Church Requires Children and Youth Leaders in California to Undergo Background Checks and Fingerprinting

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Youth leaders in California must comply with a new law requiring fingerprinting and background checks.

Last year, the legislature of California passed AB506, which puts in place stringent requirements for adults working or volunteering with a youth organization. The law took effect on January 1, 2022.

The law stipulates the following:

  • 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.
  • An administrator, employee, or regular volunteer of a youth service organization shall undergo a background check pursuant to Section 11105.3 of the Penal Code to identify and exclude any persons with a history of child abuse.
  • A youth service organization shall develop and implement child abuse prevention policies and procedures, including, but not limited to, both of the following::
    • Policies to ensure the reporting of suspected incidents of child abuse to persons or entities outside of the organization, including the reporting required pursuant to Section 11165.9 of the Penal Code.
      Policies requiring, to the greatest extent possible, the presence of at least two mandated reporters whenever administrators, employees, or volunteers are in contact with, or supervising, children
  • Before writing liability insurance for a youth service organization in this state, an insurer may request information demonstrating compliance with this section from the youth service organization as a part of the insurer’s loss control program.
  • For purposes of this section:
    • “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.
    • “Youth service organization” means an organization that employs or utilizes the services of persons who, due to their relationship with the organization, are mandated reporters pursuant to paragraph (7) of subdivision (a) of Section 11165.7 of the Penal Code.

In response, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sent an email to leaders in the Golden State requiring them to submit to a background check and fingerprinting, regardless of whether or not they have already done so in the past. The letter, obtained from a Reddit user, states:

Dear [Redacted] Stake Brother and Sisters,

A new California law (AB 506) requires all Church volunteers who work with youth or children for at least 32 hours a year to undergo a fingerprinting and criminal background check (LiveScan). Those who have received fingerprinting and background checks with other organizations previously still need to repeat the process for the church to be able to ensure and document compliance. This can be done at any LiveScan service provider.

For your convenience, we have arranged for three on-site events with a mobile service prodiver. For these events, tehre is no need to pay up front and apply for reimbursement – the stake will be billed directly. Here is the schedule:

[redacted]

Please bring two filled out copies of the attached request form, we will also have blanks available for backup if needed. Please also bring a government-issued photo ID – drivers license, California ID card, or passport.

Background check information will not be visible to any ward or stake leaders. The only visibility that will be provided is whetehr a member has been cleared to serve in a calling requiring the background check.

The callings requiring background checks are:

  • Stake presidencies, bishoprics and branch presidencies
  • Stake and ward primary leaders and workers
  • Stake and ward Young Men and Young Women leaders, advisors, instructors, and camp directors
  • Seminary teachers and secretaries (including their substitutes)
  • Any other person who may work with youth or children for 32 hours in a year.

For members currently in the identified callings, please get the background check done as quickly as possible. We welcome others interested to also participate so that they will be prepared when receiving a calling working with youth in or children in the future.

Thank you for your continued service to the Lord. Please let your ward leaders know if you have any questions.

The user provided the unredacted letter in full, which contain specific information on dates, times, and location to do the fingerprinting and background investigation. The letter also included a hyperlink to a Google Sheets signup page that was clearly run by the stake in question.

States have been permitted to establish a criminal record registry and require background checks for youth programs since the 1993 passage of the National Child Protection Act.

Child abuse training has been available—and required—for Church leaders for a number of years, with recertification required ever three years. The training focuses on preventing and reporting abuse. Background checks and fingerprints represent a new level of requirements for leadership, flagging Church records of individuals who would be ineligible to serve in certain callings based on California’s law. 

Per California’s penal code, the background check would appear to apply only to those with a criminal record with the California Department of Justice, and the scope of the investigation will not cross state lines. 

Other states have implemented similar background check requirements in recent years. New Hampshire requires anyone working with youth programs to pass a criminal background check. Pennsylvania requires anyone working with students at private and public schools to obtain background checks.

Conversely, some states have opted against such bills, typically citing cost and the additional hassle potentially discouraging individuals from volunteering with an organization. The test in California costs $49 plus a $30 confirmation fee. As the letter above notes, the stake in question will absorb that cost, which could easily top $10,000 per stake, assuming roughly 20 people per ward who need background investigations across 7 wards per stake. The Newsroom reports 147 stakes across the state.

The Church has not indicated which courses of action leaders should pursue if a member currently holding a youth- or children-focused calling fails a background check.

Some will decry the new law as government overreach. Others will praise California for requiring the Church to do what they feel it should have been doing all along. Regardless, after opening up youth interviews to parents and implementing training programs, this is another step the saints in California will undertake to protect those who cannot protect themselves – voluntarily or not.

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