Q&A: How Long Should We Keep Consent Forms and Screening Records?

Churches must be ready to document its due diligence dating back decades ago.

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

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