Support and Resources For Pastors and
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Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor
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Support Your Friendly
Child Abuse Investigator
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div, M.S.A.
She's aggressive, determined,
professional...and if you abuse or neglect your children, she'll take them away from you.
No, she's not your congregation's head antagonist. She's my wife.*
- A Godly Mission
- My wife is a Child Welfare Specialist for the State of
Michigan. For the past decade she has been engaged in one of the most difficult, tearful
and heart-wrenching vocations. Employed to oversee and protect children, her job entails
risking her life to do all she can do within the legal limits of governmental regulation
to investigate all accusations of neglect and abuse.
- She routinely conducts intensive investigations with
parents of the alleged victims. Trained and experienced in forensic investigative
techniques, she is able to get virtually any information she needs out of just about
- Pastors, counselors, therapists may not understand why in
the urgency of an investigative process she doesn't just tell the alleged abusive parent,
"It's OK. Just don't do it again." She can't--legally, morally or ethically.
Besides, it just wouldn't be Christian.
- Child Abuse: It's Very Real
- Sometimes clergy and other concerned Christians can't
understand why social service agencies are so unbending, so ruthless and so often
"out to get them." When parents of abused children respond to the prospect that
their abused or neglected child will be placed in foster care and their parental rights
possibly terminated, they may turn to the church.
- Often they will tell their story. It may make your heart
sink. It may make you sympathize with their plight. It may make you may want to get on the
phone right away and let that "evil social worker" "have it."
- Before You Intervene...
- No matter how righteous you might think such actions might
be, don't do it. Why?
- 1) First, Consider Their Training And Experience
- Overall, trained investigators such as my wife often have a
great deal of training with child neglect and abuse. They have a "feel" for the
mindset of such parents. They have specific training in how to recognize the bruises. They
have sat at the feet of the nation's foremost forensic specialists to distinguish between
what is accidental and what is inflicted.
- They have not only seen the slides, watched the films and
listened to the discussions of the various injuries. They've seen the injuries in real
life happen to real children. A sampling of some of the hideous injuries regularly
- Severely fractured skulls of children only a few days old;
- Children only months old bleeding to death from the most
repulsive types of injuries to their genitals due to rape--homosexual and heterosexual;
- Children crawling on floors of homes without any diapers
and sitting among roaches;
- Children with countless broken bones who will either
require numerous corrective surgeries and/or will never walk again;
- Children shaken and/or thrown so hard that they sustain
permanent brain damage;
- And other unspeakable acts of violence.
- 2) Consider Their Response
- Child abuse investigators and other specialists are trained
and conditioned to respond appropriately to a wide range of situations. In cases where a
child's life and welfare is literally at risk, they have no choice but to be directive,
insistent and assertive. After all, how would you feel if...
- * You knew a child, whose older siblings were severely
beaten, sexually abused, and sustained multiple injuries for which they were hospitalized,
who was at significant risk for sustaining similar injuries themselves?
- * You knew your inaction or inability to intervene resulted
in the child's recent hospitalization with multiple skull fractures?
- * You knew that that child was only 18 months old and would
live with abusive parents until his or her eighteenth birthday unless you took action?
- It's not hard to love someone who is "mean, nasty,
directive, determined, and angry" who will take your children in a moment. It's
really not! I give mine a hug every day!
- 3) Recognize You Don't Have All The Information
- If you haven't done the investigation, forensically
interviewed the parents or perpetrators, seen how the family really is outside of church
and out of the view of religious leaders, and seen their confidential criminal records,
you probably won't understand how extensive the abuse and/or neglect may have been.
- Before you shed tears and put your heart out on your sleeve
for the alleged perpetrator, think. Think hard...real hard. Just because you work for God
doesn't mean you have the right to "butt in" and intervene.
- You don't have all the information. And the little you do
have is in nearly every case a very, very slanted and emotional one-sided story. When in
doubt about a specific social worker, withhold your judgment .When in doubt, trust the
investigators, the social workers and those entrusted to protect these children. Their job
is not to ruin families. It's to protect children with the truth. So
- 4) Understand That You Won't Have Access To All The
Information You Feel You Need To Make A Wise, Prudent Decision.
