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How Long Should We Keep Consent Forms and Screening Records?

How Long Should We Keep Consent Forms and Screening Records?

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Q: Our insurance company says we only have to keep parental consent forms for church activities and outings for three years, but someone else told us the forms need to be kept until the child turns 18 years of age, for sexual abuse purposes. Which is true? Is there specific wording that should be included in the permission forms for this purpose? We do background checks and give safety and abuse awareness classes to all our children's workers and teen workers. Does that alone release us from responsibility since we have done all that is reasonable to protect our children?

A: If a church is sued for a case of child molestation that occurred during an off-site, overnight activity, the fact that the parents of the victim signed a parental consent form allowing their child to attend the event would be of little, if any, evidentiary value in a lawsuit.

Parental consent forms, in general, should be retained until a minor child reaches age 18 PLUS the applicable statute of limitations for personal injury claims under state law.

In your question, you also say your church also conducts background checks and gives training classes. This work is important, and it most likely involves the collection of numerous forms and records about the volunteer workers. I'm often asked about how long a church should keep such records. There is no legal requirement pertaining to the retention of these forms.

But, in the event your church is sued for a case of child molestation by a youth worker, you are definitely going to want to prove that you exercised due diligence in the screening of that worker prior to using him or her in the church's youth ministry. The best way to do this is with application forms and references. Keep in mind that the statute of limitations for child abuse claims can last for decades, and so the "best practice" is to keep these forms, as well as your liability insurance policies, permanently. Imagine being sued today for an alleged incident of child abuse occurring 25 years ago? How are you going to rebut a claim of negligent selection if you cannot establish what you did to vet the perpetrator?

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

October 2, 2013

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Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Matt Branaugh

February 12, 2015  11:34am

Trudy, MCC--Rich Hammar addresses the question of whether to repeat background checks in his analysis of Louise Freeh's report from the Penn State abuse scandal: http://www.churchlawandtax.com/cltr/2012/november-december/new-best-practic es-for-protecting-children.html (Please see Item #5, in which Rich indicates it is best to benchmark your church's practices with other local youth-serving organizations and agencies, including the local public school system, and to heed Freeh's recommendation of repeating background checks at least every five years). Best, Matt

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October 08, 2014  9:06am

I am interested in the answer to Trudy's question: how frequently should we repeat background checks, etc.? We've had some workers for 10 years or more and they have not been re-screened, and I believe we need to develop a policy on this issue.

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July 16, 2014  12:13pm

I appreciate this article. Although I have kept all records since we started screening our volunteers, I was not certain as to how long to keep these records, and was considering shredding them. We screen our volunteers as a part of our eligibility requirements to serve in our children's program. All volunteers must be members for at least six month. It brings up a question for me. Currently, we do screenings every three years. Is that excessive? How often should we repeat the background screening for each volunteer who has previously been screened (and served) in the program? What is a reasonable amount of time to followup with another screening, if at all?

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