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Mission Trips + Background Checks: What You Need to Know

As you ramp up for your summer-trip season and scramble to recruit adult leaders who can serve as chaperones, counselors, and guides, it’s prime time to remember a few imperatives:

1. There is no “perfect” criminal records search that provides every court record.

The National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, is the United States’ central database for tracking criminal records. Maintained by the FBI, the NCIC contains records only if they are digitally uploaded at the time of arrest, from the originating court. Often these records do not include the disposition of the case, so you may not know if the person received a conviction of the crime. The NCIC is not public information, so third-party providers are unable to search this file. So, any background check conducted, by any provider, will only be from the propriety sources the vendor has collected from jurisdictions and courts that give access to their records. This explains why a search may not surface a known criminal record.

2. Criminal records originate, and are most accurate, at the local court level.

Criminal records originate at the local courts (municipality/city or county), who update the court records as the case proceeds. The local courts then “report up” by sending their court records to the state. This process is optional and the frequency of their reports and updates varies by jurisdiction.

3. No background check is 100 percent accurate.

Girl is drilling into a piece of wood. The text reads "Go to serve. Come home as friends of God. Lifetree Adventures Youth Mission Experiences. Learn more and book now."While no screening option will have access to every court record, there are also inaccuracies that exist in the data. First, offenders may have their records expunged if they comply with the terms of their sentencing. Second, fallible people enter data, which means mistakes happen. Third, the process requires entering and updating the information. A breach can occur at any of these steps. Finally, false positives occur due to identify theft, spelling errors, name changes, and so on. That’s why the best and most accurate records are local court records.

4. Most criminal databases don’t include juvenile records.

Many advise running the same criminal records search on minors as you do on adults, but most courts seal juvenile records. When ordering a background check on a juvenile, the results often return as “Sealed by the court” or “No offenses found.” However, juveniles registered as sex offenders often appear in a sex offender registry search. Most database searches do, however, include records for juveniles tried as adults.

5. Criminal record searches are part of a total screening process.

Due diligence mandates that you perform background checks for employees and volunteers who work with “vulnerable” populations (children, youth, elderly, and so on). Historically, 7 percent of all non-profit volunteers and staff have a discoverable criminal record, with over 560,000 registered sex offenders. Only an estimated 3 to 4 percent of sex offenders have criminal backgrounds, meaning most never get caught. So a comprehensive screening process should include a background check, interview, application information, and reference checking.

For ongoing leadership positions in your ministry, plan a six-month waiting period before placing someone new in a position with youth and enforce a two-adult rule at all times.

(For more information on background checks, and to explore using Group’s own service called Shepherd’s Watch, head to

Looking to make a difference in a community, and in the life of your students? Check out Group’s Lifetree Adventures mission trips! Click here for more information, or you can call us at 800-385-4545. We’d love to talk!

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Mission Trips + Background Checks: Wh...

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