’t that hard, it’s not an extensive commitment, and it has significant benefits.

    But again, like all things, church service is voluntary; if you honestly felt that you didn’t have time to do it (and I get that—my days are swamped!), there would be nobody forcing you to do it. You just couldn’t teach primary or youth or be a bishop (or whatever other callings required training). It’s not like you couldn’t attend church and worship and even do useful things in your ward.

  23. Also, like I said (I said a lot of things, didn’t I?), Chicago Public Schools requires something like this. The neighborhood Catholic school requires all volunteers to do a similar course. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and, I imagine, most other organizations that have adults helping children. This kind of training is pretty clearly best practices in nonprofits that engage with children, and there’s no reason the church can’t do best practices.

  24. It seems like training shouldn’t be *that* difficult to implement. It doesn’t have to be super extensive to be better than the nothing we have now (aside from the BSA).

    I made this same point on Carolyn’s post about youth bishop interviews, but I’m going to reiterate that if there are going to be two adults in the room with a single youth, particularly if that youth is a girl, the second adult should not be another male (unless she has asked her father to be there). Everyone, but especially young women and girls ought to have the option of bringing a support person of their choice, not necessarily a priesthood holder (unless that is their choice). Two adult men alone in a room with one young female person is not necessarily a less-scary option than a one to one interview.

  25. Sam. Its not just the online class at issue. Its also all the admin work. I think the BSA went overboard on ppwk and classes. This idea trends in that overboard direction. I am constantly chasing BSA related ppwk. This would be a repeat of that most likely

  26. Sure, this would protect children and other congregants from harassment and abuse. BUT THE PAPERWORK!

  27. Bbell, yeah, no. All of the trainings I’ve done automatically notify the organization when you successfully complete the test. The AYSO ones have a very cheesy certificate you can print out if you want, but you don’t have to. And that’s it. I assume successful completion populates a checkmark in a relevant spreadsheet, but that doesn’t take any human effort.

    There is, naturally, more effort and paperwork where a background check is also required. And I suspect that’s the paperwork you’re always chasing. While a background check may not be a bad idea, I’m not proposing that here. This is purely, 100% instruction and certification.

    (To the side: while I’m not familiar with the stringent rules of BSA, I fully support them. BSA has determined that it requires a significant level of training and knowledge to keep boys—and now girls, too—safe, and is willing to require that level of work and commitment. It may be personally inconvenient, but it’s entirely laudable that an organization would risk alienating and discouraging volunteers to ensure the safety of the children.)

  28. bbell, you may be confusing the BSA’s Youth Protection Training with its tour permits and rechartering processes. Their is some overlap, but they aren’t the same. YPT is very simple to complete online, and there is no paperwork involved at all.

    And even if there were, YPT is one of the best things the BSA does. It’s worth it.

  29. Run it through and recorded with membership info… when people log in the area/region is already known and can give relevant local law info (such as mandatory reporting for bishop, SS teachers, etc). It shouldn’t be costly, though I can see that being an excuse for why the don’t do it.

  30. I work with a local 501c3 shelter. Every volunteer is required to have a simple background check. Nothing as extensive as a training class or anything. Just a standard form filled out. Then processed. Then volunteer. Unless a red flag comes up you are good to go.

    Every other church and business entity that works with us already has a basic background check that their own parishioners file annually. The only church that doesn’t is ours. Sure enough the 12 wards that serve have to fill out the forms and get them processed by us (and any other group they volunteer for) (yes up to date Scouting ones are accepted) year after year. Funny thing, a long standing member got red flagged this year. Sure enough upon investigation – Brother Forever Good Member had a problem. His poor wife was hurt, his Bishop totally thrown.

    The world just isn’t what it used to be.

  31. The costs can be absorbed by what we currently pay to the BSA for registration, background checks, cost of patches and other awards, etc. We have a negotiated volume discount, so we’re not paying the full $25 per person or whatever it is, but it’s a cost that will be going away nonetheless. Some units have already stopped anything to do with BSA in spite of the announcement stating that we are full partners until the end of 2019. I have to say that it surprised me to find out relatively recently that activity days could be run by one adult, no two-deep requirement and often held at the leader’s home. With as much as those rules are reiterated on the BSA side, I always assumed the girls had similar rules.

  32. your food allergy is fake says:

    In Pennsylvania, after the Sandusky scandal a few years ago, there is a new law that requires anyone who works with youth in any capacity (including churches like ours) undergo 3 background checks, including state and FBI. As a result, nobody can legally perform a calling in primary or youth programs without these background checks. It has been hard to get people to get them done in some cases. I wonder if a similar federal law may one day be enacted. I’m surprised the church has not adopted training or background check approaches in order, at the very least, to limit its legal exposure.

  33. Interesting, food allergy. Have local wards been good about respecting and following the law (e.g., not giving primary and youth callings to people unless and until they get the background check)?

  34. I’ll second your food allergy.” This happens to some degree in PA already in the church. I can’t comment on the effectiveness, difficulties, etc., but I know it happens.

  35. I don’t know how all temple baptistries work, but the one where we attend has fairly small confirmation rooms that hold maybe 6 people max. Obviously two of them are male – the ordinance worker and recorder/witness. Anytime a female goes in to be confirmed, there has to be at least one other female. It can be two young women, two adult women, or an adult woman and a young woman. I can’t remember off the top of my head if one young man can go in solo or if he also needs a second male with him. The rules are simple and everyone knows the expectation.

    It makes a lot of sense to me to have a member of the YW presidency in the Bishop’s interview with a YW, a member of the YM presidency with a YM, a member of the Primary presidency for a primary child, and a member of the RS presidency in an interview with a RS sister. But I’ve also had the BSA youth protection rules drilled into my head forever.

