Q&A: Screening Host Families

Is our church required to perform background checks on families hosting our youth?

When our youth choir (7th-12th graders) goes on tour each summer, they stay with families from the churches we visit. The youth are always placed in groups of two or more, and we have a phone call “code” in case they are ever feeling endangered at the home where they’re staying. After seven choir tours we have never had any problems with this arrangement, however, I am wondering if I should take more precautions with the host families. Is it necessary to perform background checks on each of these families? Knowing that it is often a struggle for churches to get members to open up their homes in the first place, what is a reasonable screening expectation for us to request?
In a perfect world (or I guess a near-perfect world), all host families would be thoroughly screened and confirmed safe for the youth placed in their care. But in the real world, I don’t see how a thorough check would practically be accomplished. Short of requiring full background checks, here are a few potential steps to protect the children and ministry:
  1. Continue to require multiple youth stay in the same host homes (rule of three).
  2. Continue to have a procedure for quick removal from homes if the youth feel threatened.
  3. Have the parents of participating youth complete a permission form, spelling out how the program works and explaining that the youth will be placed with host families.
  4. Consider asking someone at the host family’s church to sign a form indicating that the church is unaware of any reason why youth participants should not be placed with the host family.
  5. Have host families fill out a form similar to a children’s ministry worker form that asks them to self-confirm that they have no past issues involving children, no criminal record, etc.
  6. Look at the public convicted sex offender list in the host family’s state of residence to make sure than no one within any host family household appears on the list.
  7. While these procedures are not fail-safe in protecting youth from potential harm, they are reasonable steps to take to ensure their safety.
  8. For more information on protecting youth, see a comprehensive child protection training curriculum, Reducing the Risk.

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