Legislation mandating criminal background checks and providing assistance to schools and youth organizations has been a popular topic in 2018. In GroupOne’s opinion, there should always be a mandatory policy of investigating the criminal history of everyone who freely interacts with children. It is essential to create the safest possible environment.

No one will disagree that the well-being of our children is of the utmost importance. Schools and youth organizations also have a duty to protect the children for which they are responsible and to maintain an environment of safety. Such responsibilities should also extend to volunteers.

A combination of checks would be effective in determining the criminal history of personnel and volunteers. You should, at the very least, perform state-wide criminal record inquiries and sex offender database checks (a search of county level records is also important).

This expanded research increases the likelihood of finding each criminal record and identifying potential predators. These checks should be performed by a qualified screening company with a history of experience, diligence and accuracy. There should also be a system in place that is repeated on a regular basis on present employees, either every six months or annually.

There needs to be a well thought out policy which balances the safety of the children with the ability of qualified volunteers, who may happen to have a record, to apply. This is where you could run into a potential issue with mandatory criminal background investigations.

If a school has a broad policy of banning all individuals with criminal records, then you could have a large number of parents and volunteers who will be disqualified. Studies vary as to the exact number of Americans with a criminal history, but 25-35 percent is the general consensus. You could have an issue where individuals believe they are being discriminated against possibly resulting in a lawsuit.

Consider limiting the scope of the ban to all felonies or crimes involving violence, sexual assault, drugs, etc. In those situations where it is not so clear cut if someone with a criminal record should be banned, such as recent misdemeanors or decades-old records, permission to volunteer could be decided on a case-by-case basis. The school board should fully review each case before making a final decision.

A policy should give all applicants the ability to dispute the findings in the event they are incomplete or inaccurate.

An additional argument against a policy banning all persons convicted of a crime is that volunteers would be discouraged from applying or participating at places that investigate their applicants. But most parents and well-meaning individuals would not object to an across-the-board criminal record check.

Not only would it show the organization is taking the safety of children seriously, but it would deter those who have ulterior motives from volunteering. And if they did apply, then the applicant’s history as a violent criminal or sex offender would be discovered long before they were allowed near a child.

GroupOne fully supports background checks on volunteers, and anyone who will have any meaningful contact with children. It will provide further protection and, despite potential conflicts, it is necessary to employee and public safety.