Background Check FAQs

Below are answers to frequently asked questions concerning Safe Sanctuaries background checks. While the below information may be more broadly applicable, it primarily pertains to the standard  criminal and motor vehicle background checks processed by ESS as part of the default screening package set up for branch accounts set up by local churches and ministries that are connected to the North Alabama Conference's primary account.

If you have questions about background and credit checks conducted as part of candidacy or Ministerial Integrity Training, please contact the Office of Ordained Ministry.  For questions concerning additional checks which may be added to a branch account, please contact ESS. For any other questions not answered here, please email

General Background Check Questions


Q: What is included in the standard background check available through new branch accounts?

A: In accordance with the Conference Safe Sanctuaries Policy, the standard background check set up by default on new branch accounts includes a package of three checks at a rate negotiated by the Conference:

  • Social Security Trace/Identity Verification  which searches a commercial database that compares the provided Social Security Number against basic credit information and public records data. The report, along with the national/multi-jurisdictional check, may locate possible alternative names or addresses associated with the SSN for the purpose of identifying those jurisdictions in which to conduct further research. Note that this search is not conducted through the Social Security Administration and thus has limitations on how it can be used for employment and/or identity verification purposes.
  • State of Alabama Criminal Check which returns information concerning felony and misdemeanor convictions and pending cases that originate in county courts and are reported into the state repository. 
  • National/Multi-Jurisdictional Check which conducts a by-name search  for felony and misdemeanor convictions as well as currently registered sex offenders. If needed, results may be followed up with additional searches at the state or county level.

In addition to these checks, churches can request a package that includes these checks as well as an MVR (motor vehicle report) check that provides information concerning driving-related violations. Additional checks, such as credit checks, reference checks, education and licensure verification, and other services may be requested directly from ESS, though these are not subject to Conference-negotiated pricing.

For more details concerning these checks, see additional information available from ESS.


Q: Why does my authorization include financial information and databases? Is this a credit check?

A: While individual churches can request the option to conduct a credit check in addition to the standard criminal checks described above, it is not part of the standard package or the requirements for Safe Sanctuaries. However, the identity verification (which verifies that the name and Social Security number listed on the authorization match) utilizes financial databases, which falls under the broad heading of financial information. 


Q: Is there any way to limit the scope of the background check, either the sources or types of information?

A: No, there is not. Because of the range of services provided by ESS, it would be impractical to develop a custom release for every possible combination of checks, particularly since additional checks at the state or county level may be required after the national/multi-jurisdictional check is completed. The authorization is designed to include both the initial check and these additional checks without requiring further authorization and thus delaying the process.

Additionally, because ESS utilizes a variety of subcontractors, databases, and other sources to conduct checks, the authorization covers these additional entities (which, as with the additional state/county-level checks, may not be known at the initiation of the check). 

It should be noted that, in nearly all cases, the additional checks listed on the authorization require additional information from the applicant before they may be conducted. That information is only collected if those checks are specifically added to the branch account and requested. Without a specific request, the additional checks cannot be conducted regardless of the authorization.


Q: I recently completed a background check through my employer. Can I use that instead of completing a new one through the church?

A: No. In many cases, background checks conducted through employers do not meet the recency requirements of Safe Sanctuaries, and may not include the full range of checks required under the Conference policy. Even if the employer background check does meet Safe Sanctuaries requirements, conducting its own background check is part of the church or ministry's responsibility to provide due diligence in the screening of staff and volunteers who will work with minors and vulnerable adults. 


Q: May I use a background check processed through my local church if I am volunteering for a Conference event?

A: Yes, as long as it has been completed within the last 3 years. If you receive a background check request in connection with a Conference event or program, and have recently completed one, please contact the person who requested the check for further instructions.


Q: May the results of my background check run for a Conference event or program, or run by another local church or ministry, be used for my local church?

A: No, background check results from local churches and ministries can be accessed by the Conference, but not by other local churches or ministries. Likewise, background check results from the Conference cannot be shared with local churches or ministries. 


Q: I work for a government contractor or agency and have restrictions on my personal information being stored in third-party systems. What should I do?

A: Contact the church or ministry that requested the background check. In most cases, the security group at your employer or agency can provide sufficient documentation of your background investigation to satisfy Safe Sanctuaries requirements. Churches and ministries with questions should contact or call (205) 226-7963.


Q: May I use a free background check available through my county DHR or sheriff's office instead of paying for one through ESS?

A: Generally, no. While background checks available through DHR and law enforcement can be a useful supplement to commercially available ones, in most cases they will not include all of the checks (particularly from other jurisdictions) required for Safe Sanctuaries. 


Q: Why do Safe Sanctuaries background checks not require fingerprinting?

A: Based on extensive research and consideration in the development of the Conference Safe Sanctuaries policy, it was determined that the value of fingerprint-based background checks is not worth the additional cost and hassle of collecting them. Except in particularly unusual circumstances, the Social Security trace provides sufficient identity verification that does not require the additional step of fingerprinting.

Background Check Administration Questions

Q: How do I add or remove users from my branch account?

A: To add users to your branch account, please email with the user's name, email address, and requested access level. Please note that this request must come from either the email address of clergy currently appointed to the church, or an administrator currently listed on the branch account.

To remove a user, please contact ESS.


Q: We ran background checks under the Conference account before setting up a branch account. May we move them under the branch account?

A: Yes. Just email with the names of the applicants and  dates of the checks. Note that this may take at least a week to process depending on the number of checks being moved and the information available to identify the checks.


Q: We ran a background check under the Conference account but never received the results. What should we do?

A: In general, it is strongly preferred that individual churches and ministries set up a branch account, which provides a number of benefits that streamline the background check process. If you did process a check using the Conference account, the results will be sent to the email address listed on the consent form. If you have not received results within 21 days of submitting the request either online or by mail, please follow the instructions for "Requesting Copies of Checks Processed Using the Conference Account" here.


Q: May we use a background check provider other than ESS?

A: Yes, you are free to use any recognized background check provider you choose. However, any provider used must meet the requirements set forth in the Conference Safe Sanctuaries policy (including future changes which will automatically be reflected in the checks run using ESS branch accounts); results cannot be shared with other Conference entities; and the Conference is unable to provide support for background checks run using other providers.

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