A house of worship is the last place a child should be harmed, and local churches are taking measures to ensure children are safe.
In light of the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic faith, churches are taking extra precautions to ease parents' fears. Background checks are becoming the norm for volunteers or workers coming in contact with children in the church.
Pennsylvania State Police Major Scott Snyder said the number of background checks completed on the web-based Pennsylvania Access To Criminal History, known as PATCH, has increased significantly over the years, although he couldn't determine how many checks were conducted by churches.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Brian Behe, director of youth ministries at First United Methodist Church in Hollidaysburg, gets kids involved in an activity at the church’s Wednesday night services.
"There's more of an interest in it," Snyder said. "It's a prudent thing to do as a course of prevention."
PATCH background checks cost $10, but Snyder also recommended churches visit the Megan's Law Registry website (www.pameganslaw.state.pa.us/), which lists sex offenders who work, live or attend school in Pennsylvania.
"Conducting a background check on anyone who's going to have access to children or who will be working or volunteering around children is important," Snyder said.
Thorough background checks should look into criminal databases at local, state and federal levels. Many churches contract companies, such as Lexus Nexus or backgroundchecks.com.
Lifeway Christian Resources, which conducts research for the Southern Baptist Convention, partners with back
groundchecks.com to help churches screen employees and volunteers.
"It's due diligence. We want to do everything we can to protect our ministries and our children," Jennie Taylor, marketing coordinator for Lifeway, said.
Of the more than 11,000 background checks conducted since Lifeway partnered with
backgroundchecks.com in 2008, 40 percent found an incident, which could be anything from traffic violations to felonies.
"If there is a hit that comes back, backgroundchecks.com is there to assist them on where to go from there. They consult with the church," Taylor said.
Backgroundchecks.com is one of many companies which screens potential employees or volunteers.
Locally, screening methods differ from church to church.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown screens every employee or volunteer, whether they are teachers, clergy or religious education instructors.
The background checks are conducted through HireRight, which screens candidates for past offenses at local, state and federal levels. Along with the background checks, all employees and volunteers must undergo the "Protecting God's Children" program.