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Recommendations

I. Guidelines

We recommend that all Unitarian Universalist institutions—congregations, Districts, Sponsored Organizations, and the UUA itself—adopt the following guidelines when calling ministers, hiring professional religious leaders and staff, and recruiting volunteers whose work will put them in close contact with children and persons in vulnerable circumstances. We further recommend that the governing board of each institution hold its search, nominating, recommending, credentialing, and hiring bodies (hereafter “committees”), including the UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee and the Religious Educator Credentialing Committee (hereafter “committees”), accountable for installing procedures in accordance with these policies:

  1. The institution shall only consider persons who have completed an application or questionnaire that includes a year-by-year educational, employment, and military service history going back to age 18. This history should include contact information for the immediate supervisor or other responsible reference for each position, when that is not possible perhaps, other persons, who have known the persons during this time may be identified. For an example of such application see the “Application for Paid or Volunteer Employment” in the Forms section.
     
  2. The institution shall only call, hire, accept for service in a sensitive volunteer capacity, or credential a person who has signed and/or agreed to abide by:
     
    1. an authorization and release that permits the committee to request and receive information related to any prior activity involving physical harm to or sexual abuse or harassment of any person or the threat of any such conduct. This release shall hold harmless from liability any person or organization that provides information, and shall hold the institution harmless for treating any such information received in the best interests of the institution and the UUA and/or as prescribed by law. For an example of such a release, see “Applicant’s Statement and Release” in the Forms section.
       
    2. a statement disclosing or denying any prior convictions for any crimes, both felonies or misdemeanors (to the extent permitted by law), and pledging to notify the institution of any arrest, charge, conviction, or other relevant information, such as motor vehicle license revocation, in the future. For an example of such a statement see “Voluntary Disclosure Statement” in the Forms section.
       
    3. a statement disclosing or denying any prior activity involving sexual misconduct, physical harm to or sexual abuse or harassment of any person on thebasis of sex, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, age, or disability. For an example of such a statement see “Voluntary Disclosure Statement” in the Forms section.
       
    4. a Fair Credit Reporting Act Disclosure. For an example of such a statement see “Applicant’s Statement and Release” in the Forms section.
       
    5. the applicable code of professional ethics:
      for ministers, the UUMA Code of Professional Practice;
      for religious educators, the LREDA Code of Professional Practices;
      for church musicians, the UU Musicians Network Code of Professional Practices (PDF); and
      for church administrators, the Association of UU Administrators Code of Ethics
       
  3. Where the position to be filled entails the use of a motor vehicle to drive individuals affiliated with the institution on field trips or to doctors’ offices, the institution shall only hire or accept for service persons who have a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance and who pledge to notify the institution of any license suspension or revocation, conviction for moving violation, or other restriction on driving.
     
  4. The institution shall only credential, hire, or accept for service in a sensitive volunteer capacity, a person whose employment and educational history and, in the case of ministers and professional leaders, history of service has been verified. In addition, all references should be reviewed and contacted.
     
    1. The committee shall conduct telephone reference checks, which it may wish to precede with letters of inquiry, with educational institutions, previous employers, and other persons that inquire about the individual’s qualifications, performance and conduct. Where appropriate, the committee shall specifically inquire about whether the reference has any concerns about the person’s potential to harm others, and whether the person has had any prior incidence of inappropriate conduct such as sexual contact with
       
      1. Any individual the person was seeing in a professional or congregational context.
         
      2. Any individual under age 18.
         
    2. Special consideration s for ministers: Committees shall initially obtain from the minister at least three references for each congregation served. Where a minister has served in multiple interim ministries, and in the case of positions held more than twenty years earlier, two references per congregation may suffice. In interviewing these “named” references, the committee is advised to ask them for additional, “developed” references. Once the minister is one of no more than eight under consideration, and only with the minister's permission, the committee is encouraged to contact developed references in congregations the minister has previously served. Once the minister has consented to be the committee's candidate, and only with the minister's permission, the committee is encouraged to contact developed references in the congregation presently served. The UUA Transitions Director and the District Executive should be consulted.
       
    3. All transcripts, letters, e-mail messages, and other documents received, and all notes of conversations conducted as a part of the reference check shall be retained as part of the person’s personnel record if employed or accepted for service. This file shall be kept in a secure location, for example a locked file cabinet accessible only by the board chair and others as authorized by the Board of Trustees.
       
    4. No such documents received in connection with persons who are not employed or accepted for service shall be retained except as mandated by law; those not so retained shall be destroyed.
       
    5. In the case of ministers, such documents shall include the “interpretive file summary” prepared by the Transitions Office.
       