- Confidentiality is the ultimate sign of professionalism.
Outsiders such as pastors are not privy to the information gleaned from the investigation.
Until made public through the respective courts, social workers simply can't give you the
information you may desire and need to make your own independent assessment of guilt. They
can't give you a history, details, names, circumstances or anything else.
- This, of course, is a frustration to the social service
workers, too. Since they are pledged to confidentiality, they legally can't provide
information which would help support their side of the story. They can't talk with the
press. They can't talk to you either. They are not trying to be difficult. They're being
professional. Trust them!
- Recently one Child Abuse Investigator was brutally killed
in Michigan by an angry parent for refusing to reveal confidential information.
Confidentiality is critical.
- 5) Never, Never, NEVER Volunteer Testify
In Court On Behalf Of The Individual
- The word "never" is not just a cute piece of
advice, a flippant rubric for general practice, or an off-the-cuff guideline for ministry
casuistry. It's an important piece of advice.
- Never, never, never testify in court on behalf of the
alleged perpetrator...unless subpoenaed to do so. (Given legal guidelines regarding clergy
confidentiality, even if they do subpoena you you may not be able to testify. In such
cases, consult your denomination's national headquarters and/or a lawyer of your own!)
- Do you want to know why you should never testify
in court? Here are some reasons.
- First, the alleged perpetrator is
using you. They think that judges, prosecutors and juries will be magically touched by
your mesmerizing presence and be swayed to leniency. Justice simply doesn't work that way.
- Second, unless you like to be
shocked out of your wits in public don't even think of testifying. There are a
multitude of really compelling reasons the alleged perpetrators are in
court. One major reason is because there is a compelling and perhaps overwhelming case
- Typically, actual pictures of the injuries, recorded and
written testimonials, records of previous incidents (sometimes numerous), personal eye
witness accounts, testimony by others, and interviews documenting the alleged perpetrators
admission of their wrong doing are all presented.
- Third, The evidence against the
alleged perpetrator can be such as to be embarrassing. Depending on the standards of
evidence allowed in the court--whether 51% certainty or 99% certainty--information will be
revealed that may drastically alter your perception of the couple.
- When all is said and done, those few pastors who do
willingly testify almost universally walk away with major embarrassment. They just
couldn't believe the extent of abuse by their members was possible. They just couldn't
imagine how you could have hid all this from them. And the pastors thought the accused
parents were "nice" Christian people!
- Fourth, alleged perpetrators
requesting a jury trial characteristically are simply digging their own grave deeper.
Though on the surface it appears to be a signal that they know they can win in court, it's
really a desperate effort.
- Requesting a jury trial in the State of Michigan, for
example, almost certainly guarantees conviction. The standard of evidence used, Federal
and state laws, the thoroughness of the investigative process, et al have such a powerful,
cumulative effect. Presented in court, these professionals are often able to present a
very, very strong case against the accused. Those in the courtroom will be aghast in
amazement at all the perpetrators have done.
- By asking the pastor to testify publicly on their behalf,
the alleged perpetrators appeal to your sense of helping the underdog. Beware. They are
going to make fools of you in court as they will of themselves. Instead of having chosen
to deal with the matter in a less public setting in presence of a magistrate and a select
few others, they have opted to have their case heard in the open.
- Jurors, hearing the testimony, will be simply awe-struck at
the testimony, the evidence and the history and extent of the abuse. So will you! It will
be the most memorable, embarrassing, and humiliating shock of your life.
- Third, if you really want to know
the truth read the court records on the proceedings. Court records are accessible to the
public. If you really need to know, look at the records. By the same token, if you're in
this deep, you're in trouble.
- Fourth, it's simply foolish for
you to be there. Instead, offer your sincere prayers for justice. Offer the alleged
perpetrators time to meet with you in your office. Offer the alleged perpetrator genuine
Christian support--even if convicted, but don't, don't, don't ever testify!
- Parents who abuse and neglect children will subject anyone
to further neglect and abuse. Just because you wear a collar and they call you
"Pastor" doesn't make a "hill of beans" of difference. Don't be a
fool. Keep your ministry out of the witness stand. You belong in the pulpit.
