University in Pennsylvania Reportedly Failed to Run Background Checks on Youth Camp Workers

By Michael Klazema on 4/20/2015

Like many colleges and universities throughout the country, East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania operates a number of different youth-focused camps during the summer months. According to a recent report from the Pennsylvania Auditor General, though, the school may have overlooked a key step in putting on these summer camps: background checks for adult supervisors or counselors.

Recently, Pennsylvania has been cracking down on background checks for those whose jobs or volunteer positions involve frequent contact with kids or teenagers. The Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University a few years ago has, in many ways, completely altered the landscape of child safety laws in the state. As a result, background checks for employees or volunteers that work with kids have gotten much more thorough and in depth across the board. Those changes have gone into effect as of New Year's Eve 2014.

The Auditor General report for East Stroudsburg University, though, covers the dates from a few years before the new child abuse prevention laws were passed. The audit looked at documents pertaining to the university's operation from July 2011 through June 2013. Specifically, the Auditor General was looking at youth camps and other campus events that involved or incorporated minors.

The report included findings concerning 79 camps, as well as 150 other events that university grounds or facilities. Many of these events were not actually operated by the university itself, but by external organizations. The Auditor General said that the adults supervising these camps or events did not undergo the proper criminal or child abuse background checks before being allowed to work with children. He cited these oversights as "troubling," and blamed the university for the lapses in policy—even though external organizations were often the ones not running the necessary checks.

Evidently, the university implemented a policy in February 2014 that is more in compliance with state laws. The new policy requires all external organizations to run criminal background checks and obtain child abuse clearances on their workers before using campus grounds or buildings. Spokespeople with East Stroudsburg University also said that the school is in the process of reviewing and updating background check policies once more, following the implementation of new child protection laws late last year.

East Stroudsburg University is not the only institution of higher education that Pennsylvania's Auditor General has flagged. The University of Pittsburgh, Clarion University, and several others have also been accused of having inadequate policies on the books to keep youths safe. The findings of these audits display a trend, where external organizations using college campuses for youth camps or events are not being held accountable for screening their own workers or volunteers.

The accountability instead is falling upon university officials, who are being expected to monitor these external organizations and make sure that all background checks have been operated. It's a convoluted system, and one that has unsurprisingly resulted in more than a few background checks falling through the cracks. Maybe the universities just needed a wake-up call, one that the Auditor General is working hard to provide. More likely, though, the system in place is just flawed. After all, why should the universities shoulder all the blame for these background check oversights when they aren't the one hiring workers or actually putting on the camps or events? It's possible that the state of Pennsylvania would see better compliance if they held both the universities and the external organizations accountable for running background checks.


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