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Closing Loopholes in Child Safety
By: Steve Durie

Our churches are not as safe as we think. Comprehensive screening policies combined with training on how to prevent and recognize child predators and abuse are two of the most effective processes that every church needs to implement. The problem is that most churches are more focused on a quick and easy "instant" background check without considering the appropriate level of due diligence.

One size DOES NOT FIT ALL when deciding how to screen staff and volunteers. The fact is that most child abusers have never been arrested or convicted, so the background check alone leaves you vulnerable to undetected predators. Training your entire campus on the signs of abuse and the characteristics of the predator will round out your diligence and create a safer environment for children and youth.

Background Screening Policies Are a MUST for Churches

When I talk or visit with a church, one of the first things I ask is whether or not they have a background screening "policy" in place. I often receive a look of bemusement and an, "Of course!" response. As we talk further, I find that they really have some type of Child Protection Policy but not necessarily a Background Screening Policy. There is a difference.

My goal today is to lend some advice on creating a background screening policy that everyone in your organization can utilize and share. Let's start by considering the key elements in the policy or strategy for effective screening.

WHO to screen is always the first criterion. Many churches think in silos when thinking about who to screen. An example of this would be to only screen the nursery, children's ministry and student/youth ministry volunteers. My recommendation is much broader in nature.

Screen everyone that represents your organization in any capacity.

Right now many of you are thinking about the cost, resistance from staff and volunteers and possibly scoffing at the suggestion because you have known everyone forever! My suggestion comes not from distrust of those that work with you, but of protection of your organization in a legal sense. 

One misstep by any staff member or volunteer can result in a huge financial impact on your church when you can't prove you have conducted your due diligence. There are many ways to offset the cost of background screening and overcoming objections; however, if screening everyone is not supported, consider the impact of those that have a position of trust or power with a child, student or any vulnerable adults:

Pastors, greeters at the front door, anyone with a name tag or "uniform" of any kind (i.e. flower, cloak, nametag, button, etc.), janitorial staff, along with the worship/music members and team (critical and exploited opening for sex offenders). You should also include minors working with children and outside contractors/vendors.

WHAT is the second criterion. What should be considered diligent in terms of a proper background screening for each person? That really depends on their roles and responsibilities. Do they work with children? Do they handle money? Do they have keys to the building? Do they travel as a chaperone? One size does not fit all! You must tailor your screening program to their roles. You may need to order a driving history (MVR) for chaperones that drive or a credit report on those that handle finances. 

Consider federal court searches for crimes like embezzlement, trafficking, drug charges, and kidnapping, to name a few.  Consider the responsibilities for each title, thinking about each area of your organization they will be involved in to decide on the appropriate services for each. A company with a sound reputation and knowledgeable staff will have recommendations to provide.

HOW often? I have always recommended that churches run annual searches on their staff and volunteers, and now many insurance companies are making it mandatory for coverage. Many things can happen in a 12-month period, at home or away.  It is your responsibility to ensure the staff and volunteers are always clear of potential risk to your church. The only way to ensure your volunteer is still "clear" is to re-screen on a consistent basis. If budget is a concern, think about asking your volunteers to contribute to the cost of screening; many would eagerly write you a check to ensure their child is safe while in your care.

The last thing to consider when creating your policy is a screening provider. One Size Does Not Fit All also applies to background screening providers and their services.

Screening each staff member and volunteer is the initial step in child safety; implementation of a mandatory training program will close the gap and increase the overall safety of each child on your campus. 

Child abuse is a topic that many churches keep at arm's length. Why? It's easier to bury our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist versus acknowledging the horrifying facts & statistics of child abuse. It happens everywhere, and churches are very susceptible to harboring predators without their knowledge.  The No. 1 reason that churches ended up in court for the last 5 years in a row was The Sexual Abuse of a Minor.

How will training help? Training helps by raising awareness. It also illuminates behaviors and situations that once seemed benign or nebulous but can actually be grooming behaviors that lead to abuse. Once training is complete, the trainee has garnered valuable insights into a topic that historically has been avoided in our churches. Avoidance does not prevent child abuse.

Knowledge is power and the key prevention/protection. We are all responsible to keep our children safe and that includes knowing how to recognize if a child is being abused…whether at home or in our churches. It is also paramount that we understand how a child predator thinks and acts so that we can stop the process before a child gets abused. Most abuse can be stopped if we know what to look for and how to recognize grooming behaviors of the predator.

Steve Durie is President & CEO of SecureSearch Integrated background Checks and Safeguard From Abuse, www.securesearchpro.com.

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