Thursday, February 20, 2014

Safety - Screen Your Volunteers . . . ALL of Them!

In our children's ministries safety has to be our top priority. We want to be able to introduce children to Jesus and help them learn how to know and walk with Him for their entire lives . . . to do these things we must be committed to making our ministry the safest place possible. The first place to begin with this is with your volunteer screening; consider the following;
  • Whether you have a written safety policy or not, get a few of your core people to sit down and go over what you are currently doing to make your ministry a safe place for children and determine if you need to make any changes.
Now days it is far more common for churches to screen volunteers - sadly, we learned the hard way this is absolutely essential. We in the church tend to be trusting - we want to believe those who volunteer to work with the children are people who love God and who would never harm a child in any way. While in the vast majority of cases this is the truth, there are those who take advantage of the need most churches have for volunteers, to get access to children. We absolutely MUST screen all potential volunteers with a multi-level screening approach . . . 
  • The first level is "time". Regardless of how much you may need additional volunteers, require all volunteers to have been faithfully attending your church for a minimum of six months before they will be able to serve in your children's ministry. A year is even better. This "time" allows you the opportunity to begin to know the potential volunteer. In most cases, people who want access to children to harm them do not want to have to wait a year for access.
After a potential volunteer has been faithfully attending your church for at least six months, if they show interest in serving in your children's ministry, have them fill in a written application and be sure it includes the following information - 
  • Age of volunteer. Check with your insurance company to see if they are requiring churches to implement a minimum age of 16 for all volunteers who have access to children. While I understand churches often utilize younger teens in their children's ministry, it is a good idea to have a minimum age requirement of 16 for all volunteers - this can give parents a more secure feeling, provide more responsible volunteers and if you ever have to go to court, 16 year olds can testify.
  • Written testimony. We want to introduce children to Jesus, so it is essential our volunteers know Him!
  • Any abuse convictions. If an individual has convictions for abuse - physical abuse or sexual abuse of children - DO NOT allow them to serve as volunteers in your children's ministry. While we all rejoice when a sinner turns to Jesus for forgiveness and we do believe His grace can and does change lives, if someone has an abuse conviction in their background find them other places in the church to serve.
  • Any driving convictions. Often volunteers use their vehicles, or church vehicles, to transport children. If a potential volunteer has convictions on their driving record for anything other than parking violations, DO NOT allow them to transport children. If there is an accident while they are driving children their past convictions could be used to show the church did not exercise good judgement in allowing this person to drive the children in their care. They can still be a volunteer, but do not allow them to drive children for any church activity.
  • Two references . . . follow up with these references. Make the phone calls and talk to the references. Think ahead of time and have specific questions for references and write their responses either on the volunteers application, or attach them to the application.
  • Driver's License number and Social Security number for background check. There are several places where you can pay for a a background check, but most state police agencies will also provide a background check at no charge for non-profits in their state.These background checks usually are only for the state you live in, so if you want a complete background check you will have to pay for it.
Once you have a written application, set a time for a face-to-face interview with your potential volunteer.
  • Go over the written application.
  • Give the volunteer opportunity to personally share their testimony with you.
  • Ask them about any past experience they have serving in other churches - particularly in the children's ministry.
  • Use this time to share your vision, passion and plan for your children's ministry and share any expectations, standards and commitments you expect from them. Get to know this potential volunteer and give them the opportunity to know you as well.
If a potential volunteer has faithfully attended your church for at least six months, filled in a written application, had a background check and personal interview and you believe they will be a good "fit" for your children's ministry, arrange for them to observe the class they will serve in for at least a month. This allows them the opportunity to personally see what will be expected of them and it gives you the opportunity to see if they really are a good "fit".

After a month of observing and being observed, train them. Be sure they understand your children's ministry policies and know how to most effectively utilize your curriculum. When your volunteers are thoroughly screened, you - and the parents in your church - will have the confidence your children's ministry is a safe place for children!

It is essential for us to thoroughly screen any potential volunteer. DO NOT allow your need for volunteers to cause you to let this screening "slide" . . . not for new people in your church and not for people who have been at your church for years - even for their entire life. As much as you might think you know someone, we really only know what they let us know about them. For example, look at the horrendous case of the BTK killer. This man attended a Christian college and served as a leader in his church for 30 years. The people in his church thought they knew him - they had no idea who he really was. Yes, this is an extreme case, but over and over in churches around the world we learn of cases where a deacon, elder or Sunday school teacher or even a pastor is arrested for physically or sexually abusing their own children. In these cases the people in their churches are shocked. They thought they knew these people and trusted they would never harm anyone - particularly a child. 

We MUST take seriously our responsibility to thoroughly screen all volunteers and potential volunteers in our children's ministries. DO NOT assume you know someone. Screen everyone. The first step to providing as safe a children's ministry as is possible involves thoroughly screening all volunteers. Commit to taking this first step every time with every volunteer and potential volunteer.

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