    The thing about the training is that the youth and children need to go through the training as well. Mostly so they know what the rules are and aren’t being led into a situation by an adult breaking the rules that the youth didn’t know existed. We had this conversation at a scout campout recently, as we discussed why leaders and boys don’t sleep in the same tent unless the leader is the boy’s parent. We explained the rule, and we also explained that it was up to the boys to abide by the rules as much as it is the leaders’ responsibility. It protects everyone – both the children and youth from abuse and the adults from accusations of abuse. If an adult is accused of abusive behavior and there’s no witness to it but they are breaking the rules by being alone together, that’s going to be hard to defend. But if everyone follows the two deep rules in all situations, there’s always a witness, so abuse is less likely to occur and someone else there to explain what they saw happen.

  36. your food allergy is fake says:

    Sam, I can only comment on my ward, which has been absolutely compliant. The stake presidency seems to take it very seriously so I would guess the entirely stake is also compliant or nearly so. Interestingly, failure to complete the 3 checks appears to be a strategy a few people may be employing to avoid being asked to serve in the primary/youth. It was very difficult to get people to get them all done when it was first implemented ~3 years ago.

  37. I am going to go out on a limb here and say the wards in PA are basically spending a lot of time chasing after background check info.

    I am currently ym pres and my wife is prim pres in a large ward. We literally have 60 adults and 135 kids combined in our orgs.

    The paper chasing on this would be enourmous and time consuming. You would need a ward calling doing nothing but following up on background checks/ppwk.

  38. Bbell, how terrible!

  39. Bbell, forgive me if I’m not even a little sympathetic. I work at a university with 1,500 employees. AYSO says it has over 100,000 volunteers. BSA and Girl Scouts probably have tens of thousands of volunteers. Chicago Public Schools have almost 36,000 employees, and likely more parent volunteers. Each of these organizations can handle the minor inconvenience of additional administrative duties to protect children. Are you suggesting that the church lacks that basic competence? Because I disagree.

  40. Call a third counselor in the Relief Society presidency, charged specifically with background checks and training compliance for the entire ward. Our RS just called a sister as ministering coordinator – if they can find a way to organize a program that isn’t supposed to be an organized program, they can find a way to organize the youth protection training.

    Keep in mind that between the chartered organization representative (usually second counselor in the bishopric) and the scouting committee chair, they are already in charge of all the background check paperwork and ensuring youth protection training is up to date for those working in scouting-related callings. You’d just be adding in the leaders over activity days, primary, YW, and the youth Sunday School classes. The leaders over YM and cubs are already being tracked that way.

  41. 1. I don’t understand any controversy about this. It seems obvious and necessary.

    2. Enough so that if I were a bishop or stake president, right now today I would think it irresponsible not to implement some kind of training and background checks.

    3. Yes, and So what? to “You would need a ward calling doing nothing but following up on background checks/ppwk.”.

    4. In sum, the 1980s way of doing things is not cutting it. What is now the accepted standard of care is incompatible with doing everything the same as before. We must change. For example, I would be taking a hard look at the number of separate classes we run for Primary ages and YM/YW. I bet there are Wards and Branches where it is numerically/demographically impossible to have all three of (1) every class, (2) teachers able and willing, and (3) appropriate procedures and safeguards.

  42. Sam. Its one thing to suggest such an idea in a blog post. Its another to actually implement at the local level.

    I think implementation would be difficult. Not impossible but difficult. The large orgs you bring up have staffs of people dedicated and paid to conduct these types of checks.

    How do we handle subs?
    What if people refuse?
    Are local leaders legally liable for the holes that will appear in such a system?

    I have a host of similar questions about implementation

  43. anon this time says:

    In our ward in PA, leadership is extremely on point with the first 2 background checks, but they’ve been lenient with the fingerprints. The background checks can be completed online with a minimum of fuss. The final check with fingerprints is extremely cumbersome. The state changed its authorized vendor in 2017 and the new company has inconvenient locations and scheduling. For our ward, a minimum of 20 minutes travel by car during business hours is required for the closest fingerprint location, and a session must be booked in advance. (They claim to accept walk-ins, but I’m not going to take time off of work and drive 12 miles to find that they won’t take me.) Ward leadership has communicated in stake audits that they’re trying their best to get full compliance.

    Speaking anonymously: I work with the youth, I’ve completed the “easy” background checks, and I’ve completed a stack of similar requirements in another state for my work (but they are not admissible in PA). I tried to get the fingerprinting done once but the weather prevented travel to the office, and I haven’t tried since. I’ll give it another go. I appreciate the principle of the thing but 1) it’s mighty inconvenient, and mildly insulting since I don’t actually have a criminal background 2) there’s still nothing preventing a well-meaning leader from allowing someone to substitute teach a class without the background checks 3) the system assumes that a predator has accumulated a criminal record–someone who has never been caught won’t be flagged in the system.

  44. anon this time says:

    bbell: hoo boy yes leaders are liable for any mistakes. As in my notes above–suppose that it’s a major holiday, most people are out of town, and the bishop asks kindly old Brother Sketchy to keep an eye on a youth Sunday School class after no teacher shows up. It turns out only one young woman shows up to that class, there’s no two-deep oversight, and something terrible happens.

