The Ultimate Guide for Churches and AB-506

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Charlie Cutler

President of ChurchWest Insurance Services

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*Important Note: California has passed additional legislation since AB-506 that adds additional requirements and provisions for mandated reporting in youth serving organizations. Please check out our most recent webinar where we discuss these issues in depth.

On the heels of many sexual abuse tragedies, the State of California has passed AB-506 to address child safety in youth serving organizations. California churches are now subject to mandated reporting legislation that includes mandatory reporter training, Live Scan Background Checks and required policies and procedures. This guide will walk you through the requirements, frequently asked questions and available resources to put your ministry on the road to compliance.

Additional Resources

How do we comply with AB-506?

Getting your ministry compliant with AB-506 requires essentially 3 steps: background checks, training and implementing a child safety plan.

Live Scan Background Checks

To comply with California legal minimum requirements, all regular volunteers and ALL employees of youth-serving organizations must undergo a DOJ Live Scan background check. While other forms of background checks rely on personal identifiers such as date of birth or a social security number, Live Scan technology is based on your finger print.

A “Regular Volunteer” means 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. 

To request a Live Scan, your church or ministry must register with the DOJ as a requesting agency. Your ministry will be assigned an Originated Requesting (Agency) Identifier, or ORI number, which allows your ministry to request Live Scan background checks through the California DOJ. Whether the CA DOJ, FBI or both are alerted by your Live Scan request depends upon how you submit each individual request form after receiving your ORI.

While the DOJ check meets the legally required minimum, we at ChurchWest recommend additional checks, including: 

  • An FBI check to obtain additional national information.
  • A commercial background check on anyone who has moved to California in the last 7 years.

While the state required minimum is a good first step, these additional checks are good risk management practices to ensure the safety of your youth.

The first step for Live Scan is to register with the DOJ as an authorized applicant agency. After that, you’ll most likely need the BCIA 8016 (Live Scan request form) anytime you send an employee or an applicant to get fingerprinted. For more guidance, check out our guide to filling out a BCIA 8016 request.

Mandated Reporter Training

Your next step to complying with AB-506 is to provide mandated reporter training to ALL of your employees and all regular volunteers (see the above). 

There are options available for this training which include: 

Free Training Through the State: Free training is available through the State of CA website, mandatedreporterca.com. To complete the training, it requires that:

  • Non-ministerial employees must complete the 4 hours of General Training.
  • Ministerial employees (clergy) must complete the 4 hours of General Training, followed by the 2 hours of clergy training, equaling 6 hours total.
  • Volunteers must complete the 2 hours of “Volunteer” training also available through the state website.

You will need to make sure those completing the training print their certificate of completion after the training is done, because that certificate can not be accessed once the module closed.

Faith Based Training: While the State provided training is the cheaper option, many ministries have found it valuable to use a specialized vendor for AB-506 compliant training.

Here are ChurchWest, we highly recommend your ministry check out our friends at ChurchHRNetwork. There’s a few reasons we recommend their training over the state’s:

  1. The training from CHRN is specific to the context of ministry, unlike the secular training offered by the state.
  2. The training for employees and volunteers is only 90 minutes, compared to the 6 hours / 2 hours offered by the state.
  3. Subscribers to CHRN can access an administrator portal where you can save completion certificates, and monitor which employees or volunteers have yet to complete required training.

Click here to learn more about what ChurchHRNetwork has to offer.

Updated Policies and Procedures

On top of background checks and training, AB-506 also requires your church to implement policies and procedures to prevent and report abuse. This includes creating and implementing new policies, such as background check policies, supervision policies, and reporting policies.

We recommend downloading our sample model child protection policy to get started, and reviewing your final child safety plan with your HR or Legal professional. 

What are the biggest challenges for ministries to comply with these new requirements?

  1. 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.
  2. 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,
  3. Previously created online training, online background check services, and guidance from insurance companies no longer meet the new requirements in California.
  4. New policies will need to be created and implemented.
  5. 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

No. This law was passed on September 16th, 2021, and is effective January 1, 2022. 

If you have youth present at your church and sponsor any activity that involves the supervision of youth, you are a youth serving organization. Thus you are subject to AB-506.

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’.

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’.

Schools are subject to different requirements that may be found in Assembly Bill 1432.

Schools are subject to different requirements that may be found in Assembly Bill 1207.

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.

This is a very nuanced subject. For a full discussion on this topic, grab some popcorn and watch our Clergy Privilege webinar

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.

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’.

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.’

Anyone under the age of 18. 

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.

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.

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.

While AB506 does not specify that the two adults must be unrelated, it is a best practice that they are unrelated.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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