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Are kids at your church safe? It’s an unfortunate modern reality that measures need to be put in place to keep kids safe from predators. In fact, according to First Advantage, every 43 hours a registered sex offender tries to volunteer or seek employment at a nonprofit. This means that churches have a responsibility to be diligent in screening volunteers for the sake of our children’s safety. Now is the time to keep kids safe at your church.
What Happens if We Don’t?
To put it simply, abuse is crushing. Not only are there long-lasting physical, emotional, and mental effects on the abused, but also on those around them.
According to childhelp.org, childhood abuse has long-term health and lifestyle impacts including:
- An average life expectancy two decades shorter for those who have had six or more adverse childhood experiences than those who reported none
- At least one psychological disorder for 80 percemt of 21-year-olds who reported childhood abuse
- Two-thirds of the people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. As far as churches, your reputation, status, and finances are at stake if abuse happens at your church. One church even had a $100 million settlement because of child abuse. It’s our job to be alert (1 Peter 5:8).
Background Checks Defined
Simply put, a background check is, “the act of reviewing both confidential and public information to investigate a person or entity’s history.” It’s not a guarantee that children will be safe at your church, but it’s the first step to make sure that your staff and volunteers have the right motives when they interact with children at your church. Often these checks require consent to perform. Also, turnaround time can range from 24-72 hours, so you want to make sure you know what to expect when looking for background check providers.
Are Background Checks the Answer?
As mentioned before, background checks don’t guarantee that abuse won’t happen at your church. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do that. However, they are a necessary step. Background checks provide:
- Peace of mind for parents
- Comfort and assurance for new church visitors
- A convenient way to screen volunteers
- A shield for your church’s reputation
- One more step for abuse prevention
- A red flag for sex offenders
Not only that, but any organization (especially churches) must serve “due diligence” in protecting attendees. Background checks are part of this.
Background Check Providers
Now that you know you need background checks at your church, who do you turn to to get the job done effectively and efficiently? Not all background check providers provide the same services, so it’s important to do your research. Double-check that background check providers:
- Perform a national criminal search
- Verify Social Security Numbers
- Search the Sex Offender Registries
- Offer “re-verification” of records from the national criminal database
- Do a “true” 50 state search on sexual offenders
When you’re looking at background providers, think of them as part of your ministry team. When you view them with this lens, you’re more likely to ensure that their values and goals align with yours. The right background check provider will know what is necessary and best for each state as well (we love this map).
Plus, the right background check provider will also be in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This sounds a little deep in the weeds, but it’s basically a law that protects people from bad background checks. Background check providers should know “what jurisdictions are included in the database, what identifiers are and are not given, how often the records are updated, what search parameters are used, and what compliance issues are associated with a database ‘hit.’” If your background check provider isn’t doing this, look elsewhere.
Lastly, the right provider should be able to integrate with your church management software. Through this integration, you can easily see which volunteers have been screened, and which ones still need to complete a screening before watching children at your church, saving you valuable time.
There are great background check providers out there so be sure to find the one that’s best for your church. There are even a couple of companies out there that provide a free re-check for volunteers.
Taking Safety a Step Further
Remember how we said there’s no way to guarantee the safety of the children at your church? That’s still true, but there are things you can do even beyond background checks to help protect your children. Here are a few things your church should do to take safety even further:
- Have your staff members and volunteers complete a child safety training.
- Ask for references when volunteers apply for positions around children.
- Interview each person that would like to work with children.
- Be on the lookout for suspicious behavior. As the saying goes, if you see something, say something.
The safety of your children needs to be a priority for your church. You can’t afford to not have background checks in place. Hopefully, this article has encouraged you to find the best background check provider for your church. Visit the Church Relevance Course Shop for more resources to train staff and volunteers to recognize potential predators.
After living overseas, Ashley DeKock developed a passion for ministry and writing, which she loves to incorporate into each of her projects. She holds a bachelors and masters degree in communications and finds great joy in learning people’s life stories. Currently residing in Oklahoma, she and her husband have one daughter and are continuing to grow their family through adoption.