Ever since the Child Protective Services Law went into effect in Pennsylvania, schools and other youth-serving organizations have been worried about the unintended consequences of requiring background checks for volunteers. The law mandates that all volunteers who have contact with children must undergo state criminal history and child abuse checks, as well as FBI fingerprinting. The worry has been that the background checks would serve as something of a barrier for entry for volunteers, and would keep parents from getting involved at school or in other aspects of their kids' lives.
This week, Pennsylvania has been taking steps to solve that problem. First, the State House of Representatives has begun considering changes in the wording of the bill to clarify exactly what types of volunteers need the background checks. Now, Governor Tom Wolf is going one step further by actually waiving the background check fee for all volunteers who work with children. Before, the child abuse clearances and criminal background checks' combined cost was about $20 per person. Now, with Wolf's announcement, volunteers working with children won't have to pay a dime to get those checks done. Other individuals applying for the checks, meanwhile, like people who actually work with kids for the purposes of their full-time jobs, will see the cost of these checks drop slightly, as well.
Wolf's reasoning for the change was that there was concern about the cost of the background checks, particularly for volunteers, who obviously can't make that money back. By waiving the background check fee, Pennsylvania's government will probably make it easier for schools to find field trip chaperones, classroom helpers and other volunteers. Getting the checks done will still be inconvenient for parent volunteers, but at least they will be free. At least, they will be mostly free. The FBI checks, which are required for individuals who have lived outside of Pennsylvania at any point in the past 10 years, will still cost $27.50 per person.
In addition to waiving the background check fee for youth-serving volunteers, Governor Wolf also shared some statistics about the Child Protective Services Law. Since the legislation went into effect, Wolf says that Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services has received 512,853 applications for child abuse clearances. Of those, only eight applicants were flagged with histories of child abuse.
While these stats might make it look like these background checks aren't necessary, after all, the checks themselves only stopped eight people out of a half-a-million-person applicant pool. However, what the stats actually prove is that the safeguards put in place by the Child Protective Services Law have been quite effective at keeping predators and abusers far, far away from jobs or volunteer positions involving children. Now, with volunteers able to get background checks done without having to pay for them, the law should be able to work even more effectively, with fewer unintended consequences.