Background checks are particularly important in schools, where they function as the most prominent safeguard for keeping child abusers, sex offenders, and other predators away from children. But what about people who make, distribute, and possess child pornography? These are predators who can often go undetected for many years, and whose background checks can come back clean as a result. And yet these individuals pose a huge threat, especially because many of them seek out jobs with schools or daycare centers for a chance to have closer contact with children.
Such was the case recently in Anchorage, Alaska, where an elementary school teaching assistant was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography. The teaching assistant, a male whose age has not been disclosed, was caught with child pornography in an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The United States Attorney's Office is handling his prosecution.
The teaching assistant, an employee at Huffman Elementary School in Huffman, was of course subjected to a background check prior to his hire date. The Anchorage School District, to which Huffman Elementary belongs, has a policy in place that requires every single district employee to undergo background checks. The district says that there were no indications in the arrested employee's history to indicate that he might be a predator. The good news is that the teaching assistant evidently did not harm or create pornographic images of any students. There was also no pornography on his school computer, suggesting that he confined his illegal habit to his residence.
Still, this case begs the question of what educational districts and youth-serving organizations can do to keep individuals like this outside the walls and away from children. Criminal and sex offender background checks are the norm now, but once again, many of the people who trade and possess child pornography have never been convicted of a crime.
As a result, these individuals often go undetected for long periods of time. Sometimes, they are arrested before they actively harm a child; other times, their indiscretions don't become evident until their interest in child pornography turns into something more obvious, like sexual assault, rape, misconduct, or abuse. Fortunately, the case in Anchorage falls into the former category. Unfortunately, there are others that won't.
There isn't much more that background checks alone can do. Pre-hiring screenings are doing their job and flagging people who have been convicted of wrongdoing in the past and were forced to register. However, many schools don't do regular repeat checks, which could be used to help hold teachers and other employees more accountable for their actions. Or perhaps what needs to be changed is the interview process, where tougher questions and body language observation could help flag applicants who have ulterior motives for wanting to work with children.