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Appointing Volunteers in the Church

The advice given by the Children’s Workforce Development Council in 2009 to organisations that appoint volunteers to work with children and young people, is that their recruitment processes should be as rigorous as they would be were they appointing paid staff.

This can seem somewhat artificial in the context of a local Baptist church where most of the time churches are appointing volunteers who are already members of the church or congregation. Churches will seek volunteers from within a limited pool of people and those people will normally be well known to them. In addition, not all churches will put out an open request for volunteers; they will often identify people to approach to undertake particular roles. The ‘personal approach’ can often be a more effective way of attracting the right volunteers for positions.

It is perfectly acceptable for procedures to be more informal for churches than it would be for those organisations which are seeking volunteers from the general public. However, this informality can make churches particularly vulnerable. Informality should not be confused with being casual about the importance of safeguarding children and young people.

The following elements should always be part of any recruitment process for volunteers: These elements are outlined in greater detail here with an explanation of why they are important in the context of safeguarding.

Each church should set out clearly in its procedures what process should be followed when the church is looking for a new volunteer for its children’s or young people’s work. The detail of this will depend on the size of the church and the number of appointments that need to be made. The church’s procedures should state:
  • Who is responsible for finding a new volunteer for a post? In other words, who can start the process?

    • The leader of that group?

    • The church’s co-ordinating committee for children’s and/or youth work?

    • The deacons?

  • Who is responsible for drawing up the role description?

  • How will the church go about letting people know of the need for new volunteers?

    • A notice on the Sunday news-sheet or on the church notice board?

    • An announcement in the church meeting?

    • Or will personal approaches be made to suitable people?  If so, who is responsible for identifying who should be approached?

  • Who will administer the application forms?

  • Who are application forms available from?

  • Who are application forms to be returned to?

  • Who will conduct the interview?

  • What questions are to be used in the interview?

  • Who makes the appointment decision?

  • Does the appointment need to be formally approved by or reported to the trustees and/or the church meeting?

  • Who is responsible for taking up references?

  • Who is responsible for obtaining the DBS Disclosure?

  • Who is responsible for the induction programme and the training in the church’s Safeguarding Children Policy?

  • Who will carry out the review of the appointment at the end of the probationary period?

Not all of these roles need to be undertaken by the Designated Person for Safeguarding or the Safeguarding Trustee/Deacon.

The procedures should make it clear that a leader should not be involved in the appointment decision involving a close family member.

Writing a Role Description

A role description should include:
  • the aims of the group or organisation the person will be working for

  • a summary of the responsibilities to be taken on

  • the time commitment anticipated (including, setting up, clearing up, preparation during the week, leaders meeting, training)

  • who the person is accountable to

  • who the person is responsible for

  • where appropriate a statement that the person appointed will be required to apply for an Enhanced DBS Disclosure

  • a statement that the person appointed will be expected to work within the policy and procedures of the church’s Safeguarding Children Policy

  • a statement that the person will be required to attend church Safeguarding Training

A clear role description is important for safeguarding children for the following reasons:
  • research has shown that children are better safeguarded in organisations where those who are working with children and young people have clearly defined responsibilities and roles

  • volunteers are given confidence that the church takes its work with children and young people seriously when they are given a clear role, knowing to whom they are accountable and for whom they are responsible

  • the role description will enable the church to determine whether the position comes into the definition of a ‘regulated position’.

A clear role description enables the church to think through who is suitable for a role, rather than just take on anybody. The role description should be given to any candidate for a position before they complete an application form.

Complete an Application Form

Every candidate for a position working with children and young people in the church should be expected to complete an application form. It is important that the church adopts a policy which treats all candidates in the same way, however well they are known.

The application form should request the following information:
  • a full history of work with children and young people, whether paid or voluntary, with dates

  • a full history of church involvement (current and previous), with dates

  • reasons why the candidate wishes to work with children and young people

  • a statement of the gifts and qualities the candidate thinks they would bring to the role

  • a signed declaration that there is nothing in the candidate’s past that would call into question their suitability to work with children and young people

  • names and contact details of two referees

The form should also include:
  • a statement about the church’s safeguarding policy and the need to apply for an Enhanced DBS Disclosure and the candidate’s consent to this.

The application form is important for safeguarding purposes because:
  • it reinforces the value that the church places on work with children and the seriousness with which the church takes the appointment of workers

  • it gives a clear signal to any who are intent on abusing the trust placed in them that the church is vigilant about the safety and protection of children and young people

  • it provides important information about a candidate’s history of work with children and young people and their motivation. This information can be followed up in the face to face interview. If, for example, someone has moved from church to church, each time getting involved in children’s and young people’s work for only a relatively short time, this is an issue that should be taken up in the interview. Large gaps in the history may prompt questions about the person’s background.

