Backlogs Plague Volunteer Background Checks in Illinois

By Michael Klazema on 9/23/2014

Recent legislation in Illinois is seeking to make background checks more commonplace among employees working with children and disabled people. However, thanks to reduced staffing, the state is struggling with a massive background check backlog, and the new background check requirements aren't helping. The backlog is negatively affecting volunteers, who are having to wait longer than anyone else for screenings to clear.

The issue is with the state's Department of Children and Family Services, which has been running on reduced staff as of late. The new background check legislation has lead to a massive influx of new individuals needing to be checked. Since the department can't get to every check in a timely fashion, they are prioritizing. However, it's not the employees affected by new state requirements that are being forced to wait; it's the volunteers who need checks to work with children.

With more employers running criminal and sex offender background checks on a greater number of their workers, the Department of Children and Family Services suddenly has too many checks to run, and not enough time to do them. Since volunteer background checks are not required by the state and are merely mandated on a case-by-case basis by the organizations filling volunteer slots, those checks are the ones getting the lowest priority.

While volunteer checks get pushed to the back of the line, statutorily required checks are taking precedent. Recent state legislation has required certain workers to be screened through the Department of Children and Family Services' "Child Abuse and Neglect Tracking System." Meanwhile, the department is responsible for some 40,000 annual checks on employees of the state's Human Services department's hecks that are also specifically mandated by state law.

Not that any types of checks are happening quickly. Even state required screenings generally take about four weeks to go through. But volunteers can wait months for their records to be checked via the Family Services department, and by the time that happens, the volunteer opportunities they are pursuing have likely expired.

The issue has been especially problematic given the fact that the school year just started. Now is the time of year when non-profit organizations like the YMCA and Big Brothers, Big Sisters really need volunteers, for help with after-school programs. However, because those organizations require background checks, it's becoming more difficult for them to find volunteers willing or able to wait months for a pending check to clear.

The problem isn't the new legislation, which is just seeking to protect children from abuse. However, if the state isn't able to handle the level of background checks required by the legislation, then it's actually having the opposite effect. Volunteers often spend just as much time with children as full-time employees do, and it is therefore just as important to clear them with background checks. The only answer, then, is to increase the funding and staffing for the Department of Children and Family Services. Only then will Illinois be able to handle all of the background checks it needs to handle.


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