Start with Basic Screening
It is very important that all applicants who provide direct services and who are seeking positions of trust—either as employees or volunteers—in any capacity at a youth-serving organization like yours should be screened at a basic level. Basic screening includes:
- A comprehensive application form with a signed statement of suitability (a signature certifies that the applicant knows of no reason that would prevent them from working safely with children and youth)
- A thorough personal interview that examines the applicant’s past employment or volunteer experience and explores indicators of potential problem behavior (with, when possible, observation of the applicant’s interaction with children and youth)
- Multiple reference checks—both written and verbal—with past employers or organizations in which the applicant has volunteered
Document the Process
A description of your screening process should be included in your policies and procedures, on your website(s), and in any marketing, recruitment, and advertising activity, along with a statement about your commitment to maintaining a safe environment for all children and youth in your care. The material should point out that, without exception, all applicants for positions of trust with children undergo levels of screening and background checks appropriate to their levels of responsibility, and that these checks are repeated periodically (every 1-3 years) in keeping with best practices.
This documented commitment will enhance the possibility of attracting the types of individuals you hope to attract, raise awareness of the issue of child safety, give parents greater confidence that their children will be safe, and act as a potential deterrent to applicants who may be looking for organizations with weak screening policies to gain access to children in order to inflict harm.
To strengthen your screening and hiring process further, use the questions in Thinking About Risk to decide what additional background screening practices to utilize. Depending on the number of children and youth served, and the number of staff and volunteers working at your program, you might simply put pencil to paper, or you may undertake a more formal process with a larger team—either way, the questions are designed to help you carefully examine the types of risk individuals in positions of trust might pose, with a focus on opportunities to harm children.
These questions can help you think about your physical setting; the ages and vulnerabilities of the children/youth you serve; an applicant’s potential contact with your children/youth; the nature, duration, and frequency of that contact; and the level of supervision and monitoring of that contact. Based on the results of your analysis, you may determine further screening is needed.
The greater the potential for an individual to have unmonitored, unsupervised, one-on-one contact with children or youth, the more you will need to supplement basic screening. Depending on your circumstances, you can find additional screening tools in the Screening Toolbox modules. We recognize that you may face particular challenges if you are a smaller organization, but it’s also true that if your risk is higher; the more information you have about an applicant, the better. Even supplementing your basic screening with a simple search of the publicly available criminal and sexual offense history can provide a more complete history of individuals being considered—and potentially make your environment safer for the children and youth you serve.
Disclose, to Deter
Interviewers may wish to make applicants (and parents) aware that your organization is especially mindful of concerns regarding child sexual abuse, and that you’re proactive about taking appropriate measures to protect children. Your policy should also make it clear that you’ll periodically check criminal and sexual offense records after an applicant is hired. Sometimes, awareness of your processes will serve as a deterrent to individuals with questionable motives.
Thinking About Risk
These questions can be helpful to answer as you consider risk in the context of hiring.
- 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 being served?
- Will other adults be in the same area?
What is the potential for the employee/volunteer to be alone with the child(ren)/youth and unseen?
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