After Background Checks: What’s next?

Content by Rev. Micah James, CCA

Step 1: Have all staff and volunteers do regularly scheduled (every two years is best) background checks.

Step 2: Uh…….????

This is a situation facing many of our communities and congregation. We have heard, repeatedly, “You must do background checks!” but then after we take that step we are unsure what is next. Background checks are the first, and very important step, in a multi-step process to creating a safe environment.

So here are some basic steps to best practices for background checks:

Step 1: Have all staff and volunteers do regularly scheduled (every two years is best) background checks.

Step 2: Talk about worse case scenarios. What if a background check comes back with a report with legal records? Do you have a process for handling such background checks?  The best practice is to have a process that allows you to have a confidential conversation with just a few leaders and tailors the consequences to the findings. For example, some one with a record of financial malfeasance should be restricted from working in finance, not all areas of ministry.  Another example, a person who is a registered sex offender should be restricted from working with children and youth, not from participating in worship. You have to maintain the safety of community while creating a space for recovery and growth.

The 2 adult rule is no longer a matter of convenience, but a sign of a healthy ministry.Step 3: Make sure no one works alone. The 2 adult rule is no longer a matter of convenience, but a sign of a healthy ministry. Background checks, even clear ones, do not prevent abuse. Background checks are only to show earlier transgressions. Regular supervision and team teaching protects both the students and the teachers. (Note: Husband, Wife, Partners, Significant Others or Spouses are not the best way to create the 2 adult minimum. In many states, married couples are not required to testify against one another in legal proceedings.)

Step 4: The element of surprise! Don’t sneak up on your teachers, but they should expect a ministry leader to pop-in unexpected from time to time. Not being able to plan around a visit of another leader will keep everyone safe and makes it known that there are no secret times or spaces in your ministry.

These are just a few of the steps you can take in your ministry to do your best to maintain a safe environment for all involved.

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