    Up to that last point, I have seen this frequently. We’re not in Utah and between boundary redrawing, overall attrition, and holiday travel, our ward can be practically deserted during summer months. Sometimes the only way we figure out that a primary class has no teacher is when the kids are running wild in the halls, someone realizes that they’re all the CTR6 group, and nobody’s can find the teacher(s). We’re in a stake building which has a LOT of small offices, and it would be really really easy for something terrible to happen. I’ve told my kids that they are never to wander off on their own, and it’s part of the reason they don’t participate in Activity nights.

  45. How many leaders have had the fingerprinting done? 50 percent?

  46. nobody, really says:

    Training isn’t about protecting the children. It is about protecting the organization.

    With training in place, a company or organization can point to a training record and testify in court “We told him not to abuse children, and here’s the sign-off from Pervy McDefendant attesting that we told him not to abuse children. We therefore can’t be held liable for Pervy McDefendant’s actions.”

    With no training, the prosecutor stands in court and says “You hired Pervy McDefendant and never told him not to abuse children. Failure to tell him is the same as giving him permission to abuse children. Are you also instructing him to murder puppies and punch little old ladies?”

  47. anon this time says:

    bbell: 100% of leadership had it done

  48. nobody, really, it’s about both. I mean, it clearly provides benefit to the organization. But I’m aware of very few organizations that want to hurt children. And certainly, training—and even background checks—won’t completely solve the problem. But taking an option off the table because it benefits both the institution and the children strikes me as throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. That is, there’s nothing wrong with the fact that training provides benefits to the sponsoring organization, as long as it also provides benefits to those individuals that we want to protect.

  49. And Bbell, I respond to several of your questions in the OP: subs can’t sub unless they’re certified. It certainly does allow people to get out of callings (again, look at fn5). As for legal liability: PA wasn’t my model here (I didn’t know that the state required background checks for everybody who works with children). But where the law imposes liability, it’s nice for the person with the duty to know what he or she has to do. My example was bishops in Illinois: here, they’re mandated reporters. The fact that a bishop doesn’t know what a mandated reporter is or what the duties of a mandated reporter are won’t excuse him if he fails to comply with those duties.

    But that’s something amenable to training (and yes, the training would have to vary a little state by state, and probably country by country). I mean, my wife’s training was very clear about what a mandated reporter is, what she has to look for, what the process of reporting is, and what happens after she reports.

  50. DeAnn Spencer says:

    I would sign up in a heartbeat to do the training and certification – and yes, the fingerprinting. The short amount of time from my very busy life would be a happy donation. I’ve worked as a leader for years in RS, Primary, and YW – this should be a no-brainer for everyone in the church. We live in an area that had a member who was a sexual predator and was caught by the local police. This same member hung around with the youth and taught Primary. Please – please – please let’s get something put into place to protect all the vulnerable members of our Church.

  51. I think the discussion about administrative tasks is interesting. Administering any requirement like the one that Sam proposes is not nothing, no matter how simple and automatic the requirement might be. To do it right, we would need someone who is specifically assigned to oversee compliance. (To be clear, I think Sam’s idea is good, and I think that doing something like it is absolutely necessary.) I suppose that here I’m fleshing out a bit more of what christiankimball said above.

    The church’s programs are designed in an odd way that leads to some inherent weaknesses. We create ambitious programs for children and youth, programs that demand skilled, committed leadership. But we have to deal with the problem of adult leaders who are not fully committed. Our leaders are volunteers, but they are also drafted, so most of them don’t have the enthusiasm of real volunteers. Far less than 100 percent of adult leaders are committed to serve at the level that the program requires. This means that all of our programs are kept afloat by the relatively few people who are skilled and committed enough to make them work. The other people who are called to serve make contributions that may or may not make up for the drag they put on the organization.

    In the highest-functioning wards, our youth programs often work quite well. But in most wards, there is not enough skilled leadership to do more than make sure someone can teach a lesson on Sunday and someone can organize a good activity every week. One thing that gets lost–often it’s not even considered at all–is the need for administrative work. Without administrative support, you can’t plan for the long run and you can’t train people properly. And that includes the kind of simple training that Sam proposes.

    There are lots of things to think about here. One of them, I think, is that our child and youth programs are generally too ambitious for the typical ward or branch. We would do well to scale them back, or perhaps to design alternatives that are scaled properly for the sizes and resources of various units. At the very least, we ought to adjust our organization to prioritize the protective measures that we now know are necessary.

  52. This would give secretaries in presidencies something important to actually do.

  53. The BSA YPT is easy and painless. I’ve done it countless times. The BSA additional leadership training is a pain, but that’s about running the organization effectively, not about youth protection. The additional training takes several days and you only have to do it once. The YPT takes 30 minutes, you can do online, and you have to do it every year.

    We don’t bat an eye at having bishoprics spend hours on a Saturday twice a year for bishopric training (plus the hours they spend each week actually doing their calling), but we can’t ask them to take 30 minutes for youth protection? Give me a break.

  54. nobody, really says:

    JKC, it’s easy to ask bishoprics to do more. But it isn’t about protecting kids. I’ve been in the room as the abuse hotline was called – the response wasn’t to protect children or to get them out of an abusive home – it was to tell the Bishop not to report to authorities because it might drag the Church into a position where it removed or helped to remove a non-member child from the home of non-member parents.

    In that case, the Bishop did the right thing and made a call as an anonymous concerned citizen who had learned something in the course of some volunteer activities, not as an ordained minister.

  55. I like the idea of harassment training.

    While I see the benefit of the rule changes allowing parents to be present during all youth interviews–there is a real downside.

    A lot of our youth do NOT want their parents present in interviews. For instance, let’s say a 17 year old kid feels terrible because of a sexual indiscretion (or feels he is going to hell because he has looked at porn). A conversation with a good bishop who can explain God’s mercy can help. Some parents may not be so helpful. And a kid could be reluctant to have such a conversation with a bishop when a parent present.

