Why Churches Need Live Scan

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Charlie Cutler

Table of Contents

For California churches and youth serving organizations, AB-506 is the standard of care when it comes to child safety. The new state requirements are a major shift from traditional child safety tools, especially background checks.

In this article, we’ll explain why California churches must make the shift to Live Scan. We’ll also address some of the criticisms of the new process, and explain the supplemental role that online background checks still play in a child safety plan.

What is Live Scan?

Live Scan is an electronic fingerprinting system that is operated by the California Dept of Justice. Unlike traditional background check tools, Live Scan relies on a biological identifier to quickly and accurately obtain criminal background check history.

Live Scan is one of the three major pillars of AB-506 requirements in California. These major requirements include:

– Live Scan background checks on all employees and volunteers.

– Mandated reporter training for all employees and volunteers.

– Child safety policies and procedures that adhere to AB-506.

For a full list of the requirements, check out our Ultimate Guide to AB-506.

Live Scan vs online background checks – what’s the difference?

Regardless of the method, the effectiveness of a background check relies on the vendor’s or government agency’s ability to identify individuals and their criminal histories. Look at it this way – if they don’t know who you are, how are they supposed to check your background?

Live Scan solves this problem through its innovative electronic fingerprinting system. This not only is extremely effective at identifying individuals, it is also far more efficient than the old ink based approach.

Background check vendors can’t access the same fingerprint information, and therefore rely on other forms of identification. This personal identifying information could include social security numbers, birth dates and drivers license numbers, etc.

What does the law require?

AB-506 requires Live Scan. That’s it.

If your California church is impacted by AB-506 (you most likely are), then the only way to now meet the standard of care is through fingerprint background checks.

What are the criticisms of AB-506?

We won’t sugarcoat it. There are some major issues with AB-506 and Live Scan when compared to traditional background check options.

  • Not every crime results in a fingerprint. Live Scan only reports on crimes that resulted in a fingerprint. Any other crimes or offenses are not recorded by the DOJ criminal database.
  • It’s limited to California. The California DOJ records are limited to California offenses. You can include the FBI check for more national information, but crimes recorded by other states will not be reported in a Live Scan.
  • It’s costly and time consuming. It takes time to set up Live Scan and traditional online background checks were much simpler and cheaper to access. Live Scan introduces many more costs and complications, including a lengthy application process and the costs of fingerprinting services.

But here’s the thing – these issues do not change the law. California churches are mandated by law to use fingerprint background checks on employees and regular volunteers. Despite the challenges, there is only one path to compliance.

Why we love AB-506.

Despite the challenges, we think there are two major reasons to love AB-506:

There is now a standard of care.

For the first time, churches now know exactly what is expected of them when implementing child safety measures. While it is more work, churches now have a clear path forward on how to protect the vulnerable and maintain compliance.

Live Scan avoids delays in California.

Across California, there are major delays with commercial background checks. This is because of a recent court decision, All of Us or None vs Hamrick.

The Hamrick case has resulted in certain California courts no longer publishing personal identifying  information on court records.

This decision weakened the online background check industry in California. After Hamrick, commercial vendors can no longer use dates of birth or driver license numbers to identify court records. This has created huge headaches for background check vendors resulting in huge delays, if not total halts, when processing screening requests.

That said, the Church is very fortunate.

Because of AB-506, churches now have access to the DOJ criminal database. This is a privilege that most other companies in California do not enjoy.

With Live Scan, churches can bypass much of the frustration that most other employers are facing right now. Had this law not passed, churches would be in a difficult spot right now.

When should I use an online background check?

Your ministry should only use online background checks if you have already implemented Live Scan for your employees and regular volunteers.

Remember: online background checks are now an optional supplement, not the legal requirement.

Here are some scenarios where it may make sense to pay for an online background check on top of your Live Scan costs:

  • An employee recently moved to California, and you want to perform a national search beyond the CA DOJ database.
  • An employee will be working in California temporarily and you need to check beyond California records.
  • You want to access records beyond those that resulted in a fingerprint for the most comprehensive check possible.

Final thoughts.

We respect the legacy of commercial background check vendors and the great contributions they’ve made in the past to child safety. There are still scenarios where online background checks are a great risk management tool.

However, the only path to AB-506 compliance is through Live Scan. Despite any challenges, churches must do what is legally required.

Ready to register for Live Scan? Make sure to download our guide to the Live Scan Registration Process.

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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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