California's New Rules for Adult Volunteers in Youth Organizations

School is far from the only place young people can find enrichment. After-school groups, youth sports, and other activities are commonplace – so are adult volunteers in these youth organizations. Many of these groups are nonprofit organizations. Because of their limited finances, volunteers form a core part of their workforce. Such volunteers may be parents, young adults seeking experience, and others. Many see these volunteer organizations as a way to contribute to the community.

Across the country, this arrangement is typical and often works well for high school and younger kids. However, it does present risks. Headlines over the past decade reveal many troubling stories about abuse. Adult volunteers may exploit their authority and commit criminal acts. The harm such actions can cause to physical and mental health can be life-altering and even life-long for those affected. There is a pressing need to foster a safer environment. How is it possible to do so?

Some state law provisions may provide a good example. In 2022, new laws in California took effect that reshaped the process of selecting volunteers. Let’s review the new California law and how organizations can manage its impact.

The Impacts of California AB 506

Known during the legislative phase as AB 506, this law aims to protect children better. The goal is to create stronger guardrails to prevent volunteers from abusing children. The law originated from numerous high-profile cases of severe abuse in sports and other groups. Under the law, volunteer organizations must meet much stricter requirements than before. According to the legislation, a volunteer spends at least 32 hours per year or 16 hours per month supervising children.

The law requires employers to comply with the following:

  • A criminal background check is mandatory for everyone who volunteers, including family members, nonprofit employees, and administrators. A California fingerprint background check is the minimum screening required.
  • Mandatory training is required for employees, administrative staff, and volunteers. This training helps individuals recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect.
  • Training on the law and guidelines surrounding the mandatory reporting of all suspected child abuse.
  • Clear written policies defining how to report abuse.
  • No fewer than two mandatory reporters must supervise children.

An organization’s insurance agency may request information about compliance with the rules. The law's purpose is clear. First, background checks provide an excellent first line of defense. Anyone with prior abuse convictions is automatically disqualified. Second, mandatory reporting requirements reduce solo supervision of children. Third, better training ensures that staff spot warning signs sooner.

Modeling Volunteer Screening on California’s Rules

These mandates can provide a helpful template for youth organizations nationwide. Even where there may not be such legal requirements, stricter rules protect children. Smart hiring processes, including a background check, can help reduce the number of volunteers who could pose a risk.

Some states have similar requirements. Others leave due diligence mainly up to individual organizations, but going above and beyond may be prudent. It fosters a safer space and demonstrates an essential commitment to safety that may make a difference to some parents. Consider that implementing a written policy, as required in California, has two fundamental purposes. First, it provides clear guidance for volunteers and supervisors to protect children. Second, with clear guidelines, it is easier to hold those in charge accountable for failures and missteps.

Periodic re-screening of volunteers is advisable, too. Indeed, upon passing the new California law, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in California took a big step. It immediately required all volunteers to submit to a brand-new background check. The new screening was mandated even if they had already completed and passed one. This type of ongoing monitoring, like random drug screening, can help organizations uncover concerning evidence sooner rather than later.

Keeping Kids Safe

Youth organizations provide a critical pillar of support in society, opening doors to new opportunities and experiences for children. With the right policies in place, volunteer-run groups can improve the effectiveness of their work to foster a safe environment. Now is the time to step back, evaluate existing guidance, and invest in the future. Protecting public safety and children by screening adult volunteers in youth organizations is key.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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