8 Facts Every Ministry Leader Should Know About Background Checks and Sexual Abuse

by Guest Author on January 24, 2024 in MinistrySafe

Editor's note: This article features information from MinistrySafe, an industry leader in sexual abuse prevention. Through its relationship with MinistrySafe, Texas Baptists provides resources to help congregations in their efforts to reduce the risk of sexual abuse. The convention’s sexual abuse response webpage features information on awareness and education to protect against abuse, recognizing and reporting abuse to the appropriate authorities, and caring well for survivors of sexual abuse through counseling and other services.

#1: Background checks are no silver bullet.
Less than 10% of sexual abusers will encounter the criminal justice system, ever. Background checks cannot be relied upon as a standalone Safety System.

#2: There is no one-size-fits-all background check.
Background checks should be keyed to ministry positions so that the depth of the check matches the extent and type of direct involvement with children.

#3: Ministries should be looking for plea-down or ‘red flag’ offenses.
Red flag offenses, such as providing alcohol to a minor, may reveal grooming behaviors. Plea-down offenses occur when an offense related to child sexual abuse is pled down to a lesser or non-registration offense, such as assault or indecency.

#4: Clearly identify disqualifying offenses that automatically preclude an applicant from serving with children or youth.
In Texas, the Youth Camp Act identifies offenses that ‘shall preclude’ and ‘may preclude’ employment serving or supervising children or youth.

#5: The national database sold as the ‘basic’ package by background check vendors has significant limitations and largely incomplete data.
In Texas, consider adding a county search pulled directly from county record-keepers. The majority of sexual abuse and violent crime cases are prosecuted at the county level.

#6: Many background check vendors are cutting corners.
Many background check providers contractually limit the records searched and reported – while allowing ministry leaders to believe they’re getting everything possible. You must carefully review your contract. In most cases, providers are limiting the information searched and reported to the past seven years, convictions only. In Texas, ministries are legally entitled to more: all convictions, regardless of the passage of time, and non-convictions within the past seven years. Don’t sign a contract that further limits the information you receive!

#7: Most background check vendors are profit-driven, working to maximize revenue and reduce the cost of services provided.
For the vendor, the easiest way to cut costs is to gather less information. If the scope of the search is limited, there are fewer records gathered, less cost for purchase of the data and less information to evaluate, requiring smaller staffing needs. By limiting the scope of each search, background check vendors provide less information to ministries. They do this by failing to search aliases, failing to search for non-convictions and limiting the search parameters to information from the past seven years.

#8 MinistrySafe is different.
We believe it is important to provide Texas ministries with all legally reportable information. That means we report all convictions, regardless of the passage of time, and all non-convictions, such as arrests, within the past seven years. We work harder to get information into the hands of ministry leaders because we are uniquely committed to protecting children in ministry programs.

Learn more about sexual abuse response at txb.org/abuseresponse. Learn more about MinistrySafe and register for the next training event at txb.org/ministrysafe.

Texas Baptists is a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love by strengthening churches and ministers, engaging culture and connecting the nations to Jesus.

The ministry of the convention is made possible by giving through the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program, Mary Hill Davis Offering® for Texas Missions, Texas Baptists Worldwide and Texas Baptist Missions Foundation. Thank you for your faithful and generous support.

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Read more articles in: MinistrySafe, Sexual Abuse Response