Q: We did background checks on most of our children’s ministry volunteers this past year and are now wondering if we need to run a recheck. How often should backgrounds be checked?
A: To this point, we haven’t found any risk-management organizations, or nonprofit management groups make any specific recommendations for updating. It’s probably because if they suggested rechecking every 2 years, someone would sue them if they had trouble with a volunteer they checked 23 months earlier.
We faced the same question in our sister organization, the Group Workcamps Foundation. This organization mobilizes thousands of people in the United States and other countries for community service projects. The foundation requires background checks for many of the people who participate, and established the requirement that people be rechecked every three years. That’s not an absolute standard for all church background checks, but it is one organization’s decision.
Realize that not every volunteer in your ministry requires the same screening. Mrs. Jones who updates attendance records from her home, or the 80-year-old shut-in who helps with quilting probably won’t require background checks. But if the volunteer position involves making contact with children, youth, or others who are vulnerable, use the strictest screening procedures (and rechecking requirements) you can realistically implement.
The higher risk positions often include: (1) those who work with children, youth, senior citizens, or the developmentally disabled; (2) counselors; (3) drivers; and (4) individuals with financial responsibilities. The risk increases when they serve frequently or without close supervision.
Also determine if you operate any programs that require mandatory screening. You may need to check with a local attorney as these laws vary from state to state and can change at any time. Many states require some form of a criminal background check if you operate a school, preschool, day care program, health care program, professional counseling center, or program that requires a license or uses licensed professionals. Your insurance provider may also require background checks in order for you to carry standard liability coverage.
Once you’ve established which positions require a background check, add it to the ministry descriptions. A written ministry description in itself is a risk-management tool because it can state the qualifications needed to get the job done. Clearly state that a criminal background check is required to serve in the position. Not only does this help manage the risk, but it contributes to the culture-changing by stating your expectations up front.