Safety First: Why You Absolutely Can’t Skip Background Checks

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Here’s why you absolutely can’t skip background checks. Use this guide to conducting background checks on your team.

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Jack Anderson* thought it could never happen — at least not at his church. The color drained from his face when he received the call that a police investigation was in progress due to a report of sexual misconduct from one of his volunteers.

The days of thinking nothing like this could ever happen at your church — or to the people your volunteers serve — have long since ended. As a result, the subject of background checks has become a hot issue for churches today. To check — or not to check — is one of many questions children’s ministers are asking. Are background checks really worth the expense? How can I get my volunteers to see the need — without offending their good intentions? And how in the world do I get started?

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Worth the Expense

Churches weren’t asking these questions just a few years ago, but the attention to clergy pedophilia has forced the church to not only ask the questions, but to also come up with answers. Paul warned the Ephesians to “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). Background checks have become a new screening tool for the church to expose the darkness.

A survey conducted by Church Law and Tax Report found that church volunteers commit 50 percent of all incidents of sexual abuse in churches, paid staff commit 30 percent, and other children commit 20 percent. Many risk-consultant professionals agree that the church and other nonprofits are the predator’s last refuge. Perpetrators are looking for easy access to vulnerable children, youth, senior citizens, and people with disabilities, and often just knowing that a screening process is in place protects these vulnerable people.

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The Volunteers for Children Act signed in 1998 states that you can be sued for negligent hiring if you have an incident with one of your volunteers or employees and you didn’t conduct a national search to look for a previous criminal record. So anyone who works with children at your church, paid or unpaid, should be on your list for mandatory background checks.

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Children's Ministry Magazine

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