As you implement and maintain the Responsible Ministry: Screening in Faith program in your parish, you’ll likely have questions about some of the processes. Here are some of the frequently asked questions about the screening process. If you have more questions, contact the Human Resources Manager at 416-363-6021 (1-800-668-8932).
Why should we screen volunteers, including our own parishioners?
We want our Church to be a clear symbol of the Kingdom of God – a safe and holy place for all. It’s the policy of the Diocese of Toronto that everyone who comes into contact with vulnerable people be screened in a manner appropriate to the ministry or job being undertaken. The aim of the policy is to make sure there’s a safe environment in all parishes, all diocesan ministries and all activities involving children, seniors, the vulnerable (physically, emotionally or spiritually) and those ministering in our church.
Who’s responsible for making sure screening is done?
It’s a shared responsibility between the churchwardens and incumbent, but they may designate a Screening Coordinator or have the people responsible for supervising the volunteer or staff person look after implementing and maintaining the program in their parish. A parish may choose to set up a screening committee for support and to track progress.
Who has to be screened?
Anyone who volunteers, is involved in a ministry activity or is an employee must be screened, but it’s important to determine if their ministry is low, medium or high risk. Each category has different screening standards that need to be followed. The standards for low-risk ministry positions are recommended, but the standards for medium- and high-risk positions must be followed.
Are there some positions that must be rated as high risk?
Yes. A high-risk position is one where there is trust and authority involving ministry to children and vulnerable adults and/or those in visible leadership roles. Also, the following are always ranked high risk: all clergy, including honorary assistants; churchwardens; organists and music directors; parish employees; and those involved in residential or off-site ministries with children or vulnerable adults.
What is our responsibility for making judgement calls?
Our obligation is to protect children and vulnerable adults – it’s better to be safe than sorry. If we offer a program, we must fulfill our “duty to care.”
What is our “Duty to Care”?
This is a legal concept that identifies the obligation of individuals and organizations to take reasonable measures to care for and protect people in their programs. Failure to meet the Duty of Care can result in an accusation of negligence.
How often should people be re-screened?
When there is a significant change in position, or the person begins a new ministry they should be re-screened for the new position. You should review all of your screening files at least once a year to make sure the documentation is up to date. The Sexual Misconduct Policy training and police record checks must be redone every three years. Your parish may also want to develop an electronic means of tracking the steps of the screening process using a Screening Steps Worksheet.
What if a person holds many positions in the parish?
Screen for the position that is rated at the highest risk level.
Which screening standards are transferable within the Diocese?
If you’ve completed Sexual Misconduct Policy training and a police record check within the last three years for a parish in the Diocese of Toronto, this can be transferred to any other parish in the Diocese. Please provide proof of completing these steps to the new parish. The other screening standards must be completed for the new position.
How do we screen those who are appointed through an election?
If the position is assessed as high or medium risk, the individual must be screened before the election decision can be ratified. When possible, address the screening requirement with nominees before the election to avoid confusion or embarrassment.
How do I respond to someone who doesn’t want to participate in the screening requirements?
Be upfront with people – before they’re elected, hired or begin the ministry, tell them what screening requirements are involved. For employees, include the screening requirements in the employment agreement. Assure individuals that the screening risk level is not about them, but about the position they’re involved in. Assure them that every precaution is taken to balance their privacy with the need to protect the vulnerable in our community.
If an individual doesn’t want to participate in the screening requirements, encourage them to offer their gifts in a lower risk ministry position. You can’t have individuals serve in medium- and high-risk positions if they haven’t been screened.
Are the clergy and churchwardens of the parish liable if there is an offence in the parish?
The churchwardens form the corporation and can be sued. The clergy, as supervisor can be sued. The Diocese, because of vicarious liability, can also be sued. However, the Diocese and parish carry insurance for such exposures (Directors and Officers Liability Insurance). It’s still morally imperative that we do all we can to prevent such occurrences.
Are we covered when other people or groups use our church buildings?
The church is assumed to be a safe place even when used by others. Outside groups must have a signed licence agreement and proof of insurance approved by Synod Council.
What happens when parishioners become friends?
An important role of the church is to build communities of friendship that reveal Christ’s love. Unfortunately, sexual offenders try to form relationships to serve their own purposes and harm the vulnerable. It’s important to inform the incumbent and be sensitive to responsible boundaries in any relationship of trust.
Does the person being screened have access to their file?
Yes. All files should be kept at the parish with restricted access, but you can share an individual file with the person it pertains to.
How do we screen those under 18 years old?
Only those who are at least 18 years old can serve in high-risk ministry positions, because only adults can obtain a police record check. For leaders under 18 years old, the parish should implement appropriate procedures to reduce the risk level of the ministry. A detailed ministry description, references and an interview will also help screen youth.
Should we screen everyone as high risk? Are there ways to reduce the risk level of the position?
No, it’s much easier, and ultimately safer, to reduce the risks associated with any ministry than to apply a higher level of screening. Step 4 of the Screening Standards is to reduce the risk for potential harm. This can be accomplished by changing:
- the size of a group being ministered to
- the number of leaders required (work in teams)
- the location and viability of the ministry (use open, public spaces)
- the level of supervision
- the degree of authority associated with the position
- the physical nature of the space (install windows in doors, security locks, and have adequate lighting for safety inside and out)
What resources are available for our parish to hold a Sexual Misconduct Policy training workshop?
To help your parish with the training, you can use the following resources separately or together:
- Parish Workshop (Red) Kit
- Sexual Misconduct in our Churches: Learn to Spot it, Learn to Stop It training video available from the Anglican Church of Canada’s Vimeo channel
- Sexual Misconduct Policy Training Case Studies training video available on the diocesan YouTube channel
- Case Studies Discussion Guide
- Sample PowerPoint presentation
Police record check questions
For questions about police record checks, see the Police Record Check page.