When you call the references the person gives you (yes, really call them), ask â€œWould you hire or allow this person to work with your children?â€ Â Ask the person to give you two more other people that they would suggest who knows or has worked with this person.Â Is there anything that I need to know about this person with regard to ministry or children?
Once you have done a background check and called the references, now it is time to sit down with the person for a personal interview. You can discuss such topics as;
- History of discipline in their home
- Their attitudes about discipline
- Any incidences of abuse or molestation they might have experienced themselves
Your legal counsel or insurance agent should be able to help you know the kinds of questions you can legally ask and how to ask them.Â Standard interview questions (questions that you ask every applicant) should be developed and used in personal interviews with volunteer or employee applicants, after reviewing the application, and checking all references.
This paperwork is your proof or evidence that you have implemented the security process.Â The interview sheet should be kept on file as well as notes from the reference check, background approval and worker application form.Â These records should be kept confidential and locked in a cabinet or closet.
Only one person needs to see and have access to these records â€“ the one conducting the interview.Â Keep a log of what volunteers have worked with what children at all times and maintain these records over a long period of time.Â The statute of limitations of child abuse lasts until two years after the child reaches the age of 18.
Some sources suggest that workers should be fingerprinted and photographed and those records should be kept on file as well.Â If a person indicates that they have been a victim of child abuse or you discover that this person has been alleged to have perpetrated child abuse they should not be allowed to work with children at all.
Each new worker should be given the legal definition of child abuse in writing, as well as the policy of the church on the reporting of child abuse before they begin service. This can be given to everyone (not jus the person) as a way of orienting them to your ministry.
In the screening process a Background and Information Release Form should be signed.Â This allows the church to perform a criminal background check.Â The form also releases the church from liability in releasing information if a church in the future inquires about the applicantâ€™s involvement with your church.
An additional form should be considered, the Department of Human Resourcesâ€™ (Child Welfare Department) Child Abuse Inquiry form.Â These forms can be obtained from your state Child Welfare Department.Â This will allow social services to disclose any accusation of child abuse reported to the agency.
If the applicant is hired or brought in as a volunteer, the churchâ€™s safety policy should be singed.Â The worker/volunteer should have an extra copy to keep for review/reference purposes.
This process is time intensive, and takes resources away from programming, but remember that the barriers you set up is protecting you as the leader, the children you seek to minister to, the church, and the children in the future that you will reach. If there is a lawsuit, or an actual incident, it will cripple the church in it’s ability to reach even more children for Christ and itsâ€™ reputation in the community.
1 Peter 5:8-9 says, â€œBe self controlled and alert.Â Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.Â Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.â€
This passage directs us to be â€œself controlledâ€ and â€œalert.â€ Both of these terms carries the idea of vigilance. Believers are to stay alert and vigilant because Satan seeks to destroy their faith. The devil â€œroarsâ€ to induce fear within them. In the early church it was persecution, and Christians were tortured to persuade them to deny Christ.
So if we understand that Satan seeks to make Christians fearful, letâ€™s not do so with this topic of security in the church. We are to live by faith, and not in fear. We must take measures to protect our children, but not to create within the church (or the children) a sense of fear or dread.Â So I encourage you to understand this topic in terms of â€œbeing alertâ€ to the dangers and taking precautionary actions against it.
We have to be alert to the dangers around us.Â We must also understand that predators are prowling around looking for a child that they may devour.Â How can we then resist him?Â How can we defend ourselves against predators?
Christian Ministry Resources, which specializes in legal and risk management for churches reported that in 2000, one in 100 churches across the country contended with allegations of sexual misconduct involving children.Â The organization found in its surveys of more than 1,100 congregations that the number of incidents jumped to 1 in 25 for fellowship with more than 1,000 members.Â There is not one â€œtestâ€ that will identify a molester.Â A predator can wait months, even years as he/she befriends parents, children, and the church.Â Once he/she is trusted, the slow seduction begins.
There are two types of molesters; the â€œpedophile,â€ who prefers children sexually and the adult who has had a sexual encounter with a child or children because of availability or a close relationship that develops.Â In any case, the relationship is criminal, immoral, and harmful to the child.