    6. The committee may arrange with an outside agency to conduct sex offender and criminal background checks and other checks as recommended, depending on the position for which the person is being considered and its specific responsibilities. Such arrangements may require the use of additional disclosure and authorization forms required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
       
  5. In all cases, the reference and background checks are to be conducted by the committee responsible for making the recommendation to call, to hire, or to accept the service of the volunteer. In most cases, to avoid needless inquiry and unnecessary expense, the background check should only be conducted on the committee’s finalist. Once the recommendation is made, the results of the reference and background checks are to be delivered to the board chair for retention or destruction.
     
  6. We recommend that each outgoing board chair pass on to his/her successor the means of access to material concerning persons currently on the church staff or in its membership.
     
  7. We recommend that all congregations compose a church staff covenant, and that all ministers, religious educators, and church staff be required to abide by the covenant as a condition of service.
     
  8. We recommend that the UUA conduct all appropriate criminal conviction reviews on its current staff if it has not already done so.
     
  9. We recommend that all professional staff—i.e. ministers, religious educators, administrators, and music directors—and all members of the congregational boards of trustees submit themselves to criminal conviction reviews in order to model, as leaders, the conduct they expect of new ordained and lay leaders.

II. Agencies

We recommend the following agencies from which to obtain services:

The following agencies provide extensive information on their services on line, including the ability to order services online:

  • Oxford Document Management Company, Inc.
    655 West Highway 10
    Anoka, MN 55303-1623
    (800) 801-9114
    Note: The UUA has contracted with this agency to conduct background checks at a reduced cost.
     
  • Church Mutual Insurance Company’s Screen Now program, with services provided by ChoicePoint
    3000 Schuster Lane
    P.O. Box 357
    Merrill, Wisconsin 54452
    (800) 554-2642
     
  • CORI check—Criminal Offender Record Information (Massachusetts only)

III. Interpretation and Evaluation

  1. A committee in receipt of information about a person that is cause for concern should consider the information in the context of the person’s candor with the committee, previous steps taken by the person and others to address the issue, and steps taken to address whatever consequences it may have had for others and to prevent future problems. Lack of candor or honesty on an application form—e.g., a denial of any criminal convictions when a background check reveals otherwise—should usually result in rejection of the person or termination of the employee unless the individual is able to provide a very persuasive and adequate explanation for the discrepancy.
     
  2. When a person has a criminal conviction history, the impact of such a conviction history may vary depending on the unique circumstances presented in each case. For instance, the hiring authority must consider the nature of the crimes committed and their relationship to the job in question. The hiring authority must also evaluate whether the person could perform acceptably in spite of the conviction or whether the person can adhere to certain clear agreed upon limits or boundaries to their activities within the church community. Thus, the hiring authority should consider a person’s efforts at rehabilitation, work record, and the remoteness in time of the conviction. These factors may provide facts to support a decision to hire a person despite his/her conviction history.
     
  3. We recommend that the UUA allocate funds for and require the following staff to obtain advanced training in personnel evaluation in order to assist committees in interpreting and evaluating the information they obtain:
    • Transitions Director and Religious Education Credentialing Director, MPL  
    • Lay Leadership Development Director and Young Adult and Campus Ministry Director, CS  
    • Youth Office Director, LFD  
    • Field staff and District Services Director, DS
       
  4. We recommend that every committee schedule a session facilitated by a person with advanced training in personnel evaluation in which the essential and recommended questions (see Appendix B) are a topic for discussion. See the Creating Safe Congregations Workbook II, to be issued soon.

IV. When the News is Bad

There will be occasions—may they be rare!—when the results of the criminal conviction check rule the person out of consideration. The temptation at this point may be to tell a “white lie,” so as to avoid the difficult conversation that must take place. Don’t succumb! As theologian Langdon Gilkey was fond of saying, “Religion is where we deal with the negativities.” In dealing with the negativities sensitively, even tenderly, while no less firmly, we affirm ourselves and our faith communities as both compassionate and responsible. Living, as we must, in the world as we find it, sometimes the best we can hope for is an environment in which misbehavior is named, consequences exacted, rehabilitation encouraged, and recovery respected, and in which covenants are authentic compounds of realism, respect, and redemption.

V. UUA Background Check Packages

We recommend that the UUA negotiate with a provider a variety of “UUA background check packages” for the various congregational positions, and that it maintain online links to the recommended agencies on UUA.org. The intent is to make the background check relatively easy to carry out and reasonable in price to help congregations ensure they are taking appropriate steps to protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults in their congregation and ensure the healthy functioning of the congregation at large. It is important to remember that these recommendations are not intended to serve as the maximum level of screening or review for potential employees or volunteers. Each organization must take responsibility for determining appropriate screening and hiring practices according to their unique circumstances in support of their UU mission. Once a hiring decision is made it is also important that appropriate policies be adopted to minimize the potential for harm and that appropriate supervision and oversight of all operations and individuals in ongoing.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, April 22, 2011.

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