Walking a Legal Tightrope With Screening and Training

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Children’s ministry security is not an issue that
should be taken lightly.

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A church-affiliated middle school interviewed Mitch for a
teaching position. But, when asked why he’d left the field three
years earlier, Mitch didn’t mention that he’d gotten a 15-year-old
girl from his former church pregnant. The school learned of Mitch’s
past a few months after it hired him.

Hal’s first post-seminary job was associate pastor with
responsibility for children. For seven years, he was a popular
church staff member. Then the sixth-grade son of the senior
minister told a terrible secret-Hal had molested him. The church
learned that Hal had fondled eight of the church’s boys during the
previous two-year period.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Courts often refrain from holding ministries responsible for the
actions of their employees or volunteers. However, some have been
more open to considering whether a ministry has been negligent in
the areas of background screening and training its personnel. You
can help protect your ministry and your children through these
background screening and training practices.

BACKGROUND SCREENING
It’s imperative to follow procedures like these with potential
staffers or volunteers. It’s also advisable to go through these
steps with workers already on board with your ministry.

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*Application procedures-Use a detailed application form.
You can get samples from organizations such as Boy Scouts, Girl
Scouts, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Youth for Christ, or 4-H. Have
an attorney tailor the final document to your church’s individual
needs. Get a written statement from the applicant acknowledging
that he or she has no background of impropriety with children or
youth.

Some experts require a six-month minimum church membership for
volunteers. This discourages potential child abusers who church-hop
looking for a quick and easy fix.

*Interviews-Don’t stop there. Whenever your ministry is
hiring a new staffer or looking for a volunteer, particularly one
who’ll work closely with young children, ask probing questions. Why
are you interested in children’s work? What gifts do you bring to
it? Have you ever been accused of impropriety with children or
youth? If so, what are the details?

Don’t fall into the “one member from every board” trap in setting
up a personnel committee. While that may be a fine start, you need
to have a qualified team. Committee members should be well versed
in children’s work. Your interview team should know what to watch
for in potential child molesters. Often, police or social-service
agencies (even insurance companies) can offer training or
advice.

*Criminal check-Explain to each applicant what your
purpose is in using background checks. Get a written release from
the applicant and complete a criminal records check. Your local law
enforcement agency or the FBI can be of assistance. If an applicant
refuses to cooperate, don’t permit that person to work with
children.

*References-Insist on references drawn from a broad cross section
of individuals who’ve known the applicant for many years and in
many settings-personal, educational, and professional. And check
the references carefully.

Even if the person is someone well known to your ministry, don’t
bypass these steps! It’s true you may not have to delve quite as
deeply, but you still need to record that you’ve taken action to
protect your children!

     

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