Background Checks For Churches

Criminal background Checks for Churches FAQ's

Conducting criminal background checks is a vital part of keeping our kids and seniors safe.  While it is not a full proof as many criminals go undetected for many years, it is one risk management tool that should be used by your church. 

Many churches have asked us a lot of questions related to criminal background checks.  As a result of of these questions, we have put together the following three most asked questions and answers:

Question 1 – Can and/or should we perform criminal background checks on minors who are seeking to volunteer or work with children and/or youth ministry?

In short the answer is yes you can.  While it is technically possible, with parents’ or guardian’s permission, to run a criminal background check on a minor, the results obtained are likely to be extremely limited. Most juvenile court records are not publicly available. 

If the minor was charged and convicted as an adult, the background check will return a “hit,” but otherwise no record will be returned even if the minor was found to be involved in a juvenile offense. 

That being said, for the purpose of showing the church’s due diligence, some organizations choose to run the criminal background check on a minor. When an organization is aware that the integrity of one part of its child protection program (background checks) is lessened, it should consider increasing vigilance in other parts. 

For example, this can be accomplished by focusing on reference checks where the minor has volunteered or worked with children in the past, including babysitting, and by requiring increased adult supervision of the minor.

Background Checks For Churches

Questions 2 – How long should we retain records of criminal background checks?

Due to the sensitive nature of the data involved in the background check process, your organization should have a process in place to keep all documents regarding background checks secure and confidential. This includes, but is not limited to, the consent form, the results, and any related documentation. 

Hard copy documents should be kept in a secured (locked) file and office. Records maintained on a computer should also be secured with a password and other protections. It is recommended that the organization keep a copy of the background check in some format as required by state law. 

Some states limit the length of time that an employer can keep background check material on an employee, but most states do not. It is important that you know your States requirements.  

Because sexual abuse claims by minors can be filed years later, a recommended practice is to retain the documentation indefinitely to assist with defense of a claim, if it is presented years later. Since storage space is often an issue, one way to address this is to have a policy of retaining only electronic copies of the documents (scanned and saved onto a CD, flash drive or other compact, savable media) and not hard copies. 

GuideOne’s Check and Protect background check program, which is powered by SingleSource, a service offering of Clear Star, provides indefinite storage of all searches and can be accessed at any time if copies are needed in the future.

Questions 3 – How often should we re-run criminal background checks?

The most common practice is to run criminal background checks every two to five years, with the following caveats:

  • If your organization operates a school, day care or preschool that is licensed or accredited, the licensing body or accreditation organization may have requirements on the frequency of running criminal background checks on workers.
  • If a worker or volunteer ends their service and then comes back and wants to work with minors again, it is a good idea to run the background check at that time.
  • Your organization may want to check with local schools or other youth-serving organizations in the area to see how often they run background checks, then consider following that frequency at a minimum. In that way, it can be argued that the organization is following the standard of care in their community.

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