Nursery Kidnapping Highlights Need for Safe Churches

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A child abduction at a Kentwood, Mich., church highlights the need for churches to have comprehensive child-safety policies and procedures, said Beth Swagman, director of the Christian Reformed Church’s Safe Church office.

On June 21, a 19-year-old woman posed as a nursery volunteer at Cutlerville (Mich.) East Christian Reformed Church, but then left suddenly. Parents there became suspicious and called police.

According to police, the woman subsequently abducted an 11-month-old child at Kentwood Community Church, where she is a registered nursery volunteer. The child was found unharmed at the suspect’s home.

“The story revealed the importance of every church having a comprehensive child-safety policy,” Swagman said. “It worked as it should at Cutlerville East.”

Jerry DeRuiter, executive pastor of Kentwood Community, said the experience was a painful learning process. “Churches are not immune to this kind of activity, because we all come to churches with messy lives,” said DeRuiter.

DeRuiter emphasized that a church’s entire congregation must work together to ensure that a safe environment exists for children. “There were some people who knew what was going on in [the suspect’s] life,” DeRuiter said. “We’re working on getting people in the congregation to be OK with sharing information, and we will handle that information in an appropriate manner. That could prevent an incident from happening.”

Swagman said that although screening volunteers is important, supervision and awareness are even more important.

“As far as nursery is concerned, the issue is rarely screening,” Swagman said. “The key to a successful nursery is adequate supervision.” Other than the parents, she added, “no one leaves the nursery with a child, except in an emergency situation.”

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