Ohio 4-H Volunteers Will Have to Undergo Background Checks under New Policy

By Michael Klazema on 3/5/2015

4-H volunteers and other volunteers with the Ohio State University Extension program will soon be required to undergo background checks under new university regulations. 4-H, of course, is a nationwide program devoted to developing youth leadership, life skills, and more. The youth organization is operated by the United States Department of Agriculture, and often involves working with livestock, produce, and more. Adult volunteers include farmers, gardeners, and parents, among others.

The fact that Ohio State University is requiring its various 4-H extension programs to run background checks of volunteers is a good idea. With 4-H, youths often spend a good deal of time with their adult mentors. And since much of that time is one-on-one or unsupervised, a volunteer wishing to do harm to a child or teenager would have ample opportunity to do so. Just as background checks for teachers seek to prevent violence or inappropriate behavior against minors, these 4-H background checks will help to keep the youth organization safer and more secure in Ohio.

Still, even though the background checks are undoubtedly a necessary step, some volunteers in Ohio are bound to be frustrated with the new requirement. That's because the Ohio State University Extension program won't be paying for the checks, which generally run from $28 to $35 per person. That's not a terribly high cost, but it could be enough to defer a few adults from volunteering for 4-H. After all, volunteering for the program can be a substantial time commitment, and there is no pay involved. One OSU Extension county director isn't too worried about background checks causing a loss of volunteers. In most cases, 4-H volunteers are parents of the kids in the program. They volunteer for a chance to spend more time with their kids, and stop volunteering when their kids leave the program. A $25 or $30 fee is unlikely to change that trend, for most parents, that's a reasonable fee to spend more time with their children.

If there's likely to be a sticking point for 4-H volunteers, it will be the training that goes along with the background checks. In addition to being fingerprinted and having their criminal histories checked, 4-H volunteers in Ohio will now be required to participate in an annual training program. The class teaches volunteers how to recognize children who have been victims of abuse or neglect. In essence, it's a second layer of defense for the 4-H program. The background checks will (hopefully) make sure that there are no abusers within the program, while the class will help to flag kids who are being abused outside of the program.


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