Providing a safe, loving environment where children can learn about Jesus is one of the highest callings and privileges of churches. The last thing we want is for a child and their family to be hurt. However, some churches may unknowingly put kids’ safety at risk by not following recommended precautionary steps in selecting volunteers and staff. For example, criminal background checks, while essential, are not enough.
A useful question to help guide your church safety policies is this: How can we demonstrate to a jury that reasonable care was taken to protect children?
Hopefully, your church will never have to answer that question for an actual jury due to a child sexual misconduct or abuse allegation, but the following list has been developed with it in mind. Your selection process should include every single one of these steps.
6 Steps to Follow
- A written application for all employees and every person working with minors, as well as anyone with a key to the church.
- A thorough interview process.
- A background check, including a criminal record check and sexual offender registry check.
- Two documented reference checks, including any past church history.
- A two-adult policy. At no time should a child be left alone with an adult.
- A six-month rule. All applicants must be in good standing with the church for at least six months before being allowed to work with minors.
Recently, the Florida Baptist Convention was sued because of inappropriate sexual behavior involving minors perpetrated by a minister at a church plant. Although a criminal background check had been done and had come up clean, the Convention had not checked with the minister's previous places of ministry. If they had, they might have discovered the fact that he had been accused of inappropriate behavior at two churches in Maryland and Alabama. Those churches had not reported the behavior to the authorities but chose to simply dismiss him, which was why the background check revealed nothing. However, the court determined that the Convention was liable because they should have checked with those churches to obtain references. In simply making the effort to check, the Convention may have been able to demonstrate to the court that reasonable care had been taken. The court decided their failure to get references amounted to negligent selection. As a result, not only were children hurt, but also the Convention is now facing $12.5 million in damages.
Selection Process for Minors Who Want to Work with Children
While background checks cannot be obtained for those under 18 years of age, it’s a common church practice to use teenagers as children’s workers. However, you still need to exercise reasonable care in selecting adolescent workers. You can do that by requiring two or three reference letters from people who can give an opinion as to their suitability for working with children.
In addition, it is recommended that you contact other local youth-serving charities such as the Boy or Girl Scouts, YMCA, as well as public schools to ask about the screening process they use for minors. Document your contact with each organization and align your process with theirs when applicable.
Finally, if you decide to use adolescent workers, ensure adult supervision of them at all times during activities involving minors.
You want to do everything you can to protect children, their families, and your church. The best practices given here will help you do that. If you would like more information or have questions, feel free to contact our team at 866.662.8210 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.