Can sex offenders come to church in North Carolina?
The North Carolina laws placed upon registered sex offenders are often referred to as the most restrictive in the land. While other states differentiate between various sexual crimes against minors, North Carolina’s laws treat all the same. This means that a sexual offense that is considered lesser in severity in other states is regarded the same as the most heinous offense against a minor in North Carolina.
The laws place restrictions upon how many feet a sex offender may be within a place where children are cared for, such as schools, nurseries, museums and playgrounds. Some registered sex offenders may not be within 300 feet of locations where minors are supervised, even if they are public places like shopping centers. While the law has been amended so that it appears that some registered sex offenders may be able to legally come on church properties, there are still portions of the law that are not clear.
Adding another layer to this discussion are the differences that local law enforcement agencies hold in the application of these laws. Some law enforcement agencies do not wish to interrupt a worship service if a registered sex offender is present, but will address the manner at the conclusion of the service. Other law enforcement agencies have indicated that they will not hesitate to interrupt any event on church property to arrest a registered sex offender. Therefore, it is crucial for church leaders to contact their local law enforcement agencies to understand how the laws regarding sex offenders are being applied within their jurisdiction.
From Brotherhood Mutual
Sex Offenders: Should they be allowed to attend church?
How should sex offenders be addressed if they come to my church?
Church leaders are encouraged to contact their insurance company to make sure they understand how the liabilities of sex offenders on church property should be addressed through additional coverages and/or policies. In addition, the church’s insurance company should be able to assist with the development of appropriate policies that ministry leaders should follow as they engage registered sex offenders.
Engaging registered sex offenders in ministry and/or allowing sex offenders to participate in ministry will require the church to have safeguards in place for the church’s children.
How do we interview prospective volunteers who wish to work with children?
An important step in vetting prospective volunteers is to have a face-to-face interview. Through asking questions that elicit responses, the interviewer should be able to assess the suitability of the volunteer to serve in children’s or youth ministry. This is also a time to discuss questions or concerns involving incomplete application answers; patterns of behavior, such as frequent moves; gaps in life history or concerns from reference check responses.
The following is a suggested format for conducting interviews:
- Greeting and prayer
- Purpose of interview
- Questions of purpose:
Why do you want to serve in children’s or youth ministry?
Statement of belief/personal testimony: Are you a Christian and what does that mean to you?
Optional follow-up question: Do you have a practice of personal spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, Scripture reading, etc.?
- Additional questions:
Do you have an age preference for serving? If so, why?
What is your previous experience serving with children or youth? Provide what, when and where.
Ask what would you do in the following scenarios:
Witnessing grooming or abuse by other youth group members or adults serving children/youth
Review main policy points that are appropriate to position being sought:
Never be alone with a child or youth/follow the two-person rule
Appropriate touch and discipline befitting the age of children/youth
To whom to report suspicions of abuse both internally and legally
Check-in and release system
Requirement to prepare teaching materials before arriving to serve
Requirements and reasons for being on time to serve
Diapering and toileting restrictions, if appropriate to position desired
After-session communication limitations, if appropriate
Other points as needed to provide a safe church environment
- Find out the volunteer’s policy compliance:
Are there any areas of policy with which you disagree?
Are you willing to agree to abide by policies and procedures at all times even if you have a personal disagreement?
- End with a time for questions.
What do we do if an allegation of abuse occurs in our church?
Report Allegations Immediately
North Carolina is a must report state and there is no pastoral exemption. Any person receiving an allegation of abuse should report this within the first 24 hours to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Social Services Child Protective Services.
It is important to have the name, address and contact information of the person making the allegation so that the Department of Social Services (DSS) may investigate allegations. Any person making a report in good faith is immune from any civil or criminal liability that might otherwise be incurred.
Do not conduct internal investigation.
Allow professionals to conduct investigations to avoid damaging or influencing testimonies or evidence.
Set Up An Abuse Response Team
Develop and utilize an abuse response team that includes a media spokesperson and church leaders who can be trusted to maintain confidences of disclosure.
Offer caring responses and take allegations seriously. Add additional support by offering professional counseling, especially if alleged abuser is church staff or volunteer.
Document At Every Step
Document allegations and response of church at each step of investigation.
Remove Alleged Abuser from Service
If the alleged abuser is a church staff member or volunteer, remove accused from service until allegations are resolved. The church may decide to continue paying the staff member involved during the investigation, but they should not be allowed to serve with children or teens in any capacity.
Contact Your Insurance Agency
Contact the church’s insurance agency. Be proactive by checking that the church’s insurance policy has an additional rider that covers claims for sexual abuse.
What insurance agencies do you recommend?
While the list below is not exhaustive, those listed can offer some guidance regarding church liability and sex offenders as well as other safeguards that you will want to consider for the safety of your church.