Section 2: Screening and Background Checks for Selecting Employees and Volunteers
All youth-serving organizations want to attract, select and retain employees and volunteers who are safe to be around children, and to screen out those who have the potential to cause them harm. However, it sometimes happens that individuals are screened and hired who present risks to, or have previously abused children, and use the opportunity to abuse again. This can happen for a number of reasons. Because the majority of 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. 1 Also in many instances, notably but not exclusively in school settings, suspected offenders have been allowed to resign – sometimes with letters of recommendation – and are not reported to the authorities 2 3 Unfortunately, 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 do not have the awareness, knowledge or means to do so. This section outlines a multi-level decision making framework that YSOs can use to protect themselves and the children who come to them for services.
It is reasonable to assume that most YSOs undertake some basic form of screening (application, interview, and reference checks) to ensure that the individuals being considered have the basic skills needed to function in the intended position; possess the maturity, relevant experience and judgement to care for, supervise, or assist in the supervision of the children that will be placed in their care; and pose no threat to the children’s safety and well-being.
Some organizations go much further than a basic level of screening because of statutory mandates, accreditation or licensing requirements (e.g., schools, daycare centers, foster homes); the nature of the services being provided to the children and youth and their perceived vulnerability; or because the position requires (or has the potential for) the employee or volunteer to have unsupervised or 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, as well as checks of driving records if the position requires the transportation of children.
The Task Force acknowledges that there is no “one size fits all” approach to screening and selecting employees and volunteers, and cautions that conducting screening and background checks for criminal history does not in itself provide a 100% guarantee against bringing someone into the organization who will cause harm to children if given the opportunity.
Even so, the Task Force suggests that a basic level of screening and background checks for potential employees and volunteers is necessary for all organizations, and should not be omitted. Ideally, screening and background checks should be considered as one part of a comprehensive process that has multiple components – each of which provides a piece of additional information about an individual’s overall suitability to be with children. The section below outlines the components of this process, and present an ideal from which organization can craft minimum required screening standards. The section also presents guidance on when more comprehensive standards should be used.
The key for organizations will be to use the section to help them make decisions about risk, the parts of the overall screening and hiring process they can reasonably access and implement to decrease that risk, and ways to craft appropriate policies for their different circumstances that still reflect best practices.
A screening toolbox (Table 1) is included in the section that outlines the various parts of a comprehensive screening and hiring process.
|The Screening Toolbox|
|Marketing and recruitment materials|
|Written application and statements of suitability|
|Internet search – Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter|
|Observation of the applicant|
|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 included the responsibility to transport children and youth)|
|Check applicants against internal records|
Key Findings and Recommendations
- It is important for all YSOs to employ some basic level of screening and background checks for persons applying for employment or volunteer opportunities involving services to children and youth.
- For some YSOs and professions, the type of screening and background checks required for certain potential employees or volunteers is mandated by state and Federal law. For other YSOs the level of screening and background checks is more discretionary.
- To determine the level and type of screening and background checks to conduct in discretionary circumstances, a risk assessment should be conducted that considers such things as the level of employee/volunteer contact with children and youth, the characteristics and ages of the children being served, and the amount and types of supervision available that are available to oversee and monitor that contact (see Table 2 below). As a result of this assessment, supplemental screening measures can be selected to augment basic screening tools.
- The items in Table 1 (above) can be selected and used to create a screening and hiring standard that addresses and lowers the perceived risk to children and to the organization.
- The type of screening and hiring methods being used by an organization should be reflected and clearly explained in the organization’s policies and procedures, and marketing and advertising materials.
- Screening, by itself, cannot guarantee 100% safety, but must be combined with the other abuse prevention measures described in this report.
- The existence of a screening and hiring policy can act as a deterrent to those who would seek to join an organization with the intent to sexually abuse children and youth.
- The existence of a screening and hiring policy can serve to increase parents’ confidence in the organization and in the safety of their children while in its care.