Click here for a model application form.

Interview Candidates

A face-to-face interview should be held with each person who is appointed to work with children and young people.

The interview should be conducted by at least two people. Neither of those interviewing should be closely related to the candidate. The interview will inevitably be more informal than an interview for paid employment. However the conversation should be structured and should help you to decide whether or not the person is suitable to work with children and young people, and whether the candidate has the gifts to work in the particular role and co-operate well with the other leaders of the group.

The interview should explore the following:
  • the candidate’s gifts and abilities and their motivation for working with children and young people

  • the candidate’s past experience of working with children and young people

  • their experience with the particular age group they will be working with

  • their reasons for moving on from previous work with children and young people

  • anything in the application form (their employment record, gaps in their history, their church involvement etc) that gives rise to question or concern

  • their awareness of the importance of safeguarding policies and practice

  • whether or not the candidate has ever been suspected of harming children or young people in any context or had children removed from their care

The interview should also provide the opportunity
  • to assess any training and support needs the candidate may have

  • to allow the candidate to ask any questions they may have about the work

The interview is important for safeguarding reasons because:
  • it reinforces the value that the church places on work with children and young people and the seriousness with which the church takes the appointment of workers

  • it gives an insight into the candidate’s motivation for working with children and young people

  • it enables you to explore with the candidate their past experience of working with children and young people which may reveal indicators of concern

Remember that the interview should be conducted with more than safeguarding matters in mind. It should principally be about discerning the mind of Christ with the candidate to determine whether or not they are called and equipped by God for the task of ministry with children and young people.

Take up References

At least two references should be taken up before any candidate is appointed to work with children or young people. It is important that the references should be as relevant as possible for someone applying for such a position of trust.

The following guidelines should be followed when seeking references:
  • At least one of these references should be from outside your church or organisation.

  • The referees must not be relatives or related by marriage

  • The referees must be over 18

  • At least one of the referees should be able to talk about the person’s ability to work with children and young people (and if possible with the particular age group with which they will be working). This may be because they know them as a baby sitter or because they have seen them with children or young people.

  • If the person concerned is currently working with children, young people or vulnerable adults, or has done so in the past, then a reference should come from the employer or organisation concerned.

  • If the applicant has come to you from another church within the relatively recent past, always ask that church for a reference.

Do not be afraid to talk to referees when you have read their reference – it will help you to understand better what they have said and may clarify any ambiguity in the reference.
Case study

A church took up references for one of its workers – these were all provided by apparently unrelated people. What had not been checked was whether the referees, who all had different surnames, were in fact related to the applicant by marriage or as blood relatives who had themselves married and thereby changed their names. This was later revealed when allegations of child abuse came to light in another context.

Download a model letter requesting a reference and a model reference form.

Taking up references is important for safeguarding children and young people as it helps a church to establish a more rounded picture of the candidate’s suitability to work with children and young people.

Check the Candidate's Criminal Record

The criminal records check should only form one element of a robust recruitment process. However, churches should avail themselves of whatever measures are provided to check the criminal background of those to be appointed to work with children and young people and whether a person has been barred from working with children and young people by the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) (from now on this will be termed ‘barred status’).

Click here for guidance on applying for a DBS Disclosure through the Churches’ Agency for Safeguarding.

At the time of publication the criminal records regime has been reviewed by the government and new legislation is passing through parliament. Churches should ensure that they are following current best practice by referring to ‘Latest News’ section of this website.

The review may have a number of implications for churches:
  • it may become a legal duty to check the criminal record and the barred status of some workers in regulated activity

  • there may be some restrictions on the roles for which it is permissible to request an Enhanced DBS Disclosure and to check their barred status

  • it is anticipated that procedures will be introduced that will enable DBS Disclosures to be up-dated and ‘portable’ between different employers

Until the new legislation has been introduced, churches should continue to follow current best practice, which means requiring all workers to apply for an Enhanced DBS Disclosure and renewing those disclosures at least every five years (some organisations recommend every three years).

Agreement to Work Within Safeguarding Procedures

On appointment, every candidate should receive a full copy of the church’s safeguarding policy and procedures, and should sign an undertaking to work at all times within the terms of the policy and procedures and to attend relevant training sessions.

This practice reinforces the seriousness with which the church takes its commitment to the safeguarding of children and young people. This agreement can be part of a written statement of the arrangement between the volunteer and the church. Download a model statement of a volunteer arrangement.
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