Screening Guidelines: Preventing Access in a Camp Setting

Safeguarding the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of children, youth, and vulnerable adults may be one of the most important responsibilities of any camp organization.

The issue of abuse, particularly sexual abuse, is not an easy topic to discuss. But by acknowledging its existence and developing plans for preventing it, camps can take an important step toward protecting their campers.

Part of your overall protection plan should include background screening. Robust screening policies are essential for minimizing the risk of a sexual predator gaining access to children, youth, and vulnerable adults—its importance cannot be overstated. Simply put, screen everyone who will have contact with your campers. It’s a privilege to teach your values—pay close attention to those you’re entrusting with your campers, biblical message, and reputation.

Screen Camp Counselors and Staff

Carefully screening all staff members before allowing them to work in your camp is one of the best first steps to protecting campers.

Typically, screening involves following these four key elements: 

1. Require a written application. Your application should ask for:

  • Personal information, like name, address, phone number, and driver’s license number if driving is involved (including watercraft).
  • Background information, like criminal convictions or guilty/no contest pleas (other than minor traffic offenses)*, commission or allegation of abuse/sexual misconduct, prior ministry membership, prior work or service involving children or youth, residence history, employment history, and education.
  • References, both personal and professional.
  • Verification and release necessary for a references and background check, signed by the applicant.


2. Check references. The best references come from places where the applicant has worked with children and youth. Character references also are important. Ensure that the applicant signs a release before the reference check is conducted. The release should enable you to interview anyone you believe can provide valuable information about the applicant, even if those individuals are not listed on the application. Make sure you check at least two references, including churches or camps where the applicant has worked.

3. Perform background checks for staff. Criminal records checks have become common elements in employee hiring. Regardless of the position, all employees should undergo a background check as a part of your policy. To provide a safe environment, you also should conduct a criminal background check for volunteers who will have access to campers. A criminal records check, while very important, is only one of the recommended screening tools—most sexual predators have no criminal history and would not show up on a background check.

From a risk management perspective, it is good for religious organizations to renew their criminal background checks for non-seasonal staff and volunteers at least every three to five years and annually for seasonal staff. 

4. Conduct personal interviews. Information learned through the application, references, and background check may help you develop questions and discussion points for the personal interview with the applicant.* Interviews may be conducted by one or more employees or pastoral staff.

Use the interview to gain further information on topics that arose out of the application, reference checks, and background check. It also is an opportunity to address any inconsistencies in responses or information gathered. During the interview, watch for evasive answers or questions as answers. These are signs of defensive behavior and could indicate deception.

Screen Everyone, Regardless of Position—No Exceptions

Screen all employees, volunteers, and anyone involved with your campers. This can turn away potential wrongdoers and show that your organization has taken reasonable care to safeguard the children, youth, and vulnerable adults in its care.

When starting a screening program, you should screen all existing workers, not just new ones. This provides a level playing field. Also, new workers might object less to background screening if they know that everyone is treated equally.

Screening Provider Options

Screening is a duty that only should be delegated to sources you can verify did the work. Once your camp has an account with a screening provider, it takes only seconds to type in the name and Social Security number of each person you want screened. Most background check results are available in two to three business days. Some database searches provide immediate results.

Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, you must have a person’s written permission to perform a background check. If you use information from the background check to deny someone, the law may require you to provide adverse action notification. A screening provider can help you comply with this law. 

Many background screening providers offer different screening options, to make it easier for Christian ministries to customize their screening programs based on their unique needs. When it comes to background screening, be sure to choose a reputable provider. Brotherhood Mutual feels confident working with these companies.

If you decide to use a vendor to perform background checks, ask the vendor if the service includes checking names against the National Sex Offender Public Registry. 

Your Diligence Can Prevent Abuse

Can worker screening protect a camp from every instance of child sexual abuse? No. A potential offender can hide in plain sight, often appearing to be a trustworthy individual.

By implementing a screening program, you can significantly decrease the likelihood that misconduct will occur. It also will demonstrate that your organization has acted with reasonable care to select appropriate workers. In the unfortunate event that sexual abuse or other crimes do occur in a camp or camp setting, organizations with a robust and well-followed screening program will be in a better position to defend themselves in court—and protect their reputations— than those who have not.

Related article: Safely Ministering to Youth in a Camp Setting

*Some states do not allow inquiries into criminal history to be conducted on employment applicants until either an interview has been conducted or a conditional offer of employment has been made. Check with a local attorney to ensure your policies follow state and local laws.

The information in this publication is intended to help ministry leaders better understand issues of child abuse and assist them in developing a child protection program for their camp ministries. No portion of this publication should be used without prior legal review, revision, and approval by an attorney licensed to practice law in your state. Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company® assumes no liability for reliance upon the information provided in this publication.