When children suffer from physical or sexual abuse, they face one of the most difficult paths to recovery because they are a typically voiceless population. Even an abused child's parents may not have access to the resources they need to provide the right level of support.
Helping an abused child recover requires mental health support, may call for medical support, and often needs someone to advocate for their well-being and the pursuit of justice. This is especially true when abuse comes from inside a family, as it does all too often—conducting pediatric forensics is a delicate and challenging process that requires specialist help.
Child advocacy centers often step in to fill this role, providing aid to families where formal support structures often don't exist. However, the non-profit nature of these agencies in many states means that they often fill their ranks with volunteers and temporary workers—making criminal background checks a critical part of the hiring process. No advocate wants to place a potential child abuser in a position to exploit those already vulnerable and suffering.
In New York, a new state law aims to make it simpler for such advocacy organizations to screen out potentially problematic individuals. Signed into law late in 2022, the new provision modifies state law to expand the scope of childcare background checks for such advocates. Those agencies may now access a restricted set of state registries that record instances of child abuse and maltreatment.
Because such instances may not meet strict criminal code definitions for prosecution, abusers can fly under the radar by producing a clean background check for employment. However, New York records known instances of abuse and maltreatment in a separate non-criminal database. Advocacy organizations previously did not meet the definition laid out in state law as a requirement for accessing these systems.
The new law changes that and ensures that advocates can capably staff their organizations to provide essential services without additional concerns about hiring possible bad actors. The law also stipulates that such agencies must conform to the state's requirements for handling cases involving severe levels of physical or sexual abuse of a child.
Due diligence is often thought of as a step employers take to protect themselves against claims of negligent hiring or to safeguard the company's assets. However, in many cases, proper vetting is about much more—it becomes about protecting the vulnerable. This is true not just for child advocacy organizations but for schools, youth sports organizations, and even those who care for the elderly—nursing homes, in-home health aides, and all others must undergo strict screening to protect those in their care.
As New York expands options for protecting children through better background checks, advocacy and childcare organizations nationwide should take note. Though these special registries don't exist in every state, the opportunity to conduct a thorough background check does—and it's a tool you shouldn't leave on the table.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments