Background Checks Aren’t Enough

By Kris Buckman

What are you doing to protect children in your ministry from sexual abuse? If your answer is “We run background checks on everyone,” it’s not enough. Background checks are merely a fraction of the measures you should have in place to keep the children in your ministry safe. Even if you have an excellent check-in system, a two-person rule, and a six-month rule, you still may be leaving the children in your ministry vulnerable to life-altering sexual abuse.

As we begin in 2021, I want to urge churches to take a hard look at their current safety measures for kids’ ministry. Sexual abuse is a huge problem, bigger than we like to believe. And belief that it can’t or won’t happen at your church is a dangerous position to take. A culture of ignorance is the playground for the child molester. Offenders will go where the barriers are the lowest and, unfortunately, that tends to be our churches. I stand behind the Five-Step Safety System laid out by Ministry Safe. These five components work together to best safeguard the children in your ministry: awareness training; background checks; an interview/screening process; policies and procedures; and monitoring and oversight.

Sexual Abuse Awareness
Provide sexual abuse awareness training to all who volunteer and serve children and youth in your ministries. This training makes everyone who is serving kids and youth at your church aware of the behaviors to look for and the sexual predator’s grooming process. A training requirement also sends a clear message to anyone who is attempting to harm a child that everyone in your ministry is trained to be on the lookout for predatorial behavior. It also provides the reasoning for the policies and procedures that are in place. When volunteers and staff understand why these policies are in place, they’ll be more apt to adhere to them.

Why Background Checks Aren’t Enough
Only 10 percent of sexual offenders will ever encounter the judicial system, and most times, that’s after years of abuse have already occurred. So, running a background check is only going to produce those offenders who were caught.

Sadly, peer-to-peer abuse has risen by over 300% in the last five years. Peer-to-peer abuse is when one child abuses another. Most children have cell phones and are gaining access to pornography at a young age and often imitate what they’ve seen on the internet. Background checks are ineffective for this kind of behavior.

There must be a more comprehensive system in place which includes the background check but doesn’t solely rely on it. Do you know what to look for in a background check? Many first-time sex offenders will “plead down,” meaning they will receive a charge for a lesser offense. The knowledge of how to look for some of those lesser offenses makes the review of a background check more thorough and can potentially reveal red flags.

Screening Interviews
Seek someone in your church willing to lead skillful screening interviews with each person requesting access to children and youth. Skillful screening involves a review of the background check and looking for red-flag offenses; seeking answers to gaps in residency and employment, etc.; and going over the written application. The same screening process should be applied to everyone, no matter who they are in the church – no exceptions!

Update Policies and Procedures
Now is the perfect time to revise and update your church’s policies and procedures in children’s ministries. Are they still relevant today? Do they specifically lay out what is and isn’t acceptable behavior when serving in children’’s ministry? Do they cover restroom procedures, diapering, hygiene, social media, and volunteers under 18? Specify these important guidelines in your policies, ensure children’s workers read them, and provide them written copies.

Monitoring and Oversight
Finally, ensure there is a measure of monitoring and oversight in place to make sure you’re doing what you say you’re doing. Background checks should be repeated every two to five years, and policies and procedures need to be updated and revised when any change in programming occurs. Enlist a dedicated person, perhaps the same person as the skillful screener, to be responsible for making sure the five-step process is continuous and doesn’t fall by the wayside after a few years.

2020 dealt us an unusual hand. Let’s make sure 2021 holds no surprises when it comes to protecting the children and youth in your care. I encourage you to take some time to examine your current safety methods and consider implementing several elements that together make your ministry the safest it can be.

BCM/D has partnered with Ministry Safe to bring you a valuable discount on your first year’s membership in the program should you choose to use it. After researching several companies’ safety programs, I’ve found Ministry Safe to be the most thorough and comprehensive program for churches. Ministry Safe partners with over 20 other Baptist State Conventions as well as NAMB, LifeWay, and GuideStone. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Gateway Baptist Theological Seminary also use Ministry Safe.

The co-founders of Ministry Safe are also the owners of Love & Norris Law Firm. Love is a recognized expert in legal standards of care related to child sexual abuse and Norris is a sexual abuse trial attorney and represents victims of abuse.

For more information about Ministry Safe or if you are interested in an in-depth safety and security training for your staff, please contact Kris Buckman at [email protected] or call her at 240-674-1388. You can also check out our partnership page and get a discount code.

Kris Buckman is the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s children’s ministry and VBS consultant.