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Archdiocese adds new check to protect children in its care

From September 2002:

The Archdiocese of St. Louis is adding a safeguard to its Policies, Procedures and Guide-lines on Child Abuse.

The safeguard will involve checking a statewide database of registered sex offenders that is listed county by county. In addition to this safeguard, the archdiocese is seeking legislation which would ensure that the Missouri State Highway Patrol background checks include a check for persons who are registered sex offenders.

All archdiocesan employees and volunteers working with children must undergo a records check for prior history of child abuse in the State of Missouri. Schools, parishes and agencies are sent forms to be completed and returned to the Highway Patrol to facilitate a name search for each employee, volunteer or third-party employee, such as a bus driver or latch-key worker.

The name search service provides access to open records of convictions, charges pending and arrests less than 30 days old. The records come from the Missouri Criminal Record Repository and the Central Registry of the Missouri Division of Family Services.

Recently, school officials learned from an investigation by KMOV, Channel 4, reporter Anne Steffens that two parishes each employed individuals who are registered sex offenders. Neither offender is still employed by the parishes and neither engaged in improper behavior at their parishes.

The names of the two employees were listed among the names of persons who are required to register as sex offenders with their county of residence as part of Megan's Law passed in the 1990s. The Highway Patrol did not list the individuals as sex offenders because it is not permitted under present law to list those who pled guilty but received suspended sentences.

George Henry, superintendent of schools, recently wrote about the matter to parish pastors, principals and directors and coordinators of religious education. "Until legislation is adopted authorizing the Highway Patrol to include the registered sex offenders lists in their name search, we are recommending that parishes check the Megan's Law lists for counties in which employees or volunteers who work with children reside" to see if the names are on the list, he noted.

The Catholic Education Office is in the process of obtaining the sex-offenders list from the counties and will forward the information to parishes.

The current screenings will continue along with the new safeguard, he added.

The archdiocese has had policies in effect for many years in order to protect the children in its care. Workshop sessions also have been held on the matter for parishes, schools and agencies. Alan Winkelmann, associate superintendent for elementary education, has discussed the need to remain "vigilant and cautious, to make sure our children are safe."

The original policies developed in 1990 have been modified at least twice and are under constant review.

The name searches are done on all new employees and biennially on all employees.

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