The Case for Background Screening


Background screening has become an established part of the hiring process for many youth-serving organizations, but some still wonder whether they are worth the trouble. They can be expensive and time-intensive. Most importantly, not every state offers equal access to fingerprinting and criminal history information.

After considering these complications, some youth-serving organization leaders may wonder – are background screenings really worth the effort?

Background screening in action

One of the loudest arguments against background checks is that they cannot identify offenders who have never been caught or charged. This is true: criminal history checks only detect those who have criminal histories. However, there are people attempting to work or volunteer in youth-serving organizations who have been convicted of crimes against children, including:

  • Child cruelty
  • Child endangerment
  • Enticing a child
  • Abuse and neglect of a child
  • 1st degree child sexual abuse

These are just a few of the offenses that the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) found while running its eight-year Child Safety Pilot Program. The program offered nationwide fingerprint criminal history background checks to nonprofit youth-serving organizations.

When two percent matters

From 2003 – 2011, NCMEC processed over 100,000 volunteer applicants for various youth-serving organizations, such as the American Camping Association (ACA). Susan Yoder, the ACA’s Chief Public Policy and Outreach Officer, still remembers the impact the pilot had on her organization.

“Two percent of our applicants were found to have criminal records deemed by the pilot as unfit to work with children. In every single one of these cases, the applicant misrepresented themselves on their volunteer application and knowingly did not disclose their criminal record.”

Two percent may not seem like a very big number, but as noted earlier some of these people had already committed crimes against children. By making criminal history background checks a part of their hiring process, the ACA and other youth-serving organizations kept these offenders out of their programs.

The layered approach

Fingerprint-based criminal history checks aren’t the only type of background check out there. Organizations should also learn more about other background screening resourcessuch as sex offender registries, reference checks, and in-person interviews. Using multiple forms of background checks in a layered approach may help catch those who do not have a criminal history and keep known offenders from slipping through the cracks.

For example, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a registered sex offender was able to become a school volunteer by intentionally spelling his name incorrectly on his application. The background check consisted of the school searching the sex offender registry by his name. Since his name was spelled incorrectly, his registration went undetected. Including additional forms of background checks would have increased the chances of catching this man before he had access to children.

No one-stop shop for safety

Unfortunately, there are no simple solutions when it comes to protecting children from sexual abuse. Background screening is one tool we can employ, but we also need to raise awareness, train staff and engage parents. And even this is not a complete list.

More than anything, we need adults dedicated to doing everything they can to protect our kids from harm. Strategic and mindful implementation of background screening can identify proven threats to children. If a child is victimized and it turns out the offender had a history that could have been detected, no amount of explanation or rationalization will repair the damage done to the child.

In the end, isn’t any action that we can take to prevent someone from harming a child worth it?

This article is provided by  Safe To Compete is a program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  See the original article at

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