With the holiday season fast approaching it’s that time of the year when we fill our ministries with volunteers to support our kids programs. At this busy time, there can be a tendency to relax the volunteer onboarding processes or in some cases remove it, but this is the opposite of what should be done.
The church has seen an increase in sexual predatory behavior in recent years from both clergy and volunteers. So, it’s important that during this holiday season that we stay focused on why we carry out these background checks in the first place – to find those individuals who want to cause harm to our children.
Here is some simple guidance on how you can audit your screening and training program as you prepare for the increase in volunteers working with children.
STEP ONE: CONDUCT BACKGROUND CHECKS
Do you screen all employees regardless of position who work with children and teens?
We want to make sure that we trust those who are looking after our children. Background checks are a key control to do this, but remember they are a snapshot in time and should be refreshed annually.
Does your background check include multiple states and employment records?
The purpose of the background check is to know if the volunteer or staff member is a safe person to be around children. People travel and cross state lines, so it’s important to get a multistate background check. Understanding employment history is helpful for finding red flags and gaps in employment could help guide you as to where you may need more investigation.
Do you wait for the background check to be cleared before the person starts working with children?
It’s incredibly important to wait until you have the results back before a person is hired or a volunteers starts working with children. The reason you are doing the check is to identify risk and allowing the person to start without a cleared background doesn’t support this. I know it can be a struggle for smaller preschools and churches but the best practice is to wait!
STEP TWO: CONDUCT A POLICY AUDIT
Do you have a policy in place that educates staff and volunteers what to do if an unauthorized person attempts to collect a child?
The best time to plan and prepare for this situation is before it occurs. As a leader you may tell your staff to not let this happen, but if you don’t have a policy how can you train and empower people to make the best choices? It’s so important to have a plan that not only protects children but those supporting them.
Does your current policy dictate that two adults (over 18) should always be present even if only one child is present?
This is often difficult for groups that work with children, but it is key for two reasons. It safeguards those vulnerable from abuse and it protects your staff and volunteers against false allegations.
Have you discussed your policies and procedures with your insurer?
No matter the size of your organization, your insurance provider has an interest in making sure you stay safe. Speak with them about the appropriate coverage needed for your activities and understand the coverage you currently have in place. The best way to keep your children safe from harm is to review all the procedures that you have in place that will keep them safe from physical and emotional harm.
STEP THREE: REVIEW YOUR CHILD PROCEDURES
Do you have a procedure that discusses child affection?
It’s important to create a positive, nurturing environment for the children in our care. In order to do this, boundaries around affection need to be in place. It’s important to establish what is appropriate and inappropriate. This allows staff and volunteers to comfortably show positive affection to young children and helps expose those not using safe affection.
Do you have an evacuation plan that has been practiced by staff and volunteers?
People are creatures of habit and tend to go to the same areas of a building time and time again, but don’t always know the name of the room they are in or where the exits are. In times of crisis, events will become stressful, even more so with young children. Having floor plans readily available as well practicing an exit plan can improve the speed at which people can respond in an emergency.
Do you have a process for identifying behaviors that might affect the safety of children?
Noncontact/restraining orders, medical conditions or child custody issues are a sensitive topic that can be difficult to regulate as it involves asking a lot of probing questions. We don’t want to be seen gossiping or talking about other people in our community, but it is a risk if we don’t ask these important questions so we can put processes in place to protect our children.
STEP FOUR: CONDUCT VOLUNTEER TRAINING
Have your volunteers been trained on the laws of your state as they relate to child custody and abuse?
This is a complex area for everyone to navigate. Training on these areas empowers both your staff and volunteers to make informed decisions if these situations ever arise.
Do you provide medical training to staff and volunteers?
Depending on the size of your staff and volunteer team, there may be requirements to have AED’s and medical equipment on site, but do people know how to use it and are they trained to respond? Basic CPR and other First Aid courses are generally affordable and should be offered on a regular basis.
Do you practice your lockdown drill on a regular schedule?
Every member of your team should know their role during an emergency. Deadly force incidents are on the rise in open and public spaces, so we all need to know what to do. Active shooters last a matter of minutes. In those critical minutes, it’s important that people know what their role is AND have practiced how to keep themselves and others safe.
Simon Osamoh is a British American and founder of Kingswood Security Consulting and the Worship Security Academy. He spent 14 years as a Detective in England working serious and organized crime. He moved to the United States to Head Counter Terrorism at Mall of America, Minnesota. Simon is a Christian and has spent over a decade helping non-profits stay safe and secure. He is the author of three books, Securing Church Operations, Church Safety Responding to Suspicious Behavior and 10 Powerful Strategies for Conflict De-escalation. He is the host of the Church Security Made Simple Podcast and a member of the Worship Facility Editorial Advisory Board.