    Or how about a kid who is being raised by perfectionist parents and feels like he or she is worthless because they do not measure up? Maybe a good bishop can help and be more candid without the parents present.

    How about a kid who is getting abused and would like to tell a church leader, but their abusive parent insists on being present in every interview?

    I don’t mean to hijack the thread. But I just don’t think the issue of whether parents can attend every interview with a pastoral leader is quite so clear cut.

  56. My experience with the abuse hotline is completely different. It would not make sense for the church to encourage non-reporting for legal liability let alone humanitarian reasons.

  57. nobody, let’s be clear about your objection. Is it (1) that a training requirement, if it were implemented, would be motivated by the church’s desire to protect itself, not a desire to protect children, or (2) that the effect of training would only protect the church and not protect children?

    Because if the effect would be to help protect even some children, then who cares in the motivation is partially, or even predominantly to protect the church?

    Your comment also seems to dismiss the possibility of mixed motivation and mixed effects. Youth protection training would certainly benefit the church. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t benefit children. But Sam already explained that, so there’s no reason to beat a dead horse.

  58. PA resident says:

    The background checks for PA aren’t anywhere near as onerous as BBell is making them out to be. They are overseen by the ward and stake clerks and double checked by the stake auditors. There is very high compliance in our stake. I’ve heard the numbers; they are almost 100 percent. If I understand correctly from a conversation with one of the stake auditors, the main problem is when young women are still in class presidencies and turn 18 and suddenly need a clearance.

    The Church has a form already prepared. It is a fillable pdf called “Pennsylvania Child Protection Law Checklist.” You fill in your name, ward or branch, stake, volunteer position, the dates of your three background checks, and provide copies of the paperwork to the ward or branch clerk.

    The form gives detailed instructions for getting each background check, complete with links to the websites. The form specifies that the state does not charge a fee for volunteers to take the Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Record Check or the Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance, but there is a fee for the FBI clearance (which people only need if they’ve lived in the state less than a decade), and the ward or branch will reimburse that. The fingerprinting is only required for the FBI background check, which may be providing some of the confusion anon this time is reporting.

    It took some time for the ward clerks to start up when the law was passed in the wake of the Penn State scandal, but now it’s just maintenance and not a big deal. Every now and then the Relief Society sends a note to the women without clearances suggesting they get them. I had my paperwork from 2015 for volunteering at school, but somehow missed getting it to the ward. Since I didn’t have a calling with the youth, the absence of paperwork hadn’t triggered any warnings, but as soon as I realized I didn’t have it, I printed off copies and got it to the ward clerk. Again, not a big deal.

    Since I got my paperwork not long after the law was passed, I will need to renew it next year. Once again, not a big deal.

  59. A couple have mentioned that two leaders isn’t required for Activity meetings for girls. It actually is.

    If you read the updated guidelines that came out a few months ago it says in point 1 “At least two adults must be present on all Church-sponsored activities attended by youth or children”

    Activity Days is a church sponsored activity for children so yes, two adults are needed. Getting a second person called is an entirely different battle.

  60. Marcella, I suspect part of the problem is that the Handbook hasn’t been updated. When I wrote the post, I originally said that the two-deep primary was required for male teachers, and that, while I thought it had been expanded to everyone, I might have been imagining it. I wrote that because I looked at the Handbook, and that’s what it said. A couple friends who previewed the post said, in no uncertain terms, that it was required for all teachers, but I had to Google it to find out. I can imagine leaders who look in the Handbook, don’t see anything, and assume they’re good on church policy.

  61. This is a good idea, but I guess I don’t understand why ALL members should take it, rather than members with appropriate callings, which could be available to all members. Based on the office reaction to these types of trainings in a typical workplace, I think if you over-require the training, you’ll end up getting less buy-in.

  62. Dsc, under my proposal, all members wouldn’t necessarily have to take it. But anyone who was going to sub in primary or YM/YW would, so it would make sense to cast the net broadly.

  63. One thing which was different between the BSA training and an employer’s HR training is that the BSA probably knows that the training isn’t going to make a predator a non-predator; but it does teach the rest of us what the signs are that another adult is acting in a suspicious way as well as looking for signs in the kids. Employer HR training tells you “Don’t do this.” And while the BSA training does as well, it spends most of its time saying “If you see this behavior that you never thought of before, you need to report it.”.

  64. Just a thought on requiring background checks like those mentioned in PA. If a member has already had a background check pertaining to their employment can that cover for a background check to work with youth in a volunteer position? Or do they need to get another one? I’m thinking of examples like school employees or govt employees who have Secret (or above) clearance. Those are pretty exhaustive background checks.

  65. PA Resident says:

    Yes, PA teachers and others who work with children have to have the state and FBI clearances, and the paperwork can be used for multiple organizations including the Church.

  66. Marc’s point is kinda important…

  67. I’ve had many of these trainings as well.

    What makes you think a video training is going to stop a predator?

    The problem is preventing them from being called, not training the bad apples not to be bad.

  68. PA resident says:

    “What makes you think a video training is going to stop a predator?”

    It might not stop a predator, but it would train people what to watch for. You’d be surprised how many people—even in 2018 after all the #metoo discussions—don’t recognize basic signs of predatory behavior. I’ve taken the Boy Scout training and although I have reservations about it, it does identify and label predatory behaviors and recommend safeguards. If everyone in a system has had the training, they know to watch for certain behaviors.

