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A Proactive Approach to Background Screening
By: Ryan Brewer

Warmer days and longer nights mean that summer is just around the corner! With the school year winding down and summer vacation approaching, it means busier times for churches and children's ministries. With Vacation Bible School, summer camps, and childcare programs in full swing in the next few months, it is a great time to discuss volunteer screening for churches and church ministries.

With the anticipated influx of volunteers for summer ministry opportunities, churches need to take the time to examine their policies and procedures for volunteer screening and criminal background checks. There have been many changes in 2012 in the world of volunteer screening and criminal background checks, and churches need to stay informed on these important changes.

Voices from the EEOC to state and local governments have been passing new guidelines and legislation on the use of criminal background checks in the pre-employment and volunteer process. These new guidelines are not only for the business world but for churches and ministries to follow, as well.

Churches need to have policies and procedures in place for how they recruit, screen, and train potential volunteers for their ministries. Background checks anchor this process! Let's take a closer look at how background checks play a role in each part of the process:

When looking to attract potential volunteers, make it clear that a criminal background check will be a part of the process before getting involved as a volunteer. This will ensure that the background check is not a surprise in the process and has the added benefit of discouraging those who have a disqualifying criminal past. Even when recruiting well-known or long-standing church members, make sure that the due diligence of a background check is still a part of this process.

When the time comes to conduct the actual criminal check, there are a few parts of the process that are important to highlight. First and foremost, the background checks should be conducted prior to the volunteer being placed into any ministry position. This ensures that should something be revealed in the background check, the individual will not have access to vulnerable children and adults or sensitive information before the background check is completed.

Make sure that the release the potential volunteers sign is complete and adequate and pertains only to the background check. There has been much discussion and even litigation recently involving the release and authorization forms that individuals sign to authorize a background check.

Make sure that your church's form contains the right verbiage and pertains only to the criminal background check. This form should include the minimum information from the volunteer: Full Name, Social Security Number, Date of Birth, and Current Address.

In this process, it is also important to make sure that the right check is being completed on potential volunteers. The background check itself at a minimum should contain the following elements: SSN association, Alias & Maiden Name Research, Address History, Criminal record search at the court of record based on the address history, Federal Criminal Check, and National Sex Offender Search. These elements are all part of a comprehensive background check.

Do not simply rely on a "national" or "instant" criminal check. Not only does this leave your church and ministry open to great liability because of potential missing and inaccurate information, it also does not meet federal requirements. Churches have to meet the requirements that are set by the FCRA and federal regulations, and relying on database or instant searches does not meet current laws and guidelines.

Once volunteers have been placed in ministries, churches should still recognize the need for ongoing criminal checks. Churches should recheck their volunteers with an update criminal background check every one to three years as they see fit.

Ministry leaders and staff members should be trained on what to look for in a criminal background check and how to ensure that those wishing to do harm do not have access to volunteer positions. It is important that team members know the policies and procedures that the church has to screen volunteers.

Having well-trained staff members recruiting and screening volunteers ensures that potential volunteers are equipped to be placed in ministry. Properly trained volunteers create a safe and enjoyable environment for those that they are serving.

It is important that churches train volunteers on the importance of proper policies and procedures when working with vulnerable children and adults, as well as sensitive information. Recruiting and screening are only two parts of the process, and training can sometimes be the most important element in creating safe environments.

When it comes to volunteer screening and background checks, it is more important than ever for churches to partner with a professional to ensure their policies and procedures are up-to-date and adequate. There is a lot of information and variables when it comes to criminal background checks, and having a trusted resource to help navigate criminal background checks is an invaluable resource. While kids are thinking popsicles and VBS, church leaders need to be thinking policies and procedures to ensure a great summer of ministry!

Ryan Brewer currently serves as the director of sales & marketing at Pinnacle Investigations, a full-service risk management and investigation company, www.pinnacleprof.com.

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