Volunteer screening questions

1. What are the facts about child sexual abuse?

There is an epidemic of child abuse.  Statistics are staggering:  one out of five girls is sexually abused before turning 12, one of four before 18.  One out of eight boys is sexually abused before turning 12, one of six before 18.  Even worse, reports indicate that because sexual predators target trusting environments where children are present, the incidence of abuse is often higher in the Christian community.  Indeed, 90 percent of registered sex offenders claim to be “religious” or “very religious.”  The mission field is not immune to this epidemic:  a recent survey of 600 missionary kids from several agencies revealed that 7 percent said they had been sexually abused. (Sources: National Center on Child Abuse; Missionary Kid Consultation and Research Team/Committee on Research and Endowment)

Statistics do not begin to describe the devastating consequences of child abuse.   Victims struggle with the emotional and spiritual impact for the rest of their lives.  Abuse victims are themselves at higher risk of inflicting abuse on other children.  Allegations of abuse can also tarnish, sometimes irreparably, a church’s ministry.  Instead of being able to discuss the gospel, leadership may have to explain to a skeptical media, jury, or visitors why they didn’t prevent the abuse.  And the financial impact can be devastating.  Churches have faced verdicts of up to $100 million for child abuse committed on their watch.  Any church that sends an individual to serve (even unpaid service) may be held responsible for that individual’s actions.

2. How can the members of my short-term mission team be screened and trained to help prevent the abuse of children?

Each team member needs to complete and pass the three elements of background screening:  criminal background check, interview, and references, and complete training in how to prevent child abuse.    Individuals under the age of 18 are asked to complete the reference process only.

Completion of this process should be confirmed in writing by the team leader to the IMB host contact on the field prior to the short term mission trip.

3. Why is the child protection process being requested of all team members whether or not their primary assignment is specifically working with children? 

It is our experience that almost everyone serving on the mission field ends up with access to and interaction with children, no matter what their primary assignment entails. Therefore this is a requirement from the International Mission Board for all short-term project participants.

4. How do I complete the background screening process for my team members?

The background screening has three parts:   (1) independent criminal background check, (2) an interview and (3) confidential references.

Independent Criminal Background Check – Many churches have a company they already use to conduct the criminal background checks.  The check performed should include a search of data from the national criminal and sexual predator databases and the individual’s county of current residence.

If you do not have an established relationship with a company to accomplish this screening, the IMB has contracted with a company called Protect My Ministry to provide this service at discounted rates.

Interview – Interviewing mission team members allows you to ask questions to help evaluate their character and behavior (past and current). to help determine whether they could pose a danger of sexually or physically abusing children?  If you use Protect My Ministry’s system, these interview questions are already included as part of that process and no separate interview need be performed.  The team member’s answers will be included as part of the completed application form accessible from your Protect My Ministry account.   (You may supplement your personal interview with any questions you think appropriate, and with Protect My Ministry’s system you may add as many online application questions as you like).  A sample interview form is available on this website.

Confidential References – Ask each team member to provide the names and contact information of adults who have known them well for at least six months.  We recommend that you gather information from three individuals.  If you use Protect My Ministry’s system, names and contact information for references will be collected from your team members on-line.  We suggest one reference be a pastor or leader in the individual’s present or former church.

Arrange for each reference to complete a reference form (A sample is available on this website.)  Ask the references to return the form to you in writing or meet with them individually by telephone/in person and record their responses in writing.  Assure them that their responses will be treated confidentially.   (You may, of course, supplement questions asked on the sample reference form to obtain additional relevant information).

Once you have all the references, evaluate the responses for anything that would reasonably indicate the team member would pose a risk of sexually or physically abusing a child.  If the answer is yes, the individual may not serve on any mission trip that is in collaboration with the IMB.

5. Can my church use a background check company other than Protect My Ministry?

Yes, there are other companies that provide a search of national database and the county of current residence. (You may wish to compare the prices to the discounted rates negotiated with Protect My Ministry).

6. How can short term mission trip participants get the child protection training that is requested?

Your church, association, or state convention may already have training materials available.   The training should equip individuals with basic principles of sound child protection and procedures to prevent, recognize, and respond to abuse.

The IMB has a free training DVD available since January, 2009.  It is available to download from the IMB website.

