New Pennsylvania Background Check Rules Create System Backlog

By Michael Klazema on 3/22/2015

Ever since the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal from a few years ago, officials in Pennsylvania had been working toward passing laws that would help to prevent anything similar from occurring in the future. Among other things, the laws were supposed to increase background check regulations for volunteers working closely with children. Now that those laws are actually in effect, Pennsylvanian volunteers are complaining that it's taking longer than ever to get their background checks done through the state.

The checks in question are being run by Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services. Sure, the department has always been responsible for running these types of state background checks. However, the new state laws meant to protect children have had a few unintended consequences, including a massive increase in workload for the Department of Human Services. A year ago, a volunteer coach with a little league association might have waited 14 days for their background check to be processed, completed, and returned. Now, the same little league coach has to wait an extra week, at least. Indeed, the average wait time for Department of Human Services background checks right now is 22 days.

There's an upside and downside to this news. The upside is that the increase in workload shows that the new laws are working. By implementing new legislation, the state of Pennsylvania has obliged many volunteers who would have otherwise flown under the radar to submit for background checks. And if more volunteers are going through the proper checks, that means fewer sex offenders or child abusers helping out in the classroom or on the baseball field. The downside, of course, is that prospective volunteers have to wait a very long time before they are cleared to work with kids. When it comes to time-sensitive situations, like youth sports seasons, for instance, some volunteers may just find themselves out of luck.

Obviously, a three or four-week turnaround time for background checks is simply not fair to Pennsylvania volunteers. The Department of Human Services knows this, and is working hard to speed things up. Already, the department has hired a number of new staff members and reduced the wait time for background check processing. Earlier this year, it was taking 26 days to process background checks, rather than the current 22. That's still a long way off the old 14-day wait time, which is also what is required by law. In pursuit of that number, the Department of Human Services will be upgrading their computer systems in order to process checks more quickly. Things should also speed up as the new hires become more accustomed to their work. In the meantime, how many volunteers will be left unable to work with kids, simply because their state background checks won't process fast enough? And why didn't the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services consider that there would be a massive influx of new background check requests when the state was passing these new laws?


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