By Rev. Michelle Foster
“Asking me to participate in a background check in order to work with children is offensive. I have been a part of this church most of my life.”
“Don’t you trust anyone anymore? All I wanted to do was serve as a youth counselor in my church.”
Asking people to participate in a national criminal background check as part of your Safe Sanctuaries ministry is often the most discussed and debated layer of protection in our local congregations. People are often dissuaded from including this as a requirement in their Safe Sanctuaries ministries for a host of reasons:
• It costs too much
• It might offend someone
• We do not know what to do with the information should something show up
• We are private people and don’t want to “air our dirty laundry”
• We are afraid someone may try to steal our identity with the information provided
Let’s address these concerns one at a time.
The cost – The cost of running a background check is only $9 per person if you utilize the services of Trak-1 Technologies. For this price you will receive Social Security verification, a search on the National Criminal Background Check and a search on the National Sexual Offenders Registry. For a few dollars more you can add a motor vehicles background check on those who will be transporting children and/or youth.
Consider the up-front cost ($9) of running a background check versus the long-term costs of not running one and having child abuse occur. As you respond to this question consider the legal, spiritual, and emotional costs to the victim, their family, the congregation and the community. Requiring all paid staff and caregivers to participate in a background check should be a routine hiring procedure. Developing a culture where all volunteers, teachers and counselors participate in a background check is the most important step in the recruiting process.
Offending someone – Throughout the gospels Jesus made it very clear how he felt about children. He said, “Whoever welcomes a child…welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5). He also said, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones…it would be better for you if a great millstone were fasted around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Our Christian faith calls us to offer both hospitality and protection to those who cannot protect themselves.
To provide a place of safety, protection and nurture is our biblical mandate; it is an integral part of our sacramental theology and it is our responsibility as the family of faith. Who are we more concerned about offending – our neighbor or God?
What to do with our “dirty laundry” – Most of us would not be surprised to know that some in our congregations do not have a clean record of conduct. However, what we are surprised by is the number of opinions that exist on how to handle sensitive information when it comes to us.
Background checks do contain very personal and private information. Let’s admit it, we all have “dirty laundry” that we prefer not to parade around our community. As such, Safe Sanctuaries offers to run background checks for you, provided the local church pays the $9 fee. A person designated by the local church will then be given, in writing, the summary of the report if it comes back clear and complete. Should a conviction be reported, I will work in conjunction with Rev.
According to the conference Safe Sanctuaries policy, only those convictions involving children or youth will automatically disqualify someone from serving in ministry with children or youth. All other convictions will be decided on an individual, case-by-case basis.
God’s kingdom is vast and wide – there is not a sinless person among us. Therefore, we must remember – there IS room in ministry at God’s Table for every one of us.
Identity theft – As a conference, we hold all personal information that is disclosed to us in confidence and with great care. All background checks submitted to our Safe Sanctuaries office are kept locked at the conference office. These records will be kept for seven years and then destroyed in an appropriate and safe manner.
One of the reasons our conference decided to partner with Trak-1 Technologies is because of its sensitivity to private and personal information. Trak-1 Technologies diligently works to maintain the privacy of all information that is provided for background checks.
Though we may not, in every situation, be able to stop child abuse before it starts, insisting that background checks be done for all staff and volunteers who serve with our children, youth and vulnerable adults will aid us in providing a strong and powerful layer of protection for those that cannot protect themselves. Background checks may raise a lot of discussion and debate in your community. I give thanks that the door is being opened wide for us to discuss the gospel of Jesus Christ in such real and profoundly life changing ways.