Across the country, organizations and institutions that work with children face concerns about how to protect those in their care from potentially abusive individuals. Few parents would feel comfortable allowing their child to be alone in the presence of a person convicted of a violent felony, for example. In response to these growing concerns, both the U.S. Congress and several local communities have turned to background checks to conduct important due diligence, both as a liability shield and as a measure for peace of mind.
In a reauthorization of a major child development block grant, Congressional leaders included a provision mandating background checks for those working with young people. This included a requirement for checking the National Sex Offender Registry. The result was a flurry of new regulations and rules across the nation, particularly in Massachusetts, where Republican Governor Charlie Baker recently proposed new requirements that would exceed federal rules. Already, childcare workers and teachers in the state who may be left alone with children must pass a national criminal background search such as the US OneSEARCH report offered by backgroundchecks.com.
The reaction from state childcare workers was mixed. While some worry the checks will dissuade parents from volunteering or taking an active role in education, others were concerned the very nature of background checks would drive away qualified applicants due to the length of time the checks could take. Others harbored different concerns: in Newburyport, youth director Andrea Egmont claimed these efforts were being presented as a panacea when strong policies would be more effective at protecting children "in the moment."
In other areas of the nation, these background checks have not only received an enthusiastic embrace but have also been extended to positions that do not always involve working with children. In both Ross Township, Pennsylvania and Lynchburg, Virginia, members of school boards and related committees and those who wish to volunteer for any similar role will now face a background check requirement. Support in Lynchburg was unanimous, while Ross leadership took steps to ensure legal compliance before implementing the new rules. In both cases, little pushback occurred.
One thing is clear: background checks have a growing role in US school systems. Many educators, parents, and volunteers see the value and necessity of protecting the vulnerable from potential threats. However, it is also important that school districts and states avoid becoming overly reliant on background checks alone. As Andrea Egmont pointed out, these reports should not supplant policies for protecting students more directly.
A background check may turn up a volunteer's felony conviction from five years ago, but a report is not an indication of how a person may behave five years later. By pairing strong, protective policies with effective and reliable products such as backgroundcheck.com's state criminal history reports and reference verification services, educational institutions can protect the vulnerable and work towards a safer, more secure learning environment for all.
If you are interested why and how other volunteer organizations run background checks, you can download a free copy of our white paper about volunteer background checks