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Screening Church Volunteers

Volunteers are often the backbone of church organizations; unfortunately, with daily stories that push headlines like "Church Volunteer Arrested," churches must begin to diligently protect their organization and members.

From concerns of child endangerment to financial misconduct, properly vetting volunteers is a necessary provision. One part of that vetting process should be background checks, which can provide a vital first defense for your organization.

Volunteer screening does have its challenges, and many organizations are overwhelmed by the budgetary, compliance and administrative burdens that accompany a background check program. Adhering to these tips for success can alleviate these challenges, creating an effective, successful program.

1. Set Clear Policies
Unnecessary conflict can arise when churches do not have clear policies on background checks. Policies should be drafted in a formal document and followed consistently, which means screening all prospective volunteers, regardless of how well you "know" him or her. Only screening certain individuals can expose your church to legal liability.

Your policy should include the protocols of completing the background screen as well as what offenses would preclude volunteer participation. Sharing this information in advance will act as a screen in itself. This may be a deterrent for some volunteers, but it can actually be an ideal opportunity to start a dialogue with those with past offenses. Addressing any issues upfront rather than later allows for open communication.

2. Streamline Your Process
By partnering with a reputable background screen provider, the review of results and management of notifications (Approvals, Adverse Letters, Dispute Resolution) can be greatly simplified.

Further enhancing efficiency, the provider should have a web based system allowing for church personnel to review and track the screen process.  With the provider facilitating volunteer "pass" determinations, church administrators should only need to review those reports with serious policy prohibitive offenses.

The background screen provider should have procedures in place to protect the applicant's personal data. The vendor should also keep you compliant with the FCRA by initiating the proper communication to those individuals who do not meet your requirements.

3. Understand Screening Methodology
All background screens are not created equal. Misinformation about background checks is rampant, and many organizations are operating under a false sense of security. If your current search parameters are exclusively a "national" database or Sex Offender Registry, you could be placing your congregation at risk.

The use of the term "national" is misleading, as there is no single database that receives and aggregates data from every U.S. court.

Understanding the sources of the data used to perform searches is imperative. Utilizing a best practices approach to screening provides you with a complete and reliable picture of an individual's criminal history.

Best practices for background screens should include at a minimum:

 Address History Trace - Find out where your volunteer has lived and search for records there.
 Name Variation - Submit other names the person may have used (i.e. maiden).
 County Court Search - Submit searches here based on the address trace; the most complete records are found at the county level, which is the court of record.
 National Database Search - Use a national database in addition to county searches as a safety net to find other records.
 National Sex Offender Search - Check an aggregated database of all available sex offender registries; not just your local state's registry.

Screening your volunteers is an important part of your safety plan; having an effective program in place minimizes risk and enhances safety. Implementing these best practices allows your church to be a safe environment for all to gather and worship.

This information is courtesy of Background Investigation Bureau (BIB), www.bib.com.

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Religious Product News