Much of the advice about keeping records for an indefinite period originates from insurance companies policies. The reason behind this is that many allegations of abuse are of an ‘historic’ nature. It can be years after an alleged incident that an adult makes a police statement. A church can be asked for information about something that may have occurred ten, twenty, or even thirty years previously. Any records from that time could be helpful to a police/children’s services investigation. This information could also be helpful to the church if legal action were then pursued on the grounds of negligence.
There is no time limitation on the investigation and prosecution of criminal matters. For a civil claim any action will generally have to be brought within three years of the alleged incident and where a child is concerned, by the age of 21 (i.e. within three years of becoming an adult). Having said this, courts can and do waive this requirement, in recent cases by as much as 30 years! The possibility of a negligence claim can never be ruled out, and it follows that any records maintained by the church could be an important part of a defence. In particular records need to be kept concerning any allegation of abuse and the action that was taken by the workers involved. It will be helpful to retain old copies of the church’s child protection policy because producing such a document could be evidence of good intentions, even if it might have fallen short in practice. The more information on record that a church has about the child protection process, training, details about workers etc, in existence at the time, the more helpful this will be for all those involved. It is important not to try to cover up inadequacies. If a church is found to be culpable then the due process of law must run its course, but in exercising good sense child protection and complying with insurance policies, this offers the best protection for both a child and the church/organisation involved.