Question of the week: What do I do if an abusive parent shows up to kidnap his or her child? What if they are armed?


40486657 - middle age father with his toddler son walking outdoors / kidnapping concept

Today, I describe extreme situations that might affect your children’s ministry. I hope you never have to deal with these situations, but in today’s environment, you need to be prepared.

“What do I do if an abusive parent shows up to kidnap his or her child? What if the parent is armed?”

I was asked this question at a recent children’s pastors’ event. This can be a sticky situation for all involved. It is important that all church staff members and volunteers be well informed in case such a situation should arise.

Keep in mind that the following ideas are merely suggestions. You should always work with your church leadership to develop procedures consistent with church policies.

If there is a restraining order in place, and the custodial parent has provided you with a copy, the church needs to have it. Key people in the children’s area need to know where it is kept—always under lock and key.

You need to be very cautious about making people aware of the restraining order, so there’s no gossiping about the family’s situation.

If there is a court-ordered custody agreement, it would be wise to also have a copy of it on file. This is especially helpful in cases of spousal or child abuse. If the parent who brings the child to church hasn’t discussed these issues with the church, though, you might not be aware of the risks.

The person in charge of the children’s area might need to provide the restraining order in case that the authorities need to be called. I experienced an incident when a non-custodial parent brought the police to the church to help him get his child. We produced the restraining order, so the police could read it, and they escorted him off the premises without his child.

A parent who was active in your church before the divorce very well might know the layout of the church and all of your protocols for such incidents.

If you think the parent is armed, call the authorities immediately.

Code alert

It’s a good idea to have a code that volunteers can use in situations when they know the parent and think he might be armed or if a parent is very agitated and demanding that the child be released.

When the intruder is known to church members, having a set code can alert everyone to the seriousness of the situation. A volunteer could text leaders: “Sam’s dad is here. Red alert.” Everyone would immediately know that a “red alert” means that the presence of Sam’s dad in the children’s area is a serious issue, and help needs to come quickly.

This situation could happen with a dad who was alone in his new house or apartment and became distraught about the divorce situation. Or he might have been drinking and decided that he wanted to get his child. He knows the layout of the church and all the volunteers and is not afraid to come to the church building and kidnap his own child.

Interaction with the agitated parent

  • Quietly say a prayer to yourself asking for safety for all the children and for wisdom as you interact with the intruder.
  • Remain as calm as possible.
  • Speak slowly and clearly to the agitated parent. (This will also help you stay calm.)
  • Calm down the intruder, 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 the intruder the child.

While the lead person talks to the agitated, possibly armed intruder, other volunteers should gather the children and, if at all possible, get them out of the area. If that’s not possible, separate them into smaller, more manageable groups, and involve them in activities to distract them.

Although you might once have been close to the parent and even counted him as your friend, keep in mind that he is not thinking clearly right now. In this moment, he is not the person you know. He is hurting and distraught.

You need to change how you approach this person because he is now an intruder, not a friendly parent. Your first responsibility is to keep all the children and volunteers safe.

When the authorities arrive, whether church staff or the police, allow them to take the lead. Continue to pray for the situation.

Why should you pursue ministries that would create these situations?

You might think that the potential for situations like these presents a good reason not to pursue ministry with children from difficult backgrounds.

There are two reasons you should not be deterred:

  1. The children in these situations are hurting deeply, and you are in a position to offer them hope and healing that can only come from God.
  2. No one in children’s ministry can avoid the potential for these scenarios. There is too much family dysfunction in our culture. It’s best to be prepared.

If a situation like this ever happened to you, what other suggestions do you have?


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Want to learn more about how to start a DivorceCare for Kids group for the hurting children in your community? Click here.

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2 thoughts on “Question of the week: What do I do if an abusive parent shows up to kidnap his or her child? What if they are armed?

  1. Excellent post Linda! It’s critical that we be proactive, not reactive on this issue. Our church also uses Shepherd’s Watch background checks to screen all volunteers and staff.

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