False accusations are as real a threat to churches as actual victimization.Â In either case the church is liable for damages if it is proven that common sense preventive measures were not in place.Â In civil court, victimization does not have to be proven, only the opportunity.Â Often, civil suits are filed 20 to 30 years after the alleged incident, costing churches millions of dollars, when it is proven that church leaders did nothing.
Example: A childâ€™s family comes forward to say a church worker touched him/her inappropriately.Â There is not enough evidence to prosecute or at trial the worker was found not guilty.Â The childâ€™s family sues the church in civil court.Â The pastor or church leader is placed on the witness stand.Â He is simply asked if the church had any safety plans in place for workers to follow.Â If the answer is no, the church can very well be out of millions.
Civil court will look at whether the abuse could have happened. It just takes one accusation to lead to the complete destruction of a church. Not having a prevention program in place leaves the church open for financial ruin, and it leaves its most precious treasure, the children, vulnerable to the devastation of emotional, physical, and spiritual wounds from which they may never recover.
The following are some steps or layers that a church can implement in order to keep predators away. Remember one of the main reasons police decorate their cars the way they do is to prevent crime by their presence. Simply having these “hoops” that predators have to jump through may keep them away.
A. Background Checks:
Reasons for Having Background Checks
- To prevent predators from infiltrating our ministries.
- To prevent false allegations and lawsuits from having grounds or weight.Â We will never be able to prevent allegations.
- Protects the children, the workers, and the Church
The Church Law & Tax Report of May/June 1992 states â€œchurches currently provide between one-third and one-half of all childcare,â€ and that parents of preschoolers â€œprefer church-provided child careâ€ (p.2).
Benefits of Having a Screening
- Insurance rates are often lower;
- Workers feel chosen and trusted; there is a bar that is established.Â â€œWe donâ€™t allow just anyone to work with our children.â€
- Parents feel more confident about leaving their children with workers who have been screened.
- No screening process can guarantee that no accusations will occur or that no questionable person will be allowed to work with children.Â Such a process can, however, reduce the risk.
How Do We Screen Volunteers?
The screening process should include four steps: 1) Worker Application, 2) Background check, 3) Checking References and 4) a Personal Interview.
- Worker Application Form, a document asking basic informationBackground Check Form,
- Criminal Release of Information Form, (if it is not included in the Worker Application Or Background Checks
- Worker Interview Form
All information obtained during the screening should be treated as confidential.Â The only exception would be if disclosure is believed to be necessary to protect a child from potential harm.Â Different levels of background checks can be done.Â Your legal counsel and insurance agent should be able to help you determine the kind of background check that you need to conduct. You can also contact Background Check companies to see what they suggest.
Several local agencies and other service agencies around the country conduct background checks for a fee.Â You will be able to find these services offered online over the internet. To locate them do a search for â€œbackground checks.â€ This will also give you a good idea of the kinds of background checks that can be done and how much they cost.Â Not all churches can afford or feel comfortable running background checks.Â If this is the case, then every effort should b made to contact previous churches and employers.Â A consent form should be signed to allow previous associations to release personal information about the worker.
Some questions to asks are, â€œAre you covered by their insurance if they make a mistake?â€,Â â€œWhat if someone gets by?â€ There have been instances where a company would accept the payment fee and send back a report showing that the person was cleared â€“ when they really never checked.
Jim Wideman of Church On The Move, sends names he knows have criminal backgrounds to check the company to make sure they donâ€™t make it through the system.Â State background checks are a waste of money because most predators move frequently.
What if I have a friend who works for the police department?Â If they gather information and then give you this information it was gathered illegally and can not be used in court.
Check aliasâ€™ ,Check more than one Social security number.Â (using dead peopleâ€™s ss #)Â How do they know that a person is not using another personâ€™s social security number?
Has this person ever been accused?Â If they have been they should not be allowed to work with children.Â What if they were cleared of charges? If there is ever another incident, the judge will ask you, â€œWhat did you do to keep this from happening?â€ and â€œDid you have any prior knowledge?â€ You, at this point, would have known that there were concerns, but you let them continue to work with kids anyway.
What about the costs?
Which is cheaper? Lawsuit or background checks? What is a childâ€™s innocence worth?Â Run them on everyone, but if you canâ€™t do all the men, then the ladies.
