California Bus. & Prof. Code §18975, which California Governor signed into law on September 16, 2021, establishes important requirements for all youth service organizations, including churches and other houses of worship. Under this legislation, all employees, administrators, and regular volunteers of youth service organizations must complete training in child abuse and neglect reporting. Furthermore, these individuals also must undergo Live Scan background checks. AB506 defines a “regular volunteer” as “a volunteer with the youth service organization who is 18 years of age or older and who has direct contact with, or supervision of, children for more than 16 hours per month or 32 hours per year.”
Defining Youth Service Organizations
Under Bus. & Prof. Code §18975, a “youth service organization” is “an organization that employs or utilizes the services of persons who, due to their relationship with the organization, are mandated reporters under California Penal Code §11165.7(a).” Among the many mandated reporters listed in this section of the Penal Code are clergy members, custodians of records of clergy members, and administrators, board members, or employees of a public or private organization whose duties require direct contact and supervision of children. Other mandated reporters include the administrators or employees of public or private youth centers, recreation programs, or organizations that churches may operate.
As previously mentioned, Bus. & Prof. Code §18975 invokes California Penal Code §11165.7(a)(37), which expressly refers to ministers and churches. This reference clearly includes any churches with pastors or ministers within the purview of Bus. & Prof. Code §18975. Therefore, churches must comply with the mandates of this code section.
As a result, churches should have strict policies in place to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. The required training and background checks are critical components of these policies. The policies also must contain provisions to ensure that reports of child abuse and neglect occur as mandated to outside agencies. Furthermore, whenever possible, policies should require the presence of at least two mandated reporters whenever administrators, employees, or volunteers are in contact with or supervising children.
Administrators, employees, and regular volunteers of youth service organizations must complete training in child abuse and neglect identification and prevention. Bus. & Prof. Code §18975 does not mandate that youth service organizations utilize a particular training program. However, the law states that the four-hour online mandated reporter training available through the Office of Child Abuse Prevention in the State Department of Social Services meets the statutory training requirement.
Churches should note that the online mandated reporter training through the Office of Child Abuse Prevention does not have a function for online recordkeeping or reporting of training completion. As a result, as individuals complete the training, churches must keep manual records of their completion.
Bus. & Prof. Code §18975 also requires that administrators, employees, and regular volunteers of youth service organizations undergo background checks under Penal Code §11105.3. The purpose of this background check is so youth service organizations can identify and exclude individuals with a history of child abuse.
Even if your church is already using another type of background check through a third-party provider for administrators, employees, and regular volunteers, that background check is no longer sufficient under Bus. & Prof. Code §18975. Instead, your church must switch to the more intensive background check outlined in Bus. & Prof. Code §18975, which may be more stringent than the past background check you have relied upon.
This background check requires churches to request records concerning individuals through the California Department of Justice using an approved form. The submission process for this form also requires that individuals submit their fingerprints through a system called Live Scan.
Finally, churches should remember that although the required background check is more extensive than some churches may have used in the past, it still does not necessarily cover all potential problems. For instance, searches through the California Department of Justice will not identify out-of-state criminal records or sex offender registration. These searches also will not identify an inappropriate social media presence or problematic civil court filings. As a result, churches may wish to conduct additional background checks in addition to what Bus. & Prof. Code §18975 requires.
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