Whether you are in the process of formulating a screening policy for your congregation, or already have a screening program in place, here are some tips to help you with your efforts to protect your church family.
1. Get your house in order.
- Decide who will oversee the screening process and keep track of the paperwork. This person must be well respected in the congregation, be trusted to handle confidential information, be well organized and if possible have human resources and management experience. Recognize this ministry within the life of the congregation. Place an announcement in the Sunday bulletin and bless the ministry within the Sunday liturgy.
- Set up a filing system. All screening documents should be stored in a locked file cabinet (within the congregation or offsite) for an indefinite period of time. Files should never be left out in the open or in a readily accessible location.
2. Assess risk and determine the screening requirements for the position in question. Assess the level of power, authority and control of those who minister, the level of vulnerability of those being ministered to, and the risk that harm could be committed by sexual harassment, exploitation, assault, emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual or financial abuse. Screen appropriately for the level of risk inherent in the position.
3. Gather information from those to be screened, including the following:
- A well crafted Application Form that contains key questions concerning past incidents of inappropriate behavior.
- A Reference List of all the candidate's schools, employers, congregations, and religious supervisors over the last five years. A minimum of three references should be checked.
- A broad Release Form to permit these references to freely divulge information about the candidate, and allow you to perform other investigative inquiries.
4. Check with the candidate's references - preferably in writing. Ask them a series of key questions to reveal any past history of inappropriate conduct. Well worded inquiries will reveal the most information about a candidate.
5. Check appropriate public records. Based on the candidate's residential address history, perform a criminal history records check at the state level (almost all states have a central repository available), and the county level (all are available) going back five to seven years. Similarly, check with the appropriate state Sex Offender Registries (most state's now have free on-line checks available). If the candidate will have access to church financial assets, include a credit bureau check. If the candidate will be driving for church related activities, include a driving record check.
6. Comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Employers that use outside agencies to assemble background information on their candidate's must comply with certain disclosure and notice requirements. Consult your legal council, or link to http://www.oxforddoc.com/pdf/fcra.pdf for an overview of the FCRA requirements and free samples of the disclosures and notices.
Glen Johnson, founder of Oxford Document Management Company, has worked exclusively with denominational leadership, legal experts, and risk management professionals for over 14 years to create and administer screening programs that are the "standard" in the religious community. For more information about the screening of church personnel, call 1.800.801.9114 or visit Oxford Document's web site at http://www.oxforddoc.com.