How real is the risk that a predator will seek out your church to find an unsuspecting victim? According to First Advantage, a risk management provider, the answer is shocking. Every 11.5 hours a registered sex offender attempts to obtain a position at a nonprofit organization. In the six years of screening religions organizations and non-profits, First Advantage conducted 870,510 background checks and discovered that 15% returned with a ‘hit’ for a criminal offense. That’s 130,577 people!
Background checking is one of the tools leaders can use to make ministry safe. But If you’ve ever investigated options for background screening you’ve discovered how complex (and frustrating) it can be to obtain a comprehensive check. In these post 9/11 days it’s hard to believe that no ‘true’ central repository exists for Federal, State, and County criminal records. And why?
Since the United States recognizes the authority of each State to provide their own governance, they often are able to create laws that preempt the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FRCA)-—the federal agency that established criminal reporting guidelines. For example, the FCRA has no time limit of the reporting of criminal convictions. However, ten states have adopted laws that limit record retrieval to just seven years.
The other issue is the continued debate over people’s ‘right to know’ and people’s ‘right to privacy’. Many lobbyists fear if criminal records are too easy to obtain, and reveal too much information-—the individual will never be employable. Church leaders, on the other hand, would prefer to know up front the past criminal histories of who they place in the care of children.
So what’s the solution?
- Use a background checking service that offers a nationwide criminal search. The key is to find one that is “deep and wide”. State-only searches do not account for the transient nature of those with criminal convictions.
- Re-Check often. Most background checks are conducted in a pre-screen scenario or when new employees or volunteers first come on-board. This is just a snapshot in time, and does not provide updated information if a criminal activity would occur.
- Keep an active list of those who have been screened. With church leader turn-over, it’s vital to maintain a file that lists who’s been screened and when.
Background checks: a confusing process or a trusted resource? It’s a bit of both. But no one said ministry was easy. Don’t think it won’t happen at your church. Be prepared and screen all those who request access to work with your kids. It will help you sleep better at night.