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Three Frequently Asked Questions on Criminal Background Checks

Criminal background checks are an important part of screening the workers and volunteers who assist with the children and youth in your church. Among the questions that the GuideOne Center for Risk Management fields regarding background checks, the following three are among the most commonly asked:

1. Can we perform criminal background checks on minors who are seeking to volunteer or work with children/youth?

Yes, while it is technically possible, with parents’ or guardian’s permission, to run a criminal background check on a minor, the results obtained are likely to be extremely limited. Most juvenile court records are not publicly available. If the minor was charged and convicted as an adult, the background check would return a “hit,” but otherwise no record would be returned even if the minor was found to be involved in a juvenile offense. Still, for the purpose of showing the church’s due diligence, some organizations choose to run the criminal background check on a minor, regardless.

When an organization is aware that the integrity of one part of its child protection program (background checks) is lessened, it should consider increasing vigilance in other parts. This can be accomplished, for example, by focusing on reference checks where the minor has volunteered or worked with children in the past, including babysitting, and requiring increased adult supervision of the minor. 

2. How long should we retain records of criminal background checks?

Due to the sensitive nature of the data involved in the background check process, your organization should have a process in place to keep all documents regarding background checks secure and confidential. This would include, but not be limited to, the consent form, the results, and any related documentation. Hard copy documents should be kept in a secured (locked) file and office. Records maintained on a computer should likewise be secured with a password and other protections.

It is recommended that the organization keep a copy of the background check in some format as long as state law allows. Some states limit the length of time that an employer can keep background check material on an employee but most states do not. Because sexual abuse claims by minors can be filed years later, a recommended practice is to retain the documentation indefinitely to assist with defense of a claim if it is presented years later. Since storage space is often an issue, one way to address this is to have a policy of retaining only electronic copies of the documents (scanned and saved onto a CD, flash drive or other compact, savable media) and not hard copies. GuideOne’s Check and Protect background check program powered by SingleSource Services provides indefinite storage of all searches and can be accessed at any time if copies are needed in the future.

3. How often should we re-run criminal background checks?

The most common practice is to run criminal background checks every two to five years, with the following caveats:

  • If your organization operates a school, day care or preschool that is licensed or accredited, the licensing body or accreditation organization may have requirements on the frequency of running criminal background checks on workers.

  • If a worker or volunteer ends their service and then comes back and wants to work with minors again, it is a good idea to run the background check at that time.

  • Your organization may want to check with local schools or other youth-serving organizations in the area to see how often they run background checks, then consider following that frequency at a minimum. In that way, it could be argued that the organization is following the standard of care in their community.

For more information on criminal background checks, visit the Background Checks tab on

© 2024 GuideOne Insurance. GuideOne® is the registered trademark of the GuideOne Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.