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A criminal background check is an essential part of a ministry’s efforts to protect the children entrusted to their care, but a background check alone IS NOT ENOUGH.
BACKGROUND CHECKS ARE NOT ENOUGH!
First of all let’s define that when we are talking about protecting the children entrusted to our care we are talking not just about the preschool or elementary age children, we’re talking about anyone under age 18; i.e. minors! Churches are frequently known for having great programs and "relatively" tight safety systems for the younger children, but those guidelines often get less stringent in the adolescent and teen years – ironically perhaps the very years where we see the majority of the claims activities.
And in more churches than we’d care to admit, they have a tendency to perform background checks and little else. They assume that the risk of sexual abuse via a clean background is sufficient grounds for approval and no further screening is necessary. Unfortunately this practice is dangerous and often leads to failure. Why?
More than 90% of sexual abusers have no criminal records to find, and they know it.
Teen abusers have no searchable criminal records because juvenile records are generally unavailable
Sexual abuse offenders are often allowed to “plea down” to a lesser offense so dangerous past behaviors may get overlooked.
What Else Should A Church Do?
At a minimum, every church should………..
Establish a formal written policy of what you will abide by for those who work with minors. But remember – Policies are what you do, not what you say you do
Require a written application
Conduct a personal interview, even if brief
Implement and carefully adhere to the “Never Alone” rule where an adult and a child are never in a situation where they are alone
Establish some type of waiting rule before a new applicant can have access to minors. That rule is generally recommended to a three but a preferred six months.
For employees, you always want to check at least two non-personal reference checks. For volunteers this is not always applicable or feasible, but it’s an added safeguard if you can.
How Often Should We Run A Background Check?
We’ve already established that a background check is essential, just not the entire solution, but in consideration of how often these should be run there is no perfect answer. The more training and screening programs you have, likely the lesser amount of times you need to consider ongoing background checks however the generally recommended frequency is two to five years (VisionBridge Recommendation is every two years).
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