A Ministry Guide to California Background Checks

Picture of Charlie Cutler

Charlie Cutler

President of ChurchWest Insurance Services


In the last 2 years, the state of California has raised expectations on Christian ministries to protect youth, and prevent and report abuse. Live Scan background checks on all regular volunteers and employees are a critical piece of state mandated child protection. However, many ministries are confused about what background checks should be performed in addition to Live Scan.

This article will explain the different types of background checks, the limitations of each, and a recommended approach to comply with state requirements and secure your ministry.

Additional Resources

What is LiveScan anyway?

LiveScan is a fingerprinting technology used to conduct background checks. The process involves submitting an individual’s fingerprints electronically to the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and / or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to perform criminal background checks. Whether the DOJ or FBI receives the request depends on how your ministry submits the form.

Unlike Commercial Background checks, LiveScan only reports on certain arrests and convictions that resulted in a fingerprint. Because LiveScan relies on a biological identifier, it is guaranteed to identify the correct individual. However, it is unable to perform a search beyond anything associated with a fingerprint.

What is a Commercial Background check?

A commercial background check is a service provided by private companies. Commercial background checks do not rely on fingerprints like LiveScan, instead these types of background checks normally rely on personal identifiers such as first and last name, date of birth, gender and other identifiers.

These types of background checks offer advantages over Live Scan such as: 

  • Identifying red flags that did not result in a fingerprint.
  • Identifying out of state red flags that were not reported to the California DOJ.

If your ministry is under the jurisdiction of AB-506, then commercial background checks do not meet the statutory requirements in California for your youth serving organization.

Application for California Ministries

Most California ministries are governed by AB-506 (if you’re not sure, watch our webinar on this subject where we explain the qualifiers). To meet the legal minimum, and also protect your congregation, we recommend the following procedures:

Meet the California Legal Minimum: Perform DOJ LiveScan checks on all regular volunteers and employees to comply with California AB-506.

Broaden your check beyond California: Add an FBI check to your LiveScan request to obtain additional national information not in the CA DOJ database.

Supplement your LiveScan process: For anyone who has moved to California in the last 7 years, we recommend adding a commercial national background check to the DOJ & FBI checks. This reduces the risk of LiveScan missing a red flag, and saves on cost by focusing on recent California migrants.


Your California ministry has a legal obligation to perform LiveScan fingerprint checks on all regular volunteers and employees, but additional background checks can provide valuable information to ensure the safety of your congregation.

By following the recommendations outlined in this article, your ministry can comply with state requirements while also obtaining a thorough and accurate national background check. For more information about California child safety legislation, watch our most recent webinar on California abuse prevention legislation.

Charlie Cutler

Charlie Cutler is the President of ChurchWest Insurance Services, a California-based agency that specializes in providing insurance solutions to churches and related ministries. Charlie has been with ChurchWest for over 20 years and has extensive experience in the insurance industry, with a particular focus on the unique risks and challenges facing Christian organizations. Charlie is a sought-after speaker and has presented at numerous conferences and seminars on insurance and risk management topics.

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