Child Abuse In Ministry And The Tools You Can Use To Prevent It

Child abuse in ministry can happen anywhere. That’s why you should ask yourself: Have all of your employees and volunteers that work with youth at your church had a background check?

In 2002, the New York Times cited studies indicating that, at that time, perhaps nearly 15% of clergy across all religious denominations may have been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior. Sure, they’re older studies, but not ones to be taken lightly. These studies indicate child abuse in ministry is not just one denomination’s problem.

If you haven’t made sure everyone’s been screened with a background check, it’s almost like you left a hand grenade in the sandbox – it’s only a matter of time before there’s a big problem.

Background screening your volunteers and workers means you can rest easier in the knowledge that your church’s children are more than likely interacting with people who can be trusted not to take advantage of their vulnerable nature.

Protecting Children From Child Abuse In Ministry and Church Risk

If you asked around, I’ll bet most of your church’s employees and volunteers would tell you that the people they work with at your church are all great people. I’m sure that’s true. Serving the church is a job that only the most faithful and devout are called to, and that usually means you’ve got people in place with the highest moral character.

But what about the wolf in sheep’s clothing? I was reading an article this week about a tragic incident involving a youth pastor at a church in Clinton, Maine. This individual was a Youth Pastor at his church and was described as a “decent guy”. He and his wife even helped coach soccer practices and organize events at the church. Only now he’s accused of being a child molester after police say he sexually abused a young girl in his home.

Did his church run a background screen on him before allowing him to work with children? We may never know, but once he’s been through the legal system and is released, a background check will almost certainly prevent him from easily being involved with youth ministry again.

Here’s another one. The Diocese of Pittsburgh just settled a case with a man who claimed he was abused as a youth by a Priest. The church agreed to a “five-figure settlement” out of court. Can your church afford a settlement like that? Even if it could, would you want your church to be “that church”?

In another recent case, a church in South Carolina has banned an accused child molester from its property and ministry after he was arrested and accused of tying up youths in his home’s attic and sexually abusing them. Imagine the years of emotional and mental damage to not only the children, their families and the community – but to the reputation of that church. It’s unacceptable and often easily preventable.

Most churches have implemented a child protection program that includes background checks as part of their action plan to prevent child abuse in their ministry. Most people with sketchy histories don’t apply, but we receive calls just about weekly from churches that have run a background check and something comes up.

Get Tools You Can Use To Avoid The Risk of Child Abuse In Ministry

It is extremely important to protect your church with tools like an Employee Handbook and Church Employee Background Screening. Of course, your good judgment is the most valuable guide, but sometimes a list of disqualifiers can help. Here are just a few of the things that should prevent someone from working with youth at your ministry:

  • Sexual assault of a child – Thanks to the reach of internet-based media, child sexual abuse cases in ministry are starting to come to light more and more frequently. A quick Google News search is all you need to see how big the risk is. Not only that, you’ll see that many churches are paying far more than the cost of a background check if they allow a sex offender on campus.

  • Sexual exploitation of a child – Some youths are taken advantage of indirectly, such as when they are encouraged to perform sexual acts in exchange for food or other basic necessities. Often this involves the creation of child pornography.

  • Physical abuse of a child – Sexual abuse is not the only threat to the youth of your ministry. Sometimes untrained workers and volunteers come into contact with youth and are unaware of, or lack, good conflict resolution skills – leading to physical altercations with youth.

  • Causing mental harm to a child – These are acts that disregard the mental well-being of a child.

  • Kidnapping – Forced removal of a youth. According to the Polly Klass Foundation, about 3% of abductions are committed by non-family members. The kidnapper is often someone the child knows.

  • Incest – Incest is a sexual act between related individuals.

  • Use of a computer to facilitate a child sex crime – This is when an individual uses a computer to solicit sexual contact or intercourse with a youth who is under the age of consent.

Our job as a church insurance company is to help you mitigate church risk, but protecting children should be everyone’s top priority.

Here are all the tools you should be using to screen new employees and volunteers and prevent child abuse in your ministry:

  • LiveScan – This is the level of screening that those in youth leadership, counseling, and teaching. Provides ongoing monitoring of backgrounds.

  • Background Checking Services (discounted or free for PCUSA churches) – This is a service that does searches of publicly available criminal records. Not all counties provide the background check information (only about half of the counties in California do) and it’s a once and done check…meaning that it should be rechecked every couple of years. All of these are about the same (they’ll all tell you that they are better than others…but they are all about the same). PeopleFacts is what we offer and is pretty good for under $20…if you already have something in place, use that.

  • National Sex Offender Public Registry (NSOPR) – Find out who in the congregation or in the community is a registered sex offender. Just to be aware and informed.

  • Federal Guidelines for Screening in Youth Serving Organizations – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Within Youth-serving Organizations: Getting Started on Policies and Procedures.

  • You can also include data from the following if you want to be really thorough:

  • ‘Professional’ Background Checkers

  • Online Databases

  • County Records

Child Abuse In Ministry And Mandated Reporting

So what should you do if a child or adult comes forward with alleged abuse? In California mandated reporting is in effect.

Many people that work with youth don’t realize they are mandated reporters. According to a new California law (California AB 1432), if you are one of the following, you are a mandated reporter and MUST report suspected abuse.

(32) A clergy member, as specified in subdivision (d) of Section 11166 [of California AB 1432]. As used in this article, “clergy member” means a priest, minister, rabbi, religious practitioner, or similar functionary of a church, temple, or recognized denomination or organization.

(33) Any custodian of records of a clergy member, as specified in this section and subdivision (d) of Section 11166 [of California AB 1432].

There are protections in place for you if you are mistaken and no abuse has taken place. When in doubt, report anyway and do not leave it to others to report. Not reporting leaves you open to legal risk.

If you need more information, we have a large library of information to protect your church. Feel free to take it back to your leadership team or board.

You can also call our team at any time if you have questions.

Need to perform a background screening? We’ve got you covered. We offer them, here.

Additional Church Protection Resources

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