Monday, December 22, 2014

Safe Sanctuaries: Changes in Child Protective Services Law will affect the local church and user groups

In 2014 the Pennsylvania Legislature enacted sweeping changes to the Child Protective Services Law, including, but not limited to, expansion of individuals subject to required clearances from the Pennsylvania State Police, Department of Human Services (formerly Department of Public Welfare), and the FBI, expansion of the frequency of the required clearances, expansion of mandated reporters, and imposition of significant criminal penalties for noncompliance. The focus of this notification is on the new clearances that church employees and volunteers will be required to obtain under the CPSL, as amended in 2014.

Effective December 31, 2014, the CPSL requires that all incumbent and prospective employees 14 years of age or older who are responsible for the welfare of a child or have direct contact with children obtain the following three clearances:
A. Pennsylvania State Police Criminal History Report;
B. Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Child Abuse History Clearance; and
C. FBI Criminal History Report (Fingerprint-based background check).

What about outside groups?

Every week I receive questions from pastors, church leaders, and volunteers around the subject, “what about other churches or groups using our facilities? Do they need to be following our policy or not worrying about it”?

My general response is to ask questions that help me get a better understanding of their situation. What population are we talking about? Will there be children/youth and adults present? What are the specific groups?

No matter what the group, it’s important that whatever group is using your facilities they be Safe Sanctuaries compliant. Meaning, the group needs to have a Safe Sanctuaries Policy that is at least as stringent as the church policy. They need to show proof they have background clearances that are current (within the last three years), they have had training in child abuse recognition, and they follow a proper ratio of two adults per so many children (depending upon the ages).

If a group tells you they have grandfathered in their adult leaders, this statement should send up a red flag that could potentially bring problems for the church if an incident were to occur. If the group has grandfathered their leaders, you must insist that they have a background clearance, rather than simply allowing them to be involved without a background clearance. The question that attorneys or courts will want to know is, have you done your due diligence in regard to providing a safe environment for any child (whether a church member or someone from outside the church). You need to show proof that the church is striving to do this either through a Facilities Agreement or by showing you have the background clearances for the groups using your facilities.

It’s important to remember, when the church loses its reputation, it is hard to regain the trust of the people in the community. So be willing to ask the hard questions. You will find that you are helping both the group using the church and the church itself.

For more information about these changes and how they affect your church or ministry, please contact Anne Horton at ahorton@susumc.org or call 800-874-8474 toll free.

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