Walking a Legal Tightrope With Screening and Training


During the interview process, discover the applicant’s previous
child abuse education. Then have an ongoing training program for
all your people. A wonderful guard against child abuse is the
constant reminder to anyone who might be so inclined that your
ministry is aware of what to watch out for.

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*Continuing education-Some ministries have one individual
who’s in charge of continuing education as his or her primary duty.
First, make sure this individual is well qualified to teach about
child abuse. Then insist on a certain level of attendance, even of
volunteers, at the training sessions about child abuse. And when
you hire new staffers or bring on new volunteers, insist that they
complete an orientation program prior to engaging in any work with

*Confidential counseling-Always be willing to assist your
people in securing confidential counseling for any problem they may
have, and communicate this clearly. The church is a place of
healing. If anyone is struggling with child abuse tendencies, refer
them to a qualified counselor. Require the person to stop working
with children and to perhaps find a “safer” ministry in the church
to plug into.

*Accountability-Institute the “two adult” rule in every
situation involving children. Discourage one-on-one encounters of
an adult with a child. There’s rarely a reason in children’s
ministry that two adults can’t be present. If your church is small,
combine classes if necessary to follow the two adult rule. This
accountability is a protection against potential incidents and
against false accusations.

Your ministry should be internally accountable. Make sure your
program has stated goals, that these are clearly conveyed to your
staff, and that the lines of communication remain open! Regularly
evaluate the ministry and each worker’s performance.

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With Mitch, if the school is contemplating retaining him at all, a
key will be his performance to this point in his new job. The
suggested course of action for this school is as follows:

1. Carefully discuss the circumstances of the scandal with Mitch.
Was he prosecuted? What has occurred in the interim? Has he
received quality counseling?
2. Inform Mitch of displeasure at his failure to disclose
information about his past.
3. Question Mitch carefully about other aspects of his
4. Communicate the school’s standards of expected behavior and
carefully monitor any of Mitch’s interactions with students.
5. Conduct a thorough rescreening and remove him from any
unchaperoned direct contact with children for an extended period
(and perhaps permanently).
6. Consult an attorney about whether-and how-to advise parents of
the situation.
7. Compile any pre-hiring screening attempted or post-hiring
training offered in case the school desires to dismiss Mitch.

Hal’s situation is a bit easier to deal with in that his current
conduct is criminal. Certainly, he should at least be suspended
pending the outcome of criminal proceedings. If he chooses not to
resign, the church could, with advice of an attorney, discreetly
terminate him. One pitfall to avoid: Don’t strive to “make life
miserable” for an employee so he or she will quit. It’s okay,
generally, to offer someone the chance to leave voluntarily, but if
the person refuses, then the church should proceed with its planned
personnel action-either probation, suspension, or firing.ú

Drew Crislip, a West Virginia lawyer, has counseled and
directed at a weeklong Christian camp for children each summer
since 1974.

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