    Let me give an example. It’s been a while since I took the Boy Scout training, but I think it refers to this kind of behavior. During the time after he moved into the ward, an elderly gentleman in my ward would approach certain women and young women from behind to give them shoulder rubs. Although much of this behavior would happen when other men were not present, if they did see it, they would undoubtedly write it off as affectionate or grandfatherly.

    Things like unsolicited shoulder rubs are actually one of the early warning signs of a predator. The predator gets into the personal space of women and girls (or men or boys when that happens) in ways the predator could easily excuse if seen by someone in power. If a potential victim doesn’t object to the first violations of space and autonomy, the predator may escalate.

    I have no way of knowing if this brother is a predator, and I certainly hope he is not, but the behavior is a red flag. In this case, although it took a while for me to break through life-long training to be polite above all else (and thanks to friends who provided a script!), I told him to stop touching me and keep his hands off my daughter. He looked injured but didn’t apologize, which is another red flag. I also let the former bishopric know about the behavior and that it was inappropriate.

    I don’t often hear the ward gossip and didn’t hear until afterwards that the current bishopric called him as a youth Sunday School teacher. He didn’t begin to teach and a while later he was teaching adult gospel doctrine. I can only assume it was because he wouldn’t or couldn’t get a background check, or because someone else objected. When I heard about all of this, I cornered one of the bishopric members and explained all of the above.

    My observations from this incident, and from other more egregious examples I won’t detail here:

    1. Why should I have to be the one educating the bishoprics?
    2. I recognized the behavior, while other women and my daughter found it creepy but didn’t have the words to express why they found it creepy, which means we should prioritize basic education about these kinds of things.
    3. Women and people with children and anyone with any kind of stewardship over other people, especially for children, really should read DeBecker’s The Gift of Fear. (Perhaps someone could suggest a more recent equivalent?) It outlines the warning signs of predatory behaviors and suggests safeguards. If you’re a man, it would be good to educate yourself and know what these predatory red flags are…so you don’t do them.
    4. If the Church can have a background check system like the one in PA and it’s not too terribly difficult to run, why could they not (a) expand the system elsewhere, and (b) add the kind of video training discussed here to the system. Wouldn’t setting up and running the system be less expensive than one lawsuit over child abuse within a congregation?

  69. Not a Cougar says:

    jpv, then either your training was terrible (if it truly was trying rapists not to rape) or (more likely I think) you missed the point of the training. Most of these types of training are designed to help identify predatory behavior, encourage us to intervene to help prevent it, and believe and support victims of sexual assault.

  70. Not a Cougar says:

    *trying to get

  71. jpv, on the one hand, that’s mostly (though not entirely) true that video training won’t stop a predator. On the other, so what? That’s not its purpose—even a background check won’t stop a predator who hasn’t been caught yet.

    But the training isn’t meant (primarily) to catch a predator. What it can do is, first, stop someone from being abusive without knowing it. Like, it also tells people that it’s inappropriate to hit, or to scream at, children. And it would at least raise the question of whether talking in detail about masturbation with a 12-year-old is appropriate.

    And second, and perhaps more importantly, it would help other adults recognize signs of abuse, and help them know what they can and what they need to do in those cases. And, at least on the margins, that would make church a less attractive place to be a predator, because if people recognize the signs, the predator is more likely to get caught.

    And the sexual harassment material would, I believe, prevent people from harassing. It seems crazy to me, but apparently, some people don’t understand what behavior is inappropriate. And the training would help there.

    So no, my proposal wouldn’t put a magic bubble of safety around our meetinghouses, and asking it to do that is asking it to bear far more weight than any given proposal could. But it would, nonetheless, reduce abuse and harassment, and help us understand how we can make church an even safer place for children and adults.

  72. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Sam, I think the suggestion of training (for everyone) is justified, and obvious (and, how easy it would be to at least subject a captive MTC audience to this type of training!). I’m not sure the Church could use an off-the-shelf training series for this, given the nuances of how things work in Ward settings, and the unique types of activities involved in many Church callings. Besides, the Church would surely want to produce their own content (since they’ve invested so heavily in developing the infrastructure for doing so). And, I think that’s the problem. For the Church to develop this type of training, “they” would actually have to specify what inappropriate behavior is, what is appropriate for Bishops’ interviews, describe what types of behaviors are red flags, etc. In doing so, they would immediately shame so many current and former leaders (even those among their own ranks) that they would expose serious problems. Also, there’s no way these old General Authorities would consider contemporary standards for appropriate behavior as anything other than an impediment to the progress of the Lord’s work. I’m cynical, obviously, but feel justified by decades of experience in the Church.

  73. I should say, though I wasn’t thinking of background checks when I wrote this, the experience of those of you in PA has convinced me that it is (a) worth doing, and (b) within the institutional competency of the church to do (at least in the US).

  74. Not a Cougar says:

    Turtle Mack, that’s a very good insight!

  75. Mack, I understand from Twitter that the church has well-designed programs like this for its employees. There’s no reason to believe it would do a poor job—even if it designed them itself—for a similar product for members. (Does anyone who has done the church’s employee training have any thoughts about it?)

  76. Sam,

    You have heard that the church has well-designed programs. Is there any indication that they are taken by GA’s as well as other employees? I have a feeling that they do not, for the reasons explained by Turtle Mack, but I would like to be told I am wrong.

  77. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    That’s good to hear, Sam. It would be hard, however, for many members to resist equating specifics from a training video (or some other medium) with doctrinal pronouncements from Church Leadership. We would move from lusting after someone in one’s heart, to Thou Shalt Not touch the shoulders of any of the women (not saying that’s a bad principle!). We can’t wrap our heads around allowing Bishops and RS Presidents to ride together to meetings. Imagine the rules people will invent as a result of any “official” training material. Let me re-state my absolute support of training for leaders, and everyone else. Just imaging some of the unintended consequences that may arise.

