Editor's Note: Historically, the May/June issue of Church Law & Tax Report features an annual 50-state review of child abuse reporting laws. Because these laws change infrequently, we will instead publish this review every other year. In its place, we gladly offer an article on background checks and the critical role they play in selecting suitable staff and volunteers to work with children. For the 2010 50-State Review of Child Abuse Reporting Laws, please visit http://bit.ly/aWoGlP.
There are several factors for church leaders to consider in deciding whether or not to conduct criminal records checks on persons who potentially could have unsupervised access to minors on church property, in church vehicles, or in the course of church activities. These factors include the following:
- No court has found a church liable for a youth worker's sexual misconduct on the ground that it failed to conduct a criminal records check.
- Churches are not legally required to conduct criminal records checks unless specifically required by law. To illustrate, in many states, church-operated schools and preschools must conduct criminal records checks on employees.
- Criminal records checks will reduce a church's risk of being found liable for the negligent selection of youth workers.
- The minimum acceptable standard of care in the selection of youth workers appears to be changing. It is possible, if not likely, that the courts someday will find churches liable on the basis of negligent selection for the sexual misconduct of a volunteer or employee having unsupervised access to minors if no criminal records check was performed before the individual was hired. This conclusion is based on several considerations, including the following: