New Abuse Prevention Requirements for Churches in California
On the heels of many sexual abuse tragedies, on September 16, 2021, the State of California has passed AB-506. Prior to the passage of AB506, ministries were tasked with determining their own abuse prevention programs and there was not a clear standard of care. While there were guidelines that ministry leaders could look to from other organizations, there were not laws outlining specifics in the areas of background checks, training, or policies. Enforcement of a ministries efforts was through litigation and the courts.
For the first time, churches are included in a category under the Business & Professions Code § 18975 classified as ‘Youth Service Organizations’. We now have a law that specifies exactly what we must do.
What are the biggest challenges for ministries to comply with these new requirements?
- For ministries that haven’t implemented Live Scan screening at their ministry, this is going to be different. It takes time to do so, may be more costly, and it isn’t as convenient as previous online background check programs.
- The legislation requires that, to the greatest extent possible, at least two mandated reporters are supervising all youth activities. However, generally speaking, volunteers are not considered to be mandated reporters. Volunteers continue to be considered ‘permissive reporters’, and are encouraged to report abuse. This is contrary to much information that has been published about AB506,
- Previously created online training, online background check services, and guidance from insurance companies no longer meet the new requirements in California.
- New policies will need to be created and implemented.
- New training must be completed by ALL employees and your regular volunteers who work with youth.
We’ve looked to others for comprehensive guidance on how to implement AB506 in ministries in California. Unfortunately, all of what we’ve seen is focusing on the challenges of the new requirements or how it doesn’t fit with what we’ve always done in the past. This is the new standard of care and your ministry must now meet these requirements.
It’s going to be challenging for every ministry because it’s likely that something is going to have to change in your processes. It takes more time. It is different. It may cost most more money.
However, even though it is more work, we should be glad that we now have a standard of care that is now outlined for us. In the past it’s always been a moving target and, when there was litigation, there would be a debate over what you should have done or could have done. Now, we know specifically, the minimum standard that must be met with screening, training, and supervision of youth. You should do more than what is outlined by AB506, but you can’t do less.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a grace period for implementing these new requirements?
No. This law was passed on September 16th, 2021, and is effective January 1, 2022.
Are churches considered ‘Youth Serving Organizations’?
If you have youth present at your church and sponsor any activity that involves the supervision of youth, you are a youth serving organization.
Are denominational offices considered to be ‘Youth Serving Organizations’?
While not specified in the law, it is our opinion that, if your denominational office sponsors any activity that involves the supervision of youth, has supervisory authority over those that supervise youth, or owns/operates a youth camping ministry, you are a ‘Youth Serving Organization’.
Are camps considered to be ‘Youth Serving Organizations’?
If your camp serves youth, then you would be considered a ‘Youth Serving Organization’. California has introduced legislation in Assembly Bill 1737 that will be introducing different requirements for camps. It is likely to pass and may impact church camp operations. Until camps are more specifically defined, they fall under the category of ‘Youth Serving Organizations’.
Are schools considered to be ‘Youth Serving Organizations’?
Schools are subject to different requirements that may be found in Assembly Bill 1432.
Are preschools and daycares considered to be ‘Youth Serving Organizations’?
Schools are subject to different requirements that may be found in Assembly Bill 1207.
Who is a mandated reporter?
A list of persons whose profession qualifies them as “mandated reporters” of child abuse or neglect is found in California Penal Code Section 11165.7.
How does the ‘Clergy Penitent Privilege’ apply to mandated reporting?
This is a very nuanced subject. For a full discussion on this topic, grab some popcorn and watch our Clergy Privilege webinar.
Are volunteers considered to be mandated reporters?
As outlined in California Penal Code Section 11165.7, volunteers of public or private organizations whose duties require direct contact with and supervision of children are not mandated reporters but are encouraged to obtain training in the identification and reporting of child abuse and neglect and are further encouraged to report known or suspected instances of child abuse or neglect to an agency specified in Section 11165.9.
Who is a ‘Regular Volunteer’?
AB506 specifically defines ‘Regular Volunteers’ 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.’
If volunteers are not considered to be mandated reporters, how can we meet the requirement that two mandated reporters are present to supervise youth?
