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Q&A: How Should We Screen Minors Who Work with Children?

Assessing the suitability of underage volunteers.

Our church uses teenage workers to assist adults in various children's ministries and programs. We screen adult workers. Should we do the same with teenagers? If so, how?

Most churches use minors to assist in various children's or youth programs, and so some screening should be done. You obviously cannot perform criminal records checks on persons under 18 years of age, and even for persons who are 18 or 19 a criminal records check will have limited significance. You really need to approach the screening of adolescents in a different manner. Let me suggest two options.

First, obtain two or three reference letters from persons who have seen the applicant interact with other minors (this would include church workers, coaches, school teachers, scout leaders, etc.). You want an opinion from such persons about the applicant's suitability for working with minors. Obviously, if you receive two or three references from such persons, you have very compelling evidence that you exercised reasonable care in the selection process, and in the final analysis, this is the standard by which you will be judged if your church is sued for the molestation of a child by an adolescent worker. The bottom line is that you cannot conduct criminal records checks on such persons, but you must take other steps to demonstrate reasonable care.

Second, contact local youth-serving charities such as the public school district, Boy/Girl Scouts, YMCA, Boys/Girls Clubs, etc. and ask them what screening they use for adolescent workers. Be sure to make a record of each contact. By basing your screening policy on "community practice" you will be reducing your risk of liability based on negligent screening.

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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  • July 2, 2007

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