SafeMinistry is another online training resource that is available for purchase directly from that company’s website, www.ministrysafe.com.   (SafeMinistry is not affiliated with the IMB).  Group discounts may be available.

7.  How do I use Protect My Ministry to conduct the criminal background checks?

(1)  Go to the following address on the IMB Web site:  http://going.imb.org/volunteers/.  Follow the instructions there to establish a secure account with Protect My Ministry.  (This account provides access to the special rates and process that Protect My Ministry created for IMB).

(2)  After registering, you will receive by e-mail a login name and secure password to access your Protect My Ministry account.  Your account includes (at no charge) a package called “Ministry Mobilizer Lite” which enables you to easily track the status of mission team members in the background check process. Your church may use this account (including the price discounts) for any checks your church conducts, not just for those serving on IMB-related trips. (You must, however, establish your account with Protect My Ministry from http://www.protectmyministry.com/imb/ in order to benefit from the special rates and process.)

(3)  After you establish an account, Protect My Ministry will e-mail you a unique Web address (or URL) for you to provide your mission team members so they can provide the necessary data for and consent to the background check.   (The URL will look something like this:   https://www.ministryopportunities.org/YOUR CHURCH NAME).

(4)   Provide the URL to your mission team members and ask them to enter the necessary data.  This includes their name, social security number, date of birth, current and prior addresses and consent to conduct the check.  Once a team member’s information is entered, Protect My Ministry e-mails you that the data needed to run the background check is ready.

(5)  Order the background check from your account.  The ordering process is straightforward, but Protect My Ministry also provides instructions and a customer service department.

(6)  Protect My Ministry will e-mail you as soon as each background check is completed.   (An average check takes 24 hours but some may take three to four days).   The data is processed and adjudicated by Protect My Ministry according to criteria provided by the IMB and returned to your account with one of three notations:  “Pass,” “Alert-Fail,” or “Alert-Further Review.”

“Pass” means no information showed up in the background check that would prevent the individual from serving.  This will be the result in the vast majority of cases.

“Alert-Fail” means information showed up in the background check that indicates this individual would pose a risk of sexually or physically abusing children.   This individual may not serve on an IMB trip in any capacity.   (Disqualifying information would include any history of a sexual crime, especially against children. A crime of violence against another person within the past seven years would also disqualify.)

“Alert-Further Review” means the background check showed that this individual committed some type of offense that might suggest risk to children.   In such cases, you and/or other leaders of your church should evaluate the nature of the offense, when it occurred and other background information you received (e.g., references).   Meet with the individual to discuss the offense and gather additional information.    Your goal is to determine whether the individual engaged in behavior that reasonably indicates he/she would pose a risk of sexually or physically abusing a child.  If the answer is “yes,” the individual may not serve on an IMB trip in any capacity.

(8)  If the background check indicates an individual should not serve, you should give him/her an opportunity to review that information and, if he/she desires, dispute the records’ accuracy.  If an individual does dispute the records, notify Protect My Ministry, who will perform a free detailed reinvestigation of the records.

8. Who reviews the background screening materials and makes the final determination if an individual is approved?

In most cases the local church that is sending the mission team members make the decision.   Given the variety of SBC churches, we don’t want to prescribe a particular process that should be followed; many churches already have a process in place.   It may make sense for the mission team leader to be responsible for reviewing the screening materials, pursuing any needed follow-up questions and determining whether any particular individual may go.  Alternatively, a pastor or mission’s pastor of the church could perform that role.   When the training and background screening is complete, written confirmation should be sent to the host contact on the field.

9.What if an individual refuses to submit to a background check?

That individual will not be allowed to participate on a mission team that is working in collaboration with the IMB.

10.  What if an individual serves several times in a year on IMB mission trips?  Does such an individual need to obtain a new background screening for every trip?

No.  Whereas a church may decide to conduct screenings on its team members more frequently, IMB policy requests that a screening take place within no more than a four-year period immediately preceding the trip.

11.  What if the mission team for a trip consists of individuals from more than one church?

There are at least two ways to address this.  The team leader could arrange with someone at each church to conduct the background screening and provide the training materials for the team members at that particular church.   Or the team leader’s church could do the screening and training for all team members.

12.  Can I use the special rates and services the IMB negotiated with Protect My Ministry for other ministries in my church, or only for those serving on IMB trips?

