Protecting Your Organization From Potential Offenders
All youth-serving organizations (YSOs) want to identify employees and volunteers who are safe to be around children, and screen out those who might cause harm. Yet sometimes, individuals who have harmed or may harm children are screened and hired—and use the opportunity to abuse again. This can happen for a number of reasons. A basic screening may not uncover prior abuse, and comprehensive screening and background checks can’t guarantee that someone will not harm children if given the opportunity.
The Screening Toolbox
There’s no “one size fits all” approach to screening and selecting employees and volunteers. Regardless, Safe Kids Thrive recommends a basic level of screening and background checks for all YSOs—each one part of a comprehensive process with multiple components informing an individual’s suitability to be with children.
The Screening Toolbox below identifies the elements of a comprehensive screening and hiring process:
- Written application and Statement of Suitability
- Personal Interview
- Internet Search – Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
- Observation of the applicant
- Reference checks
- Assessment of home environment (in cases where the organization’s services are partly or wholly provided in the applicant’s home)
- National and state criminal history check (can include fingerprinting)
- National and state sex offender registry check
- Child abuse registry check
- Professional credentials and disciplinary records check
- Driving records check if the position includes the responsibility to transport children and youth
- Check applicants against internal records
How an Offender Could Target Your YSO
Most YSOs undertake some form of screening (application, interview, and reference checks), to ensure candidates have the basic skills and judgment to care for children and pose no safety threat. Some organizations screen further because of statutory mandates, accreditation or licensing requirements, the nature of services provided, or required unmonitored interactions with minor children. These additional screening steps can include fingerprinting, local and national checks of criminal history and sexual offense records, professional credential checks, and driving record checks if the position requires transporting children.
Background checks aren’t foolproof. Because most child sexual abuse cases are not reported to the authorities, not every offender has a criminal record or has a criminal record that includes sexual offenses. In many instances, such as school settings, suspected offenders have been allowed to resign—sometimes with letters of recommendation—and are not reported to the authorities. These offenders can later apply to a new school district, be hired with a clean record, and use the opportunity to re-offend.
In other cases, offenders do have a criminal history that is not checked as part of a routine screening and hiring process. Smaller organizations and private, single-owner businesses that serve children may not conduct a check of criminal history as part of the hiring process because the perceived risk to children is too low—or they don’t have the knowledge or means to do so.
Screening How-To in 3 Steps
Step 1: Basic Required Screening
- Written application with a signed Statement of Suitability
- Reference checks (2-3) with phone contact
- Comprehensive personal interview
- Consider routine check of publicly available criminal and sexual abuse history
Step 2: Assessing Risk that Could Trigger Additional Screening Requirements
- Do Massachusetts and Federal laws identify additional requirements?
- What is the nature of the contact between the employee/volunteer and the child(ren)/youth?
- What is the duration and frequency of the contact?
- In what physical locations will the contact take place?
- Is the contact monitored, supervised,or unsupervised?
- What are the ages and vulnerabilities of the children and youth being served?
- What other adults will be in the same area?
- What is the potential for the employee/volunteer to be alone with the child(ren)/youth and unseen?
Step 3: Use Additional Screening Measures as Needed
- Check state and national criminal and child sexual abuse records. Ranges from information that is publicly available to comprehensive check of all available state and national (fingerprint-driven) criminal and child sexual abuse records
- Confirm education and professional licensing/certification credentials
- Check professional disciplinary board records
- Check license and motor vehicle (violation) records if the position requires transporting children
- Observation, home visit