Today, I describe extreme situations that might impact your children’s ministry. I hope you never have to deal with situations like these, but in today’s environment, you need to be prepared.
“What do I do if an abusive parent shows up to kidnap their child? What if they are armed?”
I was asked this question at a recent children’s pastor’s event. This can be a pretty sticky situation for all involved. It is important for church staff and all volunteers to be well informed in case such a situation should arise.
Keep in mind that the following are suggestions. You should always develop procedures in conjunction with your church leadership, consistent with church policies.
If there is a restraining order, and the custodial parent has provided you with a copy, the church needs to have the copy and key people in the children’s area need to know where the copy of the restraining order is kept. It should always be kept under lock and key. You will need to be very cautious about the people who are aware of the restraining order and very careful that there is no gossiping about the family’s situation.
If there is no restraining order but a defined court ordered custody agreement, it would be wise to have a copy of that agreement on file as well. This is especially true if there has been spousal or child abuse. If the parent that brings the child to church hasn’t discussed these issues with someone at church, I realize you may not be aware of the risks involved.
The person in charge of the children’s area may need to bring the restraining order to the children’s area in case the authorities need to be called. I had an incident one time where the non-custodial parent brought the police to help him get his child. We were able to produce the restraining order so the police could read it. The police escorted the man off the premises without his child.
If the parent is a person that was active in your church before the divorce, they may very well know the lay out of the church. They may know all of your protocols regarding such an issue.
If you think the parent is armed, call the authorities immediately.
It would be a good idea to have a code to use in a situation where the volunteers know the parent and think the parent might be armed. Or if the parent is very agitated and demanding their child is released to them.
Because the intruder is known to members of the church having a predetermined code will alert everyone to the seriousness of the situation. Someone can text the situation to leadership. “Sam’s dad is here. Red alert.” Everyone would automatically know “red alert” means having Sam’s dad in the children’s area is serious and help needs to be forthcoming.
This might be a dad that was at home in his new house or apartment. He could have gotten distraught about the divorce situation. Or he might have been drinking and decided he wanted to get his child or children. He knows the layout of the church as well as all the volunteers and is not afraid to come to the church building and kidnap his own child.
Interaction with the agitated parent
- Quietly and to yourself say a prayer asking for safety for all the children and for wisdom as you interact with the intruder
- Remain as calm as possible
- Speak slowly and distinctly to the agitated parent (this will help you stay calm)
- Calm the intruder down or distract him if possible
- Try to move the intruder out of the room or as far away from the children as possible
- Do not give him or her the child
While the lead person is talking to the agitated and possibly armed intruder, other volunteers need to gather the children and if at all possible get them out of the area. If not possible separate them into smaller manageable groups and get them involved in activities to distract them.
Even though you may have been close to the parent and possibly even counted him or her as your friend, keep in mind they are not thinking clearly. In this moment they are not the person you know. They are hurting and they are distraught.
You need to change how you approach this person, as they are now an intruder instead of a friendly parent. Your first responsibility is to keep all the children and the volunteers safe.
When the authorities arrive, whether it is church staff or the police, allow them to take the lead. Continue to pray for the situation at hand.
- These children are hurting deeply and you are in a position to offer them hope and healing that can only come from God.
- No one in children’s ministry can avoid the potential for similar scenarios. There is too much family dysfunction in our culture. It’s better to be ready.
If something like this has ever happened to you, what are other suggestions?