You may use the rates and services negotiated with Protect My Ministry for any volunteer ministry in your church or to screen current or perspective staff.

13. Will all criminal convictions disqualify an individual from serving on a mission trip that is in collaboration with the IMB?

No.  Some types of convictions will automatically disqualify an individual from serving.   Disqualifying information includes any history of a sexual crime. A crime of violence against another person within the past seven years is also disqualifying. If a background check performed by Protect My Ministry comes back as a “Fail,” then such disqualifying information turned up in the records.  However, other types of convictions must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine if they are disqualifying. The key is to determine whether that past behavior, combined with other data available about the person, reasonably suggests that he/she could pose a danger of sexually or physically abusing children.

14. What if an individual committed a sexual crime many years ago but has become a Christian since and/or has a long history of not engaging in that behavior again?   Shouldn’t we show grace to the person and let him participate on a mission trip?

We celebrate the spiritual transformation that has taken place in the life of someone who has previously committed sexual abuse against children and pray that he/she is indeed able to refrain from engaging in such behavior again.  However we cannot endanger the children entrusted to our care by exposing them to those who have a known, dangerous history. No one with a history of sexual abuse may serve on a mission trip that is in collaboration with the IMB.

15. What if some of my team members don’t have Internet access or are uncomfortable using the Internet — is there an alternative way to process a background check?

Yes. Protect My Ministry provides a way to manually enter data needed for a background check.  To do that, print the background check questions and a consent form for the background check from your Protect My Ministry account. Provide those to your team member and ask him/her to return them to you.  Once he/she returns that data and signed consent form, manually enter the data into your Protect My Ministry account and order the check.  For further assistance, Protect My Ministry provides a guide and customer service representatives.

16. How much will the background check cost if I use Protect My Ministry?

In most cases the cost will be either $7.50 or $15 per individual.  The difference depends on your state and county’s reporting practices. Many states and counties do not report all of their criminal records to national databases. In those states and counties, it is necessary to run both a national search and a local county or state search to get accurate data. Based on the data’s reliability, Protect My Ministry and the IMB have worked together to come up with a baseline standard depending on what state and county you and the prospective mission team member are located in.   For locations where the states do provide reliable data to the national database, the baseline standard is to run only a national search at a cost of $7.50.   For other locations, the baseline standard is to run both the national search and the local search at a cost of $15.  In addition, a few states and counties charge additional fees to access their databases.  More specific cost information is available at the http://www.protectmyministry.com/imb/

17. How will the information be kept that is obtained from the background screening?

How to manage the data will be up to your local church.   We strongly recommend that the information received in the background screening be held in confidence by the sending church and not released to anyone other than those necessary to review the information, such as the missions team leader and sending church pastor.

18. Will individuals receive a copy of the background check run on them?

This will be up to the local church that conducts the background check.   If information shows up that would disqualify an individual, we strongly recommend that you share that information with the individual and offer an opportunity to contest its accuracy.   Protect My Ministry will re-investigate any contested records without charge.

19. Is this background check similar to those done for teachers and other caregivers?

Yes. In fact, all IMB staff and missionaries must pass an even more rigorous check.

20. What is the definition of physical abuse and sexual abuse?

“Physical abuse” of a child includes, but is not limited to the following:  any action that causes or threatens to cause a non-accidental physical injury to a child; placing a child in a situation where the child is likely to be injured; neglecting or refusing to provide adequate food, shelter, emotional nurturing or health-care to a child; failing to provide adequate supervision in relation to the child’s age or development level.

“Sexual abuse” of a child includes, but is not limited to the following:   committing, allowing to be committed, or threatening any sexual act upon a child, including, without limitation, fondling of breasts or genitalia in or outside of the clothing, masturbation, oral-genital contact, digital penetration, vaginal intercourse, or anal intercourse; any action undertaken with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desire of any individual; indecent exposure in the presence of a child; allowing a child to view sexually explicit or pornographic material; allowing a child to be used in creating any sexually explicit or pornographic material; or allowing a child to witness a sexual act.

21. Does the IMB derive any financial benefit from a church using Protect My Ministry?

No. The IMB negotiated this arrangement with Protect My Ministry as a service to SBC churches and hopes this will be helpful to churches for non-IMB related needs as well.