    Although, let me also re-emphasize how easy it would be to have those who pass through the MTC undergo a more intense training – could even be multiple session over numerous days. These folks are intended to be the “Future Leaders” of the Church, and should be deliberately targeted.

  78. Mack, thanks for your comments. And I agree—based on my mission experience (which is now—horror!—more than just a single decade in the rear-view mirror), I think that kind of training would be tremendously valuable. I know that we interacted with a lot of teenagers and children. There would have absolutely been value in our having training in that regard.

  79. John Mansfield says:

    As one who is also engaged in end-of-the-fiscal-year online checkbox training, I have a hard time imagining someone else doing this and thinking, “I wish we did this at church.” It seems to be a tool that bureaucracies have a hard time moderately using for one or two key matters. Like Sam Brunson, I did a short Prevention of Sexual Harassment course, but I also did a seperate Sexual Assault Prevention and Response course. And a course in Combatting Trafficking in Persons. And Workplace Violence. And another eight courses or so on safeguarding information, environmental protection, and security. It gets hard to distinguish the courses and remember which I have completed and which I haven’t. You want one mandatory training course addressing one important matter, but there isn’t just one important matter. (Don’t you want to combat trafficking in persons and correctly handle personally indentifiable information?) I’ve come to feel that online training is a too convenient solution for management and that any training that is important enough to be mandatory should be conducted live to avoid the pretense that requirements can be issued to workers for free.

  80. @John Mansfield, I’m sensing a slippery slope issue here with your comment and those of some others. Just because (if) the church does some youth protection training for people who work with children and youth, I don’t understand how that would automatically lead to a bunch of irrelevant trainings on other topics. Your workplace might require a bunch of useless trainings (although not knowing where you work, it’s hard to know if human trafficking prevention is useless or irrelevant) but the hope here would be that the church would have something simple and just what is necessary.

  81. The concern about there not being a substitute for a Primary or youth Sunday School class with the proper training is an important issue, but it’s one that can be addressed by planning and organization (something that we supposedly do well in the church). A few years ago when my wife didn’t have a YW calling, she would often get asked by Primary teachers to substitute for their class (in advance so she had time to prepare and everything). The problem was that the Primary had a substitute list. There were people specifically called and set apart to be Primary subs. Instead of going to the list they had, they called her, and she was not on the sub list. All you have to do is have some set apart and trained substitutes who can either be called to sub in advance or ready to step in if a teacher is absent without notice. Same with the Sunday School, although I think often the Sunday School presidency serves that role, as they generally will walk the halls and check the classrooms in the second hour to ensure all is going well. But the expectation should be that you call the sub list.

  82. PA resident says:

    Hmm. “Don’t touch shoulders” was not the desired take-away from my comment. The desired take-away was that if the women had training, they might understand the warning signs of predatory behavior instead of just puzzling over it between themselves and if the bishopric had training, they’d know to take reports seriously and not call someone like that to work with the youth.

    And that doesn’t even begin to approach the related subject of mandatory reporting. Speaking just of PA, I cannot begin to guess how many members with callings to work with children or youth know they’re mandated reporters. I’ve never heard that members are informed of this when they accept callings. Should they be told?

  83. Sam, I think you’re right that the purpose of training isn’t necessarily to convince someone that they should not abuse others. The purpose is to set up processes and safeguards that everyone is aware of, which results in a wall that is hard to get around. If everyone knows that there needs to be two-deep leadership, then you simply plan to ensure that always happens. If anyone tries to work around it, they might as well pin a big red flag on themselves.

  84. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    PA resident – my reference to shoulders was not my take-away from your very good comment. I just used it as an example of the type of thinking many Church members might engage in when exposed to training. I agree that training would be most beneficial in the way you mention. While instructing leaders how to behave (which is SO important), it would be even more effective in alerting everyone else about behavior that is inappropriate, and red flags to be on alert for. Our youth, especially, need to know what to expect from their leaders, and to recognize when a line has been crossed and, perhaps most importantly, concrete steps they can/should take when it happens. It’s not enough to know when something is inappropriate (or worse). There needs to be an avenue for addressing it – how to report, whom to report to, and what to expect through the process. And, as a Church, these last issues are woefully inadequate.

  85. John Mansfield says:

    Don, your hope of avoiding overuse is a proper hope, but my concern is not a fantasy. From 1992 through 2012, I was a cub scout leader of one kind or another about half of those twenty years. I saw BSA training get progressively replaced with online checkbox certification, and then the certifications multiplied beyond merely Youth Protection. Training the old way was an edifying thing, coming together with some fine members of the community and learning from them and leaving, not only instructed, but with aspirations to be a good leader like those I had spent some hours with. I think mandatory training is a good thing for various purposes. I don’t think well of online certification as a cheap means of fulfilling it, because of the quality of the instruction, the lessening in regard that supposedly high priority matters should receive, and the high potential for overuse by management.

    Somewhat related, the last time I was asked to be a cub scout leader, that time I recoiled at putting back on the fluorescent vest with the “POTENTIAL PEDOPHILE” label on it, and said to the bishop’s counselor, “I’m not sure about this.” (I was able to block that out and serve the cubs another four years.) Even with important things, it is possible to give too much emphasis and drown out what you were trying to do in the first place—serve children in this case.

