A long-term decrease in those willing to serve as volunteers has been sensed in many churches. Two areas are of particular concern:
- Leaders: deacons, elders, trustees, directors; and
- Youth and children’s teachers
While the causes of this decline are manifold, some legal steps may reduce the hesitancy of some church members to volunteer because of increased, or perceived increase of litigation against volunteers.
Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting for Child and Youth Volunteers— The legal standards protecting volunteers in these areas remain high, usually gross negligence or deliberate indifference. However, I sense some volunteers do not want even the small risk that some of Child and Family Services (DCFS) worker or a disgruntled parent decides to sue, or worse yet, file a criminal complaint because the volunteer either failed to report suspected abuse or inflicted abuse on a minor.
Churches generally have liability insurance to protect the institution, but what about the first and second-grade Sunday school teacher? To buttress the legal protection of volunteers, a church can: n
- Give assurance of church protection. Adopt an indemnity provision whereby the church will, with limitations, pay for the legal defense, not just of church officers, but also of volunteers.
- Give assurance of insurance company protection. Most churches now maintain “officers and directors” liability insurance to cover their governing board. The church should ask the insurance company to extend that coverage to all volunteers and explicitly to cover liability for failure to report suspected child abuse.
Of course, the church should provide training to volunteers on when to report suspected abuse (insert or line link), but if prospective volunteers fear the risk, there will be no one to teach God’s Word, much less train others in making disciples.