Criminal background checks: top 5 questions

By Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Criminal background checks can deter those with bad intent from having quick and easy access to children, reveal crimes in a candidate’s past that would make him or her unsuitable, and demonstrate that the church is exercising due diligence.

fingerprintRegarding background checks, our organization most commonly gets five questions:

1)    What kinds of criminal background checks are there? Several. Keep in mind that — besides an FBI fingerprint background check — there are no true “national” background checks that capture convictions from every county in every state. Even the accuracy of FBI checks has been questioned. For private employers (such as churches), the basic options are:
•    Commercial database search;
•    In-person county courthouse search;
•    Statewide search; and
•    FBI fingerprint criminal records search (in certain circumstances).

Price and coverage of background check searches vary widely. Discuss your screening needs with the background check company your church selects.

2)    What criminal offense disqualifies someone from working with children? Unless your church operates a school, preschool or daycare under licensing or accreditation standards that dictate the answer to this question, this is left to your organization’s discretion.

In general, prior convictions for crimes involving children, sex crimes (such as rape), and crimes of violence would indicate that the individual be disqualified from working with children. Lesser crimes — those involving theft, dishonesty, drug or alcohol convictions, for example — depending on the circumstances, might also disqualify the individual. Again, this is based on your organization’s judgment.

If your church intends to use an individual who has a criminal conviction in his or her background, consider documenting that decision and the rationale for it. If something unfortunate happens, your church will be judged on whether it was exercising reasonable care under the circumstances based on what it knew or should have known.

Also check with local schools or other youth-serving organizations to see what criminal conviction criteria would disqualify an individual from working with minors; consider following that as a minimum standard. In that way, your organization might be viewed as following the standard of care in the community.

3)    How often should we re-run criminal background checks? Again, unless licensing or accreditation standards dictate otherwise, the frequency of re-running background checks is left to the church’s discretion. One recommendation for churches is to check with local preschools, schools or other youth-serving organizations in the area to see how often they re-run background checks, and then consider following that practice, at a minimum.

4)    How long should we retain records? Adopt a process to keep all documents regarding background checks secure and confidential. Keep a copy of the background check in some format as long as state law allows.

5)    Can we perform criminal background checks on minors? While it is technically possible — with a parent’s or a guardian’s permission —  to run a criminal background check on a minor who wants to work with children, the results obtained are likely to be extremely limited. Still, many churches proceed with the background check as a matter of showing their due diligence.
Additionally, it might be prudent to increase vigilance in other parts, such as checking references where the minor has volunteered or worked with children in the past and increasing supervision of the worker.  CE

As Senior Risk Manager at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, IA, Eric Spacek, JD, ARM, is responsible for the research, development, recommendation and implementation of GuideOne’s strategic risk management programs.

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