Good question! This is very difficult to implement and not something that we believe that the authors of AB506 considered when writing this legislation. Our model child protection program does have a provision that allows you to designate volunteer supervisors of youth as ‘Religious Practitioners’. According to the Child Abuse & Neglect Reporting Act 11165.7 (a)(32), a Religious Practitioner is a mandated reporter. If you feel that your volunteer supervisors would fall into this category, you may want to consider integrating this into your child protection program. Additionally, you may be able to create a policy that required all volunteers to be mandated reporters. Please take this decision seriously as this may exposure your volunteers to potential civil and criminal penalties for failing to report. We ask that you consult with qualified legal counsel when making this decision.
What age is considered a child?
Anyone under the age of 18.
Which employees need a LiveScan Background Check?
The law specifies that ALL employees need a LiveScan Background Check, not just those that work with youth. Yes, this means those that never have any contact with youth, musicians, part time, seasonal, occasional, and any other employees. If you’d like more information on who is considered to be an employee, we’d encourage you to review the webinar from day 2 of our 2021 HR Bootcamp that digs into this in great detail.
We’ve already conducted a background check for our employees and volunteers. Will this meet the requirement if we use LiveScan for new hires and new volunteers?
If your previous background check was LiveScan, then yes.
If you conducted any other type of background check (online), then you will need new background checks that meets the new requirements.
Can we use volunteer workers under the age of 18?
Yes, you can use volunteer workers under the age of 18. However, this does not meet the two mandated reporter requirement. You will still need two adults who have been screened and trained present for all youth activities.
We have volunteers that are undocumented. Can they continue to volunteer if we can’t run a background check on them?
Yes, they can continue to volunteer. However, this does not meet the two mandated reporter requirement. You will still need two adults who have been screened and trained present for all youth activities.
Can the two adults present be related?
While AB506 does not specify that the two adults must be unrelated, it is a best practice that they are unrelated.
What if someone has already had a LiveScan from another organization?
That does not meet the requirements of AB506. Your church must complete a LiveScan in addition to any other background check that has been completed by another organization.
When does a new employee need to have their background check and training completed?
The law doesn’t specify this for ‘Youth Serving Organizations’. However, when comparing this legislation to similar legislation for schools and childcare centers, we’ve concluded that this should be completed prior to employment.
Can we wait until a volunteer has met the definition of a ‘regular volunteer’ before the training and background check requirements are met?
We do not believe that this is the intent of the legislation. Both the training and the background check should be completed prior to working with youth.
Where should we go if we want to do more than is outlined by AB506?
There are many resources, templates, and guides available. However, most guides don’t integrate the new requirements. We have created a Model Child Protection Policy to help you get started.
What training is required?
The California Business & Professions Code, Section 18975, Chapter 2.9 states ‘(a) An administrator, employee, or regular volunteer of a youth service organization shall complete training in child abuse and neglect identification and training in child abuse and neglect reporting. The training requirement may be met by completing the online mandated reporter training provided by the Office of Child Abuse Prevention in the State Department of Social Services. Visit our page on mandated reporter training for more details.
Do board members and elders need to go through online training?
While the law does not specify that board members should go through the online training, we have consulted with legal opinions in California that interpret the law to state that board members & elders should go through the same background checks & training. Additionally, the Bible states that the elders of the church are providing oversight and shepherding the church. Since board members and elders are ultimately responsible for the actions of those that are supervising youth, they should be go through the same background check and training as all that supervise youth.
What needs to be covered in the mandated reporter training?
Check out our guide on AB506 Compliant Mandated Reporter Training; it is very specific.
How often should the training be completed?
Every two years.
What is the penalty if we don’t comply with the new requirements?
The legislation did not include an enforcement mechanism. While it does allow insurance companies to check that you are meeting the requirements of AB506, there is no enforcement. What does that mean to your ministry? Yes, your insurance company will begin asking more questions (all insurance companies have already done this when writing sexual abuse liability coverage). The primary enforcement will be through litigation. Should your ministry ever have an allegation of abuse, the first questions that will be asked by the plaintiff’s attorneys will be if you met the requirements of AB506. This will introduce punitive damages (not covered by any insurance company) and opens your leadership to personal liability for disregarding the law.