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California Baptists preparing for state’s new child protection measures

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FRESNO (BP) – A recently-enacted California state law that requires additional levels of abuse prevention training and implementation complements Southern Baptists’ resolve to care for children, one state convention leader said. And, it provides a window into the future for other states.

Assembly Bill 506, passed last fall and now part of the California Business & Professions Code, mandates additional levels of training, background checks and policies from churches. The California Southern Baptist Convention  is hosting a webinar Thursday to discuss the changes.

Due to the bill, churches are for the first time included in the category “Youth Services Organizations” that appears under the Business & Professions Code.

“New California laws relating to protecting youth have made your job challenging as you work to comply with the new requirements of AB 506,” wrote California Southern Baptist Convention Executive Director Pete Ramirez in an announcement to leaders. “This training resource will help you to better understand the law, and what it takes to implement updated practices in your church.”

Those resources include:

  • An overview of the requirements
  • A model child protection policy that meets the new California guidelines
  • Guidance on state-required background checks
  • Complimentary ministry-specific training as it relates to the new law.

Ralph Neighbour III leads the California convention's Church Revitalization Team, which includes church compliance. The law goes to a new level among states, he said, and thereby gives churches the structure to protect children at a level not seen before.

“Up to now, churches have been governed by legal judgments, not by law,” he said. “So, we’re following the law and making sure ministries have the all the resources to comply with the requirements of AB 506.

“We’re appreciative that we have specifics on requirements for each ministry.”

Child abuse prevention advocates did not oppose the bill in comments to Baptist Press earlier this year. Confusion stemmed, however, from churches’ inclusion in the new category and what that would entail.

For example, a new requirement for fingerprinting via Live Scan required churches to become an “Applicant Agency” with the state and submit fingerprints with the California Department of Justice. Additional background checks are encouraged to include those from out of state.

A panel of experts will appear in the webinar to further address the impact of the law as well as implementation and enforcement procedures for churches. Robert Brockman, “one of California’s most experienced attorneys in handling abuse cases involving ministries,” according to the convention's announcement, will join them.

“[AB 506] has raised many questions among our clients. I’m sure the webinar will answer the bulk of those questions,” Brockman told Baptist Press.

“Protection of children is always a core value of our clients. We view AB 506 as an effort to clarify and codify the standard of care of all youth service organizations, including those provided by religious groups. It ensures appropriate background checks are conducted, training of personnel is provided and adequate supervision of youth occurs.”

Implementation challenges aside, Neighbour sees the new law as an opportunity for churches to grow in their Gospel call toward child abuse prevention and reporting.

“Where we are as a state and national convention, we should be receiving this with open arms,” he said.

The three-pronged advance toward abuse prevention will require a greater level of training among employees and youth workers in churches, he said. 

The second point, background checks, can be bolstered by additional ones to cover those outside the California Department of Justice’s parameters. Such a step is recommended by the California Southern Baptist convention, Neighbour said, and in the long run will be very cost-effective.

Policies and procedures, the third point, will also need to be re-assessed. For instance, AB 506 requires two screened and trained adults to be present for any adult activity. The CSBC is providing additional legal assistance for churches with further questions.

Neighbour urged Baptist leaders from other states to either watch the webinar tomorrow or return to view it on the resource page.

“Leaders from around the country need to be tuning in to this because it’s coming their way,” he said. “When something happens here, other states usually take note.

“Those around the country will need to prepare for the future.”

California

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