  86. Sam, great post, important subject. Implementing harassment and victim sensitivity training is a no-brainer. There is no reason this couldn’t be done speedily and effectively. The church already has the technical infrastructure and resources both to design the training curriculum and deploy. If the church can annotate a member’s records for felony convictions, sex offender status, excommunication, etc, it can indicate if a member has gone through a background check, received training and on what dates. The fact the church has not done this is a headscratcher and, in my opinion, borders on failing to uphold its fiduciary responsibilities, let alone scriptural mandates.

    I would extend your thinking more broadly too. My church service has included serving in several bishoprics. I have observed a significant amount of variance regarding how each bishop understood a variety of issues salient to serving effectively in the calling. I’m not talking about personality differences, but a fundamental understanding of facts that underpin important topics and issues bishops deal with. My point is not that bishops need to be perfect–none of us are. But the lack of training and access to a library of designed resources seemed deficient on the church’s part (The supplemental resources can be somewhat helpful but don’t go far enough nor do they cover all of the needed topics–and they do not constitute training). As a result, I witness some of the bishops with whom I worked give bad counsel unknowingly, or become frustrated and anxious because they knew they lacked the acumen to deal with complex issues in an informed way.

    What confused me the most is how we would encourage men called to be scoutmasters to take a week of vacation time to spend at Woodbadge learning everything about scout leadership, yet bishops received nothing remotely similar. It dumbfounded me. The church would do well to create formal training for bishops and stk presidents that cover a number of topics. Here is some mud I’ll throw at the wall, ideas for formal training topics:

    *Sex harassment (as discussed in your OP), / spotting and dealing with sexual predators
    *Spouse and child abuse / Legal obligations / Victim sensitivity
    *Human development and sexuality
    *Working with minors and adolescents
    *Geriatric basics
    *Family health, family law and divorce
    *Substance abuse, addiction treatment and relapse
    *Mental health, psychotherapy (which should be outsourced) vs spiritual counseling (pastoral care)
    *Home finance and budgeting
    *Interpersonal communication
    *Oral and written communication / Conflict resolution
    *Commonly misunderstood church policies

    I would envision robust readings and training that is mandatory and offsite. I know those called are busy, but the social and material consequences on members bishops control are too important to ignore this need. It may also lessen the phenomenon of “leadership roulette.”

  87. “The fact the church has not done this is a headscratcher and, in my opinion, borders on failing to uphold its fiduciary responsibilities, let alone scriptural mandates.”


    Why are we so behind on these critically important issues?
    When PA implemented requirements in 2015 which apply to churches too one would think the church would re-examine church-wide what is not being done to protect against abuse and make some changes.
    Were it not for Sam Young’s public advocacy….

    We need to teach our youth that inappropriate conversation and contact can come from teachers, coaches, neighbors and even church leaders.

  88. The BSA’s new Youth Protection Training (YPT2), is 90 minutes long. Complete with “trigger warnings” because of its included stories of abuse. It is far superior to the old YPT and includes more information on how to recognize grooming behaviors, and youth who are being abused. However, getting adults to accept scout/cub scout callings is difficult. Convincing them to take the new longer training is nearly impossible. As pointed out, we have a cub scout committee chair, a boy scout committee chair, and charter organization representative (bishopric member), and a unit commissioner, it takes all of those adults to get the training done and recorded properly each year. (nationally it is only required every other year, but many councils require every year).

    I also think it would be a good idea to have all adults in the ward take a (30 minute), training every two years on recognizing predatory behaviors and proper reporting. Perhaps ( to streamline the reminder process a bit), taking the training would be a prerequisite for scheduling a temple recommend interview. I do think it would be an easy way to get out of all callings involving youth, but do we really want unwilling people in our youth programs? And if we can’t find appropriate volunteers for our programs, maybe we need to scale back the amount of programs (and classes) we have as a church.

  89. If it’s too complicated, demanding, or expensive to require and track background checks and training for people\subs who have access to the most vulnerable of our population (which is, in my opinion, an absolute minimal expectation), than we don’t have any business teaching primary or offering other “extra curricular” activities. I would rather see us limit our meetings to those that are fully communal–full families participating together–than to continue on as we have.

  90. Kevin Barney says:

    I thought of this post this morning when in bishopric there was a reminder for the deadline to complete the BSA volunteer training.

  91. John Mansfield, I’ve been thinking through your comments, and honestly, continue to disagree with you almost entirely. I mean, it’s nice that in-person trainings feel more edifying, and that you enjoy learning from fine members of the community. But here’s the thing: the purpose isn’t to edify the people who take the training; the purpose is to protect the vulnerable among us. And, while I fully agree that in-person instruction is better for some types of learning, I see no reason why online isn’t more than sufficient to present this type of protective information.

    Moreover, even if in-person instruction provided a better learning environment, the costs are prohibitive. You’d have to find thousands of instructors, ensure that they were competent and qualified. Pay them. Find a time that everybody who wanted to attend could attend. (That alone would be virtually impossible: my free time generally starts after 10:00 pm.) Hold enough sessions to allow everybody to do it. Unless online represents a significant drop in quality (and again, to be clear, there’s no reason to believe that it does), there are a lot of reasons to believe that the online provision is better.

    Finally, if you think attending this kind of training paints “POTENTIAL PEDOPHILE” across your back, well, (1) you haven’t actually read anything on this threat, and (2) you wouldn’t have to take the training. If you didn’t take it, of course, you’d face limitations on the callings you could hold, but that’s 100% fair.

