Answer: If a church is sued for a case of child molestation that occurred during an off-site, overnight activity, the fact that the parents of the victim signed a parental consent form allowing their child to attend the event would be of little, if any, evidentiary value in a lawsuit.
Parental consent forms, in general, should be retained until a minor child reaches age 18 PLUS the applicable statute of limitations for personal injury claims under state law. In your question, you also say your church also conducts background checks and gives training classes. This work is important, and it most likely involves the collection of numerous forms and records about the volunteer workers. I’m often asked about how long a church should keep such records. There is no legal requirement pertaining to the retention of these forms.
But, in the event your church is sued for a case of child molestation by a youth worker, you are definitely going to want to prove that you exercised due diligence in the screening of that worker prior to using him or her in the church’s youth ministry. The best way to do this is with application forms and references. Keep in mind that the statute of limitations for child abuse claims can last for decades, and so the “best practice” is to keep these forms, as well as your liability insurance policies, permanently. Imagine being sued today for an alleged incident of child abuse occurring 25 years ago? How are you going to rebut a claim of negligent selection if you cannot establish what you did to vet the perpetrator?
As a member church you are entitled to discounted and/or subsidized background checking services and child abuse prevention resources through the Insurance Board’s relationship with Praesidium, the national leader in abuse risk management.
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