Creating a safe, loving environment is one of the foundations of what we do as God's people. Developing an atmosphere that protects our children is critical. We, as Christians, must be diligent about this task. The Western Pennsylvania Conference highly recommends that every church adopt and implement a Safe Sanctuary Policy and creates a Safe Sanctuary environment within the church facility and throughout its ministry.
Changes in Pennsylvania Law to Prevent Child Abuse
In 2014, some 23 pieces of legislation were signed into law in Pennsylvania to further protect children and youth from abuse. The new laws expand the categories of people considered “mandated reporters” of child abuse and provide for direct reporting to PA Childline. Others change requirements for background checks for both paid employees and volunteers working with children.
On July 1, 2015, Gov. Tom Wolf signed HB1276, which clarified who needs to get clearances and pushed back the date for volunteers to get the clearances. Those changes are reflected on this page.
It is important that church leaders update their policies, training and procedures to reflect the changes in state law. The following provisions affect churches:
All paid church staff members (beginning at age 14) are required to get three clearances:
- Pennsylvania Criminal History report from the Pennsylvania State Police ($10, drops to $8 on 7/25/2015);
- Certification from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services ($10, drops to $8 on 7/25/2015);
- Federal Criminal History report from the FBI, which includes submission of fingerprints to the Pennsylvania State Police ($27.50).
ALL volunteers age 18 and over who deal with children and youth are required to have clearances.
- If a volunteer has been a Pennsylvania resident for at least 10 years, he or she must have both the State Police criminal background check (Act 34) and the Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance (Childline, Act 33). Effective July 25, 2015, no fee will be charged for volunteers to receive these two clearances.
- If a volunteer has NOT been a PA resident for at least 10 years, they will also be required to obtain an FBI clearance. The cost of the FBI clearance is $27.50.
The only valid clearances are the PA State Police check, the PA Childline check (PA Child Abuse History) and the FBI clearance check. Christian Background Checks, Trak-1, and others do not meet the standards of the new law.
The same certifications are required every 60 months. Employees whose clearances are more than 60 months old must get new ones by Dec. 31, 2015. The Department of Health and Human Services has given a grace period allowing current volunteers until July 1, 2016 to comply with the background check provisions, either by obtaining clearances or updating clearances that are more than five years old. NEW volunteers should have their clearances by August 25, 2015 or prior to beginning work. For more information, see dpw.state.pa.us/cs/groups/webcontent/documents/document/C_135249.pdf
How to Obtain Clearances:
The Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance can be submitted and paid for online through the Child Welfare Information Solution (CWIS) self-service portal, compass.state.pa.us/cwis. Submitting an application online allows individual applicants to receive their results through an automated system that will notify the applicant once their results have been processed. Applicants will be able to view and print their results online. The self-service portal also provides the ability for organizations to create business accounts to prepay for child abuse clearances and have online access to the results.
For more information about the electronic submission of child abuse clearances or for information on obtaining the Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Record Check or Federal Bureau of Investigation Criminal Background Check, go to: dhs.state.pa.us/findaform/childabusehistoryclearanceforms/index.htm.
Follow these three links to be in compliance:
- State Police - https://epatch.state.pa.us/Home.jsp
- FBI (Cogent) - https://www.pa.cogentid.com/index_dpw.htm
- Child Abuse - https://www.compass.state.pa.us/cwis/public/home
The PA Department of Human Services’ Keep Kids Safe PA website has complete details, including a Q&A about mandated reporting of suspected child abuse.
To help train mandatory reporters, this flyer describes and provides a link to a FREE online three-hour course for mandatory reporters. Developed by University of Pittsburgh, the Department of Public Welfare, Office of Children, Youth and Families, the Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators, the course covers how to recognize and report suspected child abuse. Registration is required. Participants can then print out a certificate signifying their completion of the course.
Safe Sanctuaries Resources
The book Safe Sanctuaries, Reducing the Risk of Abuse in the Church and for Children and Youth by Joy Thornburg Melton is an excellent resource for learning more about Safe Sanctuaries.
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