  92. I think the idea of mandatory online training for people working with youth is worth doing.

    I am the father of a child who was molested in a primary room in our ward building. There were many mistakes made. One of them is that the bishop at the time of his call was aware that other children had been abused by the perpetrator in the church but was unaware that he was a mandatory reporter both before and after his call as a bishop. He had also decided that the privacy of the abuser needed to be protected. So a very good chance to prevent harm to other children, my daughter included, was lost. Where I live, the institutional church believes that it doesn’t have a responsibility to inform bishops about their responsibilities with respect to child abuse and the bishop’s mandatory reporting status. They have their hotline, but where I live bishops are not informed about the hotline when they are called. Instead the information about the hotline is just there in the manual. Bishops eventually may get a copy of a letter to stake presidents about church printed resources, but that’s it.

    The idea of online training is so obvious it has doubtless come up several times in the Sexual Abuse Committee which consists among other things of a Seventy and K&M lawyers. I have come to believe that the leaders of the church have bought into a legal strategy that minimizes their legal duties, i.e. they won’t change things even if kids there are molestations and rapes that could reasonably be prevented.

  93. *then, not “than”, in my earlier post.

    Anon Dad: So sorry about your family’s experience. I think your last paragraph is an important critique of the strategy (or lack of one) that the leadership is using to protect children. I don’t think methods will change substantially unless the whole power hierarchy breaks down, and I’m not expecting that to ever happen. I needed to find substitutes this week for the Sunbeam class that my husband and I teach, and it occurred to me that I was perpetuating negligence by calling up random people to see if they would teach a group of three-year-olds…with no supervision, no protection or teaching training, and no background check. I wouldn’t consider doing such a thing in any context outside of church, so why the hell did it seem normal? Well, I think because this kind of thing was normalized for me from the time I was born. Activity and temple recommend status have become shortcuts for genuine discernment–a shortcut to all the inconvenient steps and time required to really assess trustworthiness.

  94. Having just finished some required training with my firm, I thought to drop in a couple of lines from that training. How I would like for all of us to learn and apply!

    “Assume a handshake is an acceptable gesture; avoid any other touching of a co-worker.
    Avoid commenting on a co-worker’s physical appearance.
    Respect your co-workers’ preferred names and pronouns.
    Unwelcome conduct is in the eye of the beholder. You can offend someone even if you did not intend to do so. And even if you think your conduct is objectively reasonable.
    If you inadvertently offend someone, or say something you shouldn’t have, take responsibility for it. Apologize—immediately and sincerely.

  95. This article is spot on. And no need to chase people down to complete the training; Wednesday’s comment is right: just make it a prerequisite for temple recommend interview, not that you have to have a TR to work with the youth, but you can’t get a TR without completing the training.

  96. Anon for this one says:

    My thought on this…….I think until we as parents as a collected united group, the enlightened folk on this blog and ALL Millennial’s aged 36 and down don’t step up and DEMAND this.
    Nothing will change.
    And when I say demand, I mean, pull our children out of all activities, full boycott.
    Until we as a collective group unite and tell the older powers that be, that this is HOW ITS GOING TO BE, it won’t change.
    I live in Happy Valley and can’t tell you the number of times I have heard excuses for predators come from older men/women. They are just too happy to promote Brother Feelgood’s version of the story rather than protect children.

    I don’t know if this is worse here in Utah Country than outside UT or not, but I know it’s a problem here. I have had to educate my own spouse because he’s too innocent. He doesn’t see the potential issues because he isn’t a predator, doesn’t think like one.
    I think that’s the point of training. I work in the medical field and I work with older men. I know their histories and now having worked with them for several years, I can see the signs, but I’m not perfect. Every now and again I will see a file and go, oh wow, got blindsided by that person.
    I wish we could all trust our fellow men/women, but my babies are not up for slaughter and how I feel about safety shouldn’t be up for debate.

    I am also keenly aware that trying to push a large scale agenda such as this on social media would only get me excommunicated. At least for now. So far, I have been able to bide my time in the hopes that when men like my husband get into power, things will slowly start to change, but I gotta be honest, I’m starting to lose hope.

    I genuinely wish that the women in the RS and Primary presidencies had actual power to make changes. I wish that they were available to hear my thoughts/concerns and I wish that the Church wasn’t so willing to let the innocent suffer for the “good of the cause” aka legal liability.

    I would like to hear, from people that have had issues where the Bishop made a mistake and a child was harmed, what is the rationale for not presenting the Church with a lawsuit?
    No judgment, I haven’t been in the situation so have no room, but wonder if everyone who had a child that was traumatized by seemingly “innocent” mistakes sued the Church and asked for mandatory training/background checks if that would be an avenue for actual change.

  97. There is already a collection of videos in the leadership training library. Having training videos on youth protection, abuse response, etc. available like this would be a positive step even if it wasn’t somehow *required* or checked by a quiz, and would make it easy for wards/stakes to do some modicum of training. That said it’s clear that the more people are exposed to the training the better and I’m not sure how utilized the leadership training library is.

    A secondary comment that required training seems another step towards “corporatization” of the Church which seems a shame (but less of a shame than having innocent victims).

  98. @Anon for this one, banding together to demand change is good, but let’s be honest; what will really drive change is a handful of tech-savvy youth recording their bishop asking about their masturbatorial habits and then suing the bishop for sexual assault. I fear that this is what has to happen to get the church to change.

  99. One more thing, BSA and AYSO having required online training for volunteers is one thing, does anyone know of other churches that do this? I’m curious how other churches deal with this, especially others with a global reach.

  100. I think other churches deal with it by having a mostly professional clergy who receive training as part of their education to be ministers and by having other paid employees (who also receive professional training to various degrees) lead their youth and children’s ministries.

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