Recommended Implementation Decision-Making Model
STEP 1: Basic Required Screening:
- Written application with 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 position requires transporting children
- Observation, home visit
To recruit and select skilled, qualified individuals for staff and volunteer positions and to screen out individuals who have sexually abused children and/or youth, may be at risk to abuse, or not be safe individuals.
One effective means of preventing child sexual abuse in child and youth serving organizations (YSOs) is to screen out those at risk to cause harm before they are hired or allowed to volunteer. The good news is that most organizations conduct some form of screening. However, these guidelines can help ensure that any organization is doing as much as possible to keep the children and youth in its care safe.
Whether the organization is a large corporation or a small sole proprietorship, whether it has hundreds of employees, or only a few, everyone can implement an effective screening program to protect children. Not all the methods for screening presented here will apply to every program and organization. These are guidelines to help organizations adopt the best possible screening practices for their particular environment and risk. The important goal is that every organization incorporate some level of applicant screening into its program and treat it as integral to the operation as a good curriculum, sound business practice and thoughtful management. Screening is not discretionary, or an add-on; it is a vital component of any program serving children and youth.
Screening means that all employees, staff, volunteers, and other members of the community whose potential employment or volunteer service involves direct contact with, and/or the potential for unmonitored access to children (including any individuals who regularly provide transportation to children) should be given thorough reference and background checks, including review of criminal and sexual offender records. Screening for child sexual abuse should be purposefully integrated into the standard screening and selection process that organizations use to fill both paid and volunteer positions. All candidates for a particular position should be subject to the same screening process.
Even though this section deals primarily with employees and volunteers, it may also be appropriate to ask vendors and others providing contract services to organizations where minors are present to provide evidence that a background check was completed on any individual sent to provide the services. This may not be necessary if the vendor or contractor is not providing direct services to children and youth, is restricted to the area where the service is being provided, and is either accompanied or in a space where the individual can be observed by other adults. In each case, however, adults in the organization should be advised that vendor/contractor personnel are on the premises, and that children/youth are not to be permitted near the workspace unaccompanied.
Note that while employee and volunteer screening and selection are important, they are not – by themselves – a guarantee of safety, and should therefore be integrated into other measures and efforts described in this report, and adopted to prevent child sexual abuse. Organizations must also continue to maintain their vigilance and ensure that all staff members, employees and volunteers receive adequate training, supervision, and management support to fulfill the organization’s missions. Staff screening can be time consuming, and there may be fees associated with some of the background checks, but the cost of screening can be exceeded greatly by the cost of an organization’s failure to screen, and the subsequent harm to its children. A well-designed screening process, in combination with the other practices outlined in this report, is an investment in the future of all youth serving organizations and the safety and well-being of the children and youth they serve.
Preparing to Screen – Developing Policies and Procedures
In the context of this report, the act of screening does not refer to a single event, but more to a process with multiple components – some of which occur as the potential applicant is being considered for employment or volunteer service, some that apply after an individual joins the organization, and some that can recur periodically during the individual’s employment or tenure with the organization. These individual components will be discussed in more detail below, but it is important from the outset that the screening requirement is captured in an organization’s policies and procedures, and is clearly and accurately described. The very existence of a screening policy can actually be a potential deterrent to individuals who seek employment or volunteer service in YSOs with weak (or no) screening practices in order to have access to, and to harm children and youth.
In developing a screening policy, it is recommended that leadership take the following steps in accordance with the role, size and resources of the organization:
- Know the rules and regulations about screening (if they exist) that apply to the professions represented in, and to the work or activity done by the organization 4 ;
- Determine who to screen, and;
- Develop and implement a standard set of policies and practices for screening that includes:
- Strategies for incorporating screening into recruitment materials;
- Identification of screening elements and their use;
- Identification of the individuals responsible for screening and a plan for training them;
- Development of standard protocols for gathering screening information including timeline and information management practices;
- Establishment of criteria to evaluate screening results and inform a determination of the applicant’s suitability, and;
- Establishment of a protocol for acting on screening information including who is empowered to make the final decision.
