Youth Groups Need Policies Beyond Local Background Checks to Protect Kids

By Michael Klazema on 7/10/2013

Two former coaches of Duluth Salvation Army youth groups have been charged with sexual assault in the past 13 months, a situation which has left many local parents wondering how to best protect their kids from potential predators.

Most local youth groups use criminal background checks to screen coaches, pastors, mentors, and various volunteers who work with kids in their programs. However, as a representative of the First Witness Child Advocacy Center in Duluth points out, sometimes these background checks only cover the state or local areas. Naturally this is not sufficient to detect all criminal behavior that took place in the past in places where the individual might have lived, worked or travelled.

Employers would do better to supplement traditional local county searches with a nationally focused criminal background check tool such as the US OneSEARCH from This product enables employers to search an individual’s name and date of birth against a database of over 450 million records collected from state and local sources around the country. It also includes a check of the offender registries in all states. The US OneSEARCH delivers almost instant results, which would help youth groups properly vet even last-minute staff.


Identifying potential predators before they commit any crimes is virtually impossible, according to David Nolle, Scout Executive and CEO of the Voyageurs Area Council. Experts have advised him that there is no reliable profile for a child abuser. Fortunately, youth groups can help reduce the risk of an incident of child molestation or abuse occurring on their watch by adopting policies that will prevent predators from having any opportunities to be alone with kids. For example, The First Witness Child Advocacy Center in Duluth recommends that all youth groups adopt a policy forbidding adults from spending time one-on-one with kids, on or off the clock. So, for example, a mentor could not have a tutoring session with a child in a private room or give that child a ride home afterwards.

The Voyageurs Area Council employs a similar “barriers to abuse” policy which prevents an adult from soloing with youth. Nolle also said that kids in his organization’s youth groups are taught to watch out for abusers and protect themselves using the three R’s: recognize that any adult could be an abuser, resist any inappropriate advances, and report abuse to another adult.

Running a background check is just part of a youth organization’s responsibility to the local community that they serve. It prevents them from unwittingly exposing kids to a known child abuser or person unsuitable to work with minors due to past criminal behavior such as violent crimesor drug related offenses. However, no background check can predict the future, especially when individuals have no prior history of criminal activity. That’s when smart policies and education are needed.


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