- 6) Let God's Authorities Do Their Job.
In spite of the many various arguments, twists, and
eloquent circumlocutions that can be presented relative to church and state issues, the
Christian response is simple. Paul said,
"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no
authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been
established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against
what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."
- "Submit to them." This command applies to all
pastors...including you. By doing so you and the worker form a basis for a God-pleasing
reciprocal respect and trust.
- 7) Be Patient. Let The System Work.
Though the wheels of justice can turn slowly, wobble and
get stuck in the mud, sooner or later the good guys win. Justice does get served. Though
community standards, relative levels of abuse/neglect screening, aggressiveness of
prosecutors, and judges' attitudes may vary, it is the cumbersome nature of the justice
and social services system that keeps it operating within parameters of justice.
In the rare circumstance that an unfair or unjust
investigation has been conducted, the justice system has many safety valves, too. Social
service supervisors, agency directors, community leaders, community standards, state laws,
attorneys, prosecutors and judges are just a few. In worst case scenarios parents facing
loss of parental rights to their children can request a trial in front of their peers.
- 8) Don't Be Fooled By Media-Conditioned Perceptions
Sometimes our perception of justice is too-well shaped by
a media focused on the spectacular, the out-of-the-ordinary, the exclusive, etc. The
unfortunate side of this is that it tends to overlook the smooth, trustworthy and
effective day-to-day workings of justice. The fact that the media can report a story about
injustice and have it newsworthy is probably one of the better arguments indicating why we
can trust the system. If it weren't news anymore, then there would be major problems.
- Some Positive Suggestions
- 1) Be Supportive Of The Accused.
- Support the alleged perpetrator(s) without enabling,
condoning or giving the false impressions of support. Perpetrators perpetrate perpetually.
They don't need your tears. They need directness, frankness and someone they can trust.
- Surprisingly those who have had their children removed by
the courts aren't always angered by the child abuse investigator who first confronted
them. If they have been treated fairly, not mis-directed or misled, not lied to and
respectfully treated with the truth, they can leave a courtroom with tears...but with
respect for the abuse investigator. This is a godly model for pastors, too.
- 2) Be Supportive Of The Victims.
- Child abuse affects virtually every single aspect of a
victim's psyche. A child's perception of trust, safety, bonding and God are all distorted
by abuse. One of the most tragic evidences of this is a young toddler who, after
recovering from weeks or months of hospitalization following severe sexual and physical
abuse from a parent, asks, "Where's my mommy? Where's my daddy?"
- Pastors and others need to recognize that children such as
these really don't have a good understanding of Christian love. Since they may often feel
deserving of their abusive treatment, they don't know what grace is either. Let them see
love, feel trust and talk freely as a child and learn and experience what it means to live
in God's love. Most importantly, let them know and experience complete, no-holds-barred
forgiveness. It's the best and most healthy lesson they can learn in their life-long
- 3) Become Aware Of Child Abuse Issues.
- The incidence of child abuse appears to grow rapidly each
year. Though millions of babies are aborted each year, the incidence is not declining. For
some parents, terminating their lives is not enough. And neither is child abuse. Parents
"living together without the benefit of marriage" and other societal factors
seem to have only exacerbated the problem of abuse.
- 4) Don't Be Fooled.
- Child abuse does not discriminate. It's in trailer parks,
remote woods, middle-class neighborhoods, and in the most beautiful and elaborate homes.
It's not just an issue of poverty, race, gender or religion.
- Child abuse investigators go into homes of the very rich
and the profoundly poor. Perhaps the most marked difference between rich and poor abusers
is that the rich have greater resources by which to conceal and defend their wrongdoing.
- 5) Abuse Happens Among Christians.
- Child abuse investigators go to Christian homes too.
Sometimes they visit homes of pastors noted in their community for their
"uncompromisingly clear witness," lauded for their "strong, magnetic
leadership" or known by other indications of their "perfect" ministry.
- (The above characteristics don't necessarily imply or
suggest that all pastors with the characteristics abusers. Far from it. But those who are
abusers have the best facade of some of the best pastoral characteristics!)
- 6) Become Familiar With Local Agencies.