Know the rules.
State and Federal laws and regulations require specific types of screening and background checks – particularly criminal and sexual offense records checks – for individuals and professions engaged in providing certain services to children and youth. Specific types of screening and background checks may also be required as a condition of receiving state or federal funding.
Different organizations have different requirements and may make different decisions about what background checks they are planning to conduct. Some (e.g., public schools) have strict requirements while others are left to the discretion of the organization (e.g. afterschool program in a faith community). These requirements may also limit the circumstances under which an organization may use that information to exclude an individual fromconsideration. There is no “one size fits all” screening requirement. Therefore, if after review, an organization remains unclear about the rules and requirements that apply to its operation, it is strongly recommended that leadership consult with an attorney and or relevant professional association(s) for advice and guidance.
All organizations conducting criminal history and background checks should also keep in mind that, unless provided otherwise by law, the existence of a criminal record does not necessarily automatically disqualify an applicant (more information on this below).
Who should be screened?
In addition to meeting screening requirements for specific positions, YSOs should implement some level of screening and background check for all employees and volunteers – both youth and adults (although information for youth will likely be limited). No exception to screening should be made, even for individuals known to the screener or to the organization. However, the level of screening may change depending upon the level of engagement with children and youth and especially if unsupervised interactions are expected. Organizations should consider stronger requirements for screening of individuals who are likely to have any direct unsupervised or unmonitored contact with children and youth.
Thinking about risk
To determine what screening tools are most appropriate to use for a particular position and to ensure consistency in use of screening protocols, it is recommended that YSOs conduct a strengths and risk inventory of paid and volunteer positions to include:
- Assessment of the likelihood for unsupervised contact with children and youth (both routine and incidental);
- Level of supervision the staff members or volunteers are subject to;
- The kinds of interactions the staff members or volunteers are expected to have with the children/youth in their care;
- Identification of factors such as the likelihood of interaction with children and youth of a certain age, or with those who have other conditions or characteristics which may make them more vulnerable (e.g., are preverbal, have limited communication skills or mobility, or have had adverse experiences that impact their ability to report abuse or to do so accurately and with credibility) and;
- Level of decision making or autonomy within the position
In summary, whether a YSO is large enough to have a risk management or human resources office that can conduct a formal assessment, or is a small business with a single proprietor, this risk inventory translates into some basic questions that can help determine the level of screening for potential employees and volunteers:
|Thinking about Risk|
|Level of Risk||Considerations|
|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?|
|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?|
Based on this assessment, positions should be assigned a risk designation:
- High: Expected unsupervised/unmonitored interaction with children
- Moderate: Potential unsupervised/unmonitored interaction with children
- Low: Exclusively supervised/monitored interaction, or no potential contact with children
These designations should correlate to the organization’s requirement for specific screening protocols and should be indicated in the job description for the position. Best practice would advise that the higher the risk to children, the more in-depth the screening protocol for the position should be.
The structure above would pertain to larger organizations with sufficient numbers of employees and volunteers serving in different functions, and with different levels of interaction with children and youth to warrant a screening protocol with multiple levels. It is not uncommon for organizations like this to pay for the services of a commercial vendor to conduct these types of multi-level background checks – from standard Massachusetts criminal records checks (CORI/SORI, as defined below) all the way to national, multi-state (especially those states in which the applicant has worked or volunteered previously), international, and Interpol criminal and sexual offense records searches.
For smaller YSOs and businesses with few employees or volunteers, where a manager or supervisor assumes the responsibility to screen and hire applicants, and the risk is determined to be equivalent or level across positions in the organization, the policy could be to treat all applicants equally, and establish a standard screening protocol that applies to applicants for all positions interacting with children and youth.