*this is part two of a three part article series.
 Accufax is an example of a company that does background checks.
I sat down with my father some time ago, and over coffee we entered into a heated discussion about the education of my children.Â We â€œdiscussedâ€ public verses private schools, and homeschooling. As we waded into the sticky waters of the topic it became very clear to me that the school he was talking about and that he attended, was not the school that I attended.
We make decisions and values based on our lifeâ€™s experience. His outlook was simply different even though we went through the same county educational system. His experience of education experience was radically different than my school experience. It was separated by over twenty years of radical change in a small rural Alabama town.
In those more than twenty years, segregation had been enacted, computers were introduced into classrooms, and the world had rushed into this small town. Now my children have dry erase boards that are controlled by the teacherâ€™s computer, and internet is a daily part of my childrenâ€™s lives. The world is no longer rushing into the classroom; todayâ€™s students can be anywhere and see anything that their heartâ€™s and imaginations can take them.
But ever present with innovation, change, and advancement is manâ€™s depraved heart to corrupt the most amazing and fascinating developments. The internet is a place of enlightenment and learning, but it is also a place of the worst of manâ€™s corruption. Either are only a few key strokes away. As a boy, if I desired pornography I would have to convince my friend to steal it from his father, sell the magazine to me, and I would have to sneak it home in my backback from school. Today, my sons can simply type in â€œpornâ€ and behold millions of web sites ready to give them manâ€™s depravity for free.
I say all this to say, we live in a world that is exciting and innovative, and we are making huge strides toward making our world a better place â€“ but as the innovation increases so does the danger. Those in church leadership have to realize that the church today has to be different than it was when they were growing up.
To focus on one of these major changes has to be in the area of security in the life of the church. Matthew 18:10 says, â€œTake heed that you do not harm one of these little ones, for I say to you their angels always behold the face of my Father.â€ If we do not change, and take steps to protect them, then we are negligent and responsible for harm that may come upon them.
Bill Hybels said â€œToday I believe the single remaining common interest or entrance point for non-churched people into the church is children.â€ Childrenâ€™s ministry is leading many churches to growth and God is using Childrenâ€™s Ministry to bring people into the church so we should protect this door into our churches. Parents want their children to have a moral foundation even if they themselves do not follow God.
So as the spirituality of Americans continues to be open to discussions of Christ, we have to know that we have a very real and ever present enemy who seeks to steal, kill and destroy. 1 Peter 5:8-9 â€œBe self controlled and alert.Â Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.Â Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.â€
Some Dreadful Statistics
- There are between 250,000-500,000 pedophiles reside in the United States.
- Convicted child molesters who abused girls had an average of 52 victims each.
- Men who molested boys had an astonishing average of 150 victims.
- The typical child sex offender molests an average of 117 children, most of who do not report the offense.
- It is estimated that approximately 71% of child sex offenders are under 35 and knew the victim at least casually.
- About 80% of these individuals fall within normal intelligence ranges;
- 59% gain sexual access to their victims through, seduction or enticement.
As much as these statistics make us sick to our stomachs they can not with good conscience be ignored. We live in a world where there are people who seek out our children to do them harm. The church also tries to foster an atmosphere of acceptance and trust.Â We want to think the best of our church family; no one wants to create an atmosphere of distrust.
We would like for the church to the hub of community activity therefore often times doors are left unlocked, hallways and restrooms are easily assessable and rarely monitored.Â We want the community to know that in the church all are welcome.Â But there are also monsters that appear in sheepâ€™s clothing.Â We must therefore be â€œshrewd as snakes and as innocent as dovesâ€ Matt. 10:16.
How can we then be open and accepting while at the same time protecting our most valuable asset, our children?Â In most church-related sex abuse cases, the molester was a longtime member of the church, active in his/her community and liked by many. 
*this is part one of a three part article series.
 David Staal, Take The Challenge: Lead Up, Childrenâ€™s Ministry Magazine, January/February 2003, p. 49.
 U.S. Department of Justice
 In a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health Dr. Gene G. Abel, Emory University
The National Institute of Mental Health, 1988
Burgess & Groth, 1984