- Consider developing a healthy relationship with child
welfare agencies. Typically they are in need of all kinds of resources, especially
volunteers. Support groups, foster-care homes, and transporters are just a few of the
many, many types of volunteer needs they may have.
- 7) Increase Congregational Awareness.
- Child welfare issues can be an important ministry in any
church. Start educating, preaching and working in ways to raise awareness of this
important issue in your congregation. Workshops, seminars, Bible classes, sermon series
and other special emphases revolving around child welfare-related issues are but some ways
to bring the issue to the forefront of ministry.
- 8) Be Aware Of "Perfect" Christians.
- The church is, perhaps, one of the best place for the
development and maintenance of perfectionistic facades. Scott Peck calls those who
maintain these facades "People of the Lie."
- Christians are so often and easily fooled by the
"wonderful so-and-so family." You've seen them. The parents do so much for the
church and their kids are always so well-behaved. They attend every parenting class ever
offered in the church. Sometimes they lead these classes.
- 9) Acknowledge Those Deceitful Facades.
- Facades are impressive. Some of the most-loved and
recognized famous television and movie personalities live a life totally different from
their television image. Whether one considers Tim Allen of "Home
Improvement" Fame (Tim is plagued by drug addiction), the perfect father of
"Father Knows Best" (he was an alcoholic), or a life-long alcoholic Dick Van
Dyke singing for families and children in the family classic "Mary Poppins,"
- Facades are all around us. Some you can see, others you
can't...until it's too late. Still others are hidden so well no one can tell. But its
there. There are many possible indicators that people may be hiding behind a facade. Some
- * Those with a "too-good-to-be-true"
- * Those having children with "stellar" behavior.
These children may not be behaving out of faith at all. Instead, their behavior may be
driven by the fear of severe discipline or abuse.
- * How are family members treated when they make a mistake?
When they "let their hair down?" Is discipline appropriate?
- 10) Acknowledge Professional Facades
- Certain professions seem to attract individuals with needs
to be in control. Any profession in which image plays a major role is susceptible.
Professions with a high competitive component can also attract controlling personalities.
These may include the government leaders and officials, military and para-military
occupations, public safety officers, corporate executives, administrators, individuals
involved in occupations exacting a high degree of control, and sometimes pastors. This
listing is by no means exhaustive.
- Control needs can often be one of several factors
identifying an abuser. These and other issues can sometimes be indicators that there's
something more than meets the eye going on.
- 11) Don't Get Paranoid.
- No one, including pastors, has the right to arbitrarily
"butt in" and secretly stick their nose into people's private lives. We are not
busy-bodies. We are not witch-hunters. We are not investigators. We are pastors. The
highest standards of churchmanship demand we deal only with what is known...not what is
suspected, rumored, gossiped, or conveyed second-hand. Simply carry on with an appropriate
level of Christian discernment in your leadership.
- 12) Pray For Families And All Who Contribute To The
Welfare of Children.
- There are so many people involved in the support system for
child welfare. Social workers, judges, court referees, agency directors and supervisors,
foster care workers, foster parents, attorneys, friends of the court, adoption workers,
home licensing specialists and therapists are just a small representation of all involved.
- They need your regular, genuine, prayerful support. So do
their ancillary agencies with which they work. Support social workers and agencies of all
kinds. Your congregation's resources may be limited. Contact the various agencies and do
whatever you can, whenever you can. At the very least, pray continually for them!
- Thank God for your local child abuse investigator. I know I
- Thank God for everyone involved in this very special work
of God in our society. Rejoice that they share in a very, very special area of ministry
which is truly, truly Christian. Continually remind them of how important God esteems
their ministry. James wrote to affirm the undeniable importance of this very special
vocation. We can carry on that tradition.
- "Religion that God our Father accepts as
pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep
oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27 NIV)
- Thomas F. Fischer
- * By the way, if any of you every happens
to get the opportunity to meet my wife, she's the one with the big, friendly smile and
warm approachability. She's also a great, loyal Christian friend and
excellent social worker who is rightly proud of her work! :-)
Index Articles 1-49
Articles 50-99 Articles
100-149 Articles 150-199
200-249 Articles 250-299
Articles 300-349 Articles
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:46 PM