Q&A: Background Checks for Paid Staff vs. Volunteers

What level of screening is enough?

It seems like it could become time and cost prohibitive to thoroughly screen everyone who works with children and youth at our church. Is the same level of screening needed for volunteers as for paid staff in churches?
When it comes to background checks for adults working with children and youth, churches should be screening all people who interact with kids at their churches, regardless if they’re employees of the church or volunteers. A good screening process should include a written application, personal and professional (or volunteer organization) references, an interview, and a criminal background check. If a church is relying solely on a free or low-cost instant criminal database search for background checks, this is not enough. Why? Because many states only submit records to the sex offender registry if a person is actually incarcerated in a state correctional facility.
Here’s an example: A Bible student in the Midwest was recently arrested for three counts of sexual misconduct with a minor. As part of the plea agreement, the defendant pleaded guilty to one felony count of sexual misconduct with a minor and was NOT given a prison sentence and was NOT required to register as a sex offender. This convicted sexual felon does NOT show up in the instant database searches because the state of conviction only reports records for offenders who are incarcerated or required to register as a sex offender. Is this the kind of youth pastor you want to hire?
If you decide to cut costs and rely on insufficient means for making employee and volunteer selections, then you must be able to sit across the table from a parent, look them in the eyes and explain that their child was harmed by an employee or volunteer who had an unsuitable record, but it was not uncovered because you were trying to save a few bucks on the background check. I do not know a single person who would want to do this.
All paid staff and all volunteers should have a comprehensive background check. We tend to focus only on the safety of children ministries but an unsuitable employee or volunteer could harm an adult member or harm the ministry through theft. It might be logical to screen employees and volunteers working with children even more deeply than the comprehensive background check conducted on every employee and volunteer. In addition, volunteers and employees who will be driving should have their driving record checked.

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