Screening Adults in Youth Ministry

In our dedication to providing the safest possible environment for those we serve, we conduct background checks on adults working with our youth:

  • To enhance the safety of those we serve;
  • To enhance the safety of our employees and volunteers; and,
  • To reduce the liability to our congregation in the event of a lawsuit.

A background check should include a search of state and national criminal databases as well as sex offender registries. Church Mutual, an insurance carrier used by many congregations, offers online background screening for employees and volunteers through Trusted Employee.

A “current” background check is usually considered to be one completed within the last three years.
A background check is only one tool and may turn up convictions that have little to no impact for youth ministry and there is pervasive racism, homophobia, and transphobia in our criminal justice system. Therefore background check requests should include a letter which clarifies that a criminal history is not an automatic disqualification for working with youth, but rather is the opening of conversation about the meaning of the offense and its relationship to youth ministry.

Statement on Screening and Social Justice

(Adapted from UUA’s Employee Manual, April 7, 2015)

The background investigations may produce reports of felony and misdemeanor convictions incurred by your employees/volunteers. Some of those convictions may be considered to be social justice issues. Other convictions may be for ones that are not relevant because they occurred a long time ago or pose little or no threat to our employees, youth or vulnerable adults. This sample language can help you articulate the nuances of your screening policy to potential volunteers and employees:

(name of congregation) fully supports employees engaged in social justice issues and will give careful consideration to both the type and relevance of the actions that led to any arrests or convictions.

(name of congregation) acknowledges the fact that there is pervasive racism, homophobia, and transphobia in the United States’ criminal justice system. People of color are disproportionately convicted of felonies, and homosexuality or claiming a transgender identity has itself been historically considered a sex offense in many states. To help deal with these facts, when we receive information about an employee or candidate that raises concerns, experts may be called in when necessary—including an employment attorney and social justice advocates with special knowledge, sensitivity and experience with similar issues.

(name of congregation) also acknowledges that, while the background investigations may reduce liability to our congregations and the UUA, the children, youth and vulnerable adults in our congregations and employees are not necessarily safer because of the background investigations. Technology and state-to-state tracking of convictions are not totally reliable.


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