Churches put a lot of emphasis on screening and selecting adult volunteers, but what about recruiting minors to serve in your ministry? Because churches cannot screen all the kids active in youth ministry and because potential 16-year-old offenders have no criminal record, normal sexual misconduct preventions do not apply.
So what is a church to do? Here are some simple steps you can take to begin implementing specific screening and selection protocols for your underage workers:
Raise the bar
Start by establishing requirements that must be met before an individual can serve in a position working with children or youth. For volunteers, attention should be given to two factors: (1) how long the person has been part of the congregation, and (2) the level of involvement the person has in the church. It is not enough for a person to have attended the congregation for an extended timeframe, such as six months. He or she should also be active enough in the life of the church that other members can provide a reference.
The screening process for underage volunteers is similar to that of adult volunteers and paid staff, with the exception of a criminal background check. It should include the use of a written application, reference checks, and a personal interview. Because you can't conduct a criminal background check, have your youth applicants provide references from adults who have firsthand experience working with them, such as youth pastors, public school teachers, scout leaders, or coaches.
Forms for applications and interviews should be developed and approved by the congregation and reviewed by the church's attorney. All information, whether collected on a form or during an interview, should be kept strictly confidential.
Stay close to your volunteers
Richard Hammar said the most dangerous areas for sexual misconduct are where older youth are given full supervision of younger children, such as in vacation Bible school or nurseries. This practice is very common in churches. Adequate adult supervision is a must. Volunteers, whether adults or minors, should never be alone with one child! Your underage workers should always be with an adult when working in children's ministry.