Volunteer background checks are becoming more and more common for youth sports coaches. The latest area to join the trend is the unincorporated community of Hanover, Maryland, where a County School Board member recently vowed to propose a new policy that would require in-depth background checks for local volunteer coaches.
Currently, volunteer coaches working for the Hanover County School District are only subject to the slightest of background investigation. Their names are checked against sex offender registries before they are allowed to work with kids. However, neither criminal history nor are any other varieties of screening are required.
According to a recent report from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Hanover County currently has about 400 paid coaches, as well as an unknown number of volunteer coaches. Some volunteer coaches receive stipends for their services, since practices and competitions can add up to 25 or 30 hours a week. However, even the coaches getting stipends are not, at this juncture, required to go through criminal background checks.
Not that the lack of background checks is exactly a headline item in Hanover. One coach interviewed by the Times-Dispatch said he thought that he had undergone a background check before he started volunteering. He continued by saying that all individuals working with kids should go through criminal and sex offender checks whether they are full-time employees, part-time employees or unpaid volunteers.
The School Board member planning to propose a new background check policy for volunteer coaches also said he didn't know about the current oversights until recently. At a September School Board meeting, hiring processes were discussed for various district positions. It was then that the lack of background checks for volunteer coaches became apparent.
It goes without saying that volunteer coaches should be subject to criminal background checks. While sex offender checks do help to keep out predators, there are other dangers out there. Without criminal checks, violent offenders, child abusers, drug dealers, and other shady individuals could feasibly make it through the screening process and become coaches.
If the aforementioned School Board member has his way, Hanover will join the growing number of school districts that require more in-depth checks for volunteer coaches. It is not yet clear precisely what these additional checks would entail, or how much they would cost. It is also unclear if the district would shoulder the cost of the checks, or if the volunteers would be expected to do so.
Such questions will have to be answered, before a new policy can be implemented to protect children. It is likely that the policy, whatever it is, won't have the full support of all volunteers. Some, like the man interviewed by the Time-Dispatch will be happy that their kids are better protected. Others, though, will probably feel as if their trustworthiness is being questioned, or that their privacy is being compromised. Meanwhile, if volunteers are expected to pay for the assessments, the policy will have even more opponents. These trends have been proven in other areas that have implemented new volunteer coach background check policies. Even with cost and inconvenience considered, though, pursuing additional checks for volunteer coaches is the right choice. Kids in sports spend a lot of time with these coaches, much of it unsupervised. Criminal and sex offender checks are a necessary precaution for the protection of these students.