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Screening and Hiring Practices

One of the most effective means of preventing child abuse in organizations is screening out potential abusers before they come to the school, or other youth serving organization. All employees, faculty, staff, volunteers and other members of the community whose potential employment or volunteer service activity involves direct and unmonitored contact with children (including individuals who are contracted to regularly provide transportation to children) should be given thorough reference and background checks including the review of criminal and (in some cases) sexual offender records.

The term “background check” is a generic term that can mean different things to different people. Massachusetts law 52 requires “all schools to conduct criminal background checks on current and prospective employees and volunteers, including those who regularly provide school-related transportation to students, who may have direct and unmonitored contact with children.” In January 2013, the Governor signed Chapter 459 of the Acts of 2012, “An Act Relative to Background Checks.” 53 The law expanded what public schools and other youth serving organizations were already doing in conducting state Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks on all employees at least once every three years. It requires a fingerprint-based state and national criminal record check for all school employees and any contractor employees who may have direct and unmonitored access to children in the performance of their duties.

All newly hired school employees, including educators, student teachers, maintenance staff, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers, who work in the schools and may have direct and unmonitored contact with children are now required to complete the new fingerprint-based state and national background check. Volunteers at schools will continue to be required to submit to state CORI checks at least once every three years, as currently required by statute. The decision to require the submission of fingerprints by volunteers for the fingerprint-based state and national checks will be made locally, by schools or districts.

In practice, however, a comprehensive background check requires more than a search of criminal history. As stated elsewhere in this Manual, most instances of sexual abuse are not reported and are, therefore, not prosecuted. As a result, a criminal record of the abuse does not exist. In efforts to build a safe school or other child and youth serving environments, the term refers more to a comprehensive process with multiple components – each of which provides a piece of information about an individual’s overall suitability to be with the children. Schools, day and overnight camps, YMCAs, Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, mentoring organizations, communities of faith, and others – virtually all youth-serving organizations – can augment the safety of their environment by implementing a thorough and comprehensive screening and hiring process. For Massachusetts schools, the responsibilities for the various components of this process are distributed among the school districts and school boards, as well as the leadership of the schools themselves, with decisions for the procedures designed and implemented at the local district level. Since there is no “one size fits all” approach, the guidance provided in this section outlines the suggested elements of a screening and hiring process without assigning responsibility to particular individuals or offices.

The elements of a comprehensive background check (inclusive of the statutory requirements listed) 54 should include:

  • A written application and a “statement of suitability” requiring a signature from the applicant stating that they know of no reason or prior circumstance that would preclude them from working safely with minor children.
  • A personal interview.
  • Credential check depending on the position being sought.
  • Reference checks from prior employers (2 – 3).
  • The assurance that all background screening complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other relevant privacy laws.
  • Criminal history records check: CORI, fingerprint-based state and national (and sometimes international) options depending on where the applicant is coming from and the position being sought. Note: Massachusetts requires an Authorization Form to be filled out and signed by the applicant before a criminal records check can be accomplished.
  • Criminal history records check for any potential employee and/or volunteer currently residing in another state but applying to work/volunteer at your school.
  • Request for a criminal history records check from the former state of residence for any potential employee and/or volunteer residing in Massachusetts less than 1 year.
  • Sex offender registry check (SORI/eSORI 55 ). It is strongly recommended that schools/districts utilize the national sex-offender registry and the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) to check for sexual offenses or classification as a Level 2, or 3 offender. 56
  • Published procedures as to how and by whom criminal history records will be reviewed and the criteria by which they will be evaluated – including a description of the appeals process as required by law. Note that in Massachusetts, as in many states, an applicant who is being denied employment based on a criminal history records check that the applicant believes is in error must be supplied (by the potential employer) with the documents necessary to have the criminal record reviewed and potentially corrected.
  • Screening procedures not only for employees, faculty, staff, and volunteers (including subcontractors and laborers employed by the school), but also require verification from the parent company that contractors, vendors and other service providers (either providing services to the organization/facility when minors are present, or providing services to minors they bring to the organization using the facilities of the host organization) have been screened appropriately.

School administrators should also reserve the right, and make clear to employees and volunteers, that they will conduct additional background checks any time after employment or volunteer service has begun – and should do so periodically. As stated above, Massachusetts requires CORI checks no less than every 3 years for individuals who have the potential for direct and unmonitored contact with children. It should also be made clear to all applicants that any misrepresentations, falsifications, or material omissions in the information provided by the applicant, whenever discovered, may result in disqualification from, or termination of employment or volunteer service.

Again, while employee and volunteer screening and selection are important elements of a safe school environment, they are not – by themselves – a guarantee of safety, and should therefore be integrated into other measures and efforts described in this Manual. Schools must continue to maintain their vigilance and ensure that all faculty, staff, employees and volunteers receive adequate training, supervision and management support to fulfill the school’s commitment to safety. Screening and hiring procedures can be time consuming (and sometimes expensive) for organizations, but the cost can be exceeded exponentially by the cost of an organization’s failure to screen.

Additional information and detail about best practices in the screening and hiring process can be found on the Safe Kids Thrive website in the section on Screening and Hiring 57 in the Elements of Prevention (this page includes a set of minimum standard requirements and a 3-step decision making and implementation process). The website also includes links to a Screening Toolbox on Background Checks 58 , a Checklist for Conducting Criminal Background Checks 59 , a set of Sample Questions for Screening and Selecting Employees and Volunteers 60 , sample language for a Statement of Suitability for Employment/Volunteer Applications 61 , a detailed section on Screening and Background Checks for Selecting Employees and Volunteers 62 , and a set of appendices 63 that include a list of sample questions for previous employers, CORI/SORI request forms, and details on the process of accessing, reviewing, and evaluating the results of a criminal background check.

52 https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXII/Chapter71/section38r

53 https://malegislature.gov/laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2012/Chapter459

54 Statutory guidance can be found on the DESE website “ Careful Hiring Practices and Reporting Misconduct to DESE — Reminder of State and Federal Requirements”, September 2020, (https://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/advisory/2020-0914reporting-misconduct.html); “Advisory on CORI Law” (https://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/advisory/cori.html); and “Criminal History Checks for School Employees” (http://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/603cmr51.html?section=03).

55 New eSori Portal: https://sorb.chs.state.ma.us/esori-portal/login.xhtml

56 For definitions see: (https://www.mass.gov/service-details/levels-of-sex-offenders)

57 https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/screening-hiring/

58 https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/screening-hiring/screening-toolbox-national-criminal-sexual-abuse-background-checks/

59 https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/screening-hiring/checklist-for-conducting-criminal-background-checks/

60 https://safekidsthrive.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/HYPERTEXT_Appendix-8_Screening-Hiring-and-Licensing_Sidebar-Questions-for-Screening-and-Selecting-Emploees-and-Volunteers.pdf

61 https://safekidsthrive.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/HYPERTEXT_Appendix-8_Screening-Hiring-and-Licensing_Sample-Questions-and-Statement-of-Suitability-for-Employment-Volunteer-Applications.pdf

62 https://safekidsthrive.org/the-report/key-sections/section-2-screening-and-background-checks-for-selecting-employees-and-volunteers/

63 https://safekidsthrive.org/the-report/section-specific-appendices/screening-hiring-and-licensing/

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