The Screening Toolbox
As mentioned above, criminal and sexual offense records checks are only part of the process of screening out individuals with the potential to harm children and youth. There are many other elements that can, and should be used to assess the appropriateness and “fit” of an individual into the organization, its tasks and its culture. Depending on the position being sought, the size of the organization, and the risks assessed as described above, a comprehensive screening process includes all, most, or as many of the elements below as are appropriate:
- Marketing and recruitment materials
- 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 5
- National and state sex offender registry check
- Child abuse registry check (Requires a “DCF History Consent and Acknowledgement Form” signed by the potential employee or volunteer)
- Professional credentials and disciplinary records check
- Driving records check if the position includes the responsibility to transport children and youth
- Checking applicants against internal records
While the Task Force encourages all YSOs to utilize as much of the above in their screening process as possible and appropriate, it is especially important for positions with the potential for unsupervised contact with children and youth that state and national criminal history, sexual offense and driving records (if done) are checked not only upon candidacy but, if hired, periodically thereafter. The process for utilizing the tools above in the capacity either required of, or as determined by the organization, should be written into the organization’s policies and procedures. A more detailed explanation of the elements in the screening toolbox follows.
Marketing and Recruitment Materials
Finding and retaining a qualified and diverse workforce is one of the greatest challenges for child and youth serving organizations. Competition for support and staffing may make some concerned about scaring people off with early discussions about background checks and screening. However, balancing marketing with safety is easier than it sounds. In fact, in addition to acting as a deterrent to applications from individuals who may pose a risk, clear statements about the organization’s commitment to keeping children safe may be very appealing to the types of individuals the organization is hoping to attract, and provide the organization with a strategic advantage over other YSOs that are not undertaking the same level of protection for the children and youth in their care.
The existence of policies, procedures and tools focused on child safety can also be attractive to employees and volunteers because these structures serve to protect them as well. Materials and statements on an organization’s website, job and volunteer postings and advertising that demonstrate an awareness of child safety issues, express a commitment that they are taken seriously, and describe the steps the organization takes to keep children from being harmed, will also be attractive to parents who are the primary decision makers about the organizations they seek out for services or activities for their children. See sample 6 below:
“This organization is committed to the safety and wellbeing of all children and youth accessing our services. We have taken steps to educate our staff about the risks related to child sexual abuse, instituted policies and practices to protect children from the risk of child sexual abuse and trained our staff and volunteers about proper reporting requirements.”
Recruitment and marketing materials should:
- Clearly state the organization’s commitment to child sexual abuse prevention;
- Inform applicants about background check requirements and what the “deal breakers” are, and;
- Share the organization’s Mission Statement/Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct (see Code of Conduct section).
Written Job/Volunteer Application and Statement of Suitability
The written application provides the information needed to assess the background and interests of applicants. Questions should help determine whether applicants have mature, adult relationships, as well as clear boundaries and ethical standards for their conduct with children and youth. The sidebar in Appendix 8, may help organizations to develop appropriate questions.
The written application should include a statement of interest or cover letter in which applicants are asked to describe their interest in the organization and the position for which they are applying. Organizations may consider requiring a more in depth statement of interest from individuals, particularly youth, for who work history is minimal and/or criminal history is unavailable. Additional suggestions for the items on a written application, and a sample Statement of Suitability can be found in Appendix 8.
The personal interview provides an opportunity to meet applicants and determine if they are a good fit for the organization. It is also a time during which the interviewer can ask questions to screen for child sexual abuse risk factors. As with all other parts of the screening – to avoid actual or perceived discrimination – it is important that all applicants to the organization, or for specific positions, be asked the same (or substantially similar) set of questions and that, to the extent possible, answers are evaluated based on particular criteria. Whenever possible, interviews, particularly for larger organizations, should be conducted by individuals trained in interview techniques (See Appendix 8 for sample questions).
The personal interview is also a good time to provide applicants with the organization’s Code of Conduct, and to either discuss or present a copy of the Policies and Procedures – or the portions of the Policies and Procedures that pertain to child safety.
Internet/ Social Media Search
Because the internet and social media are a rich source of information about prospective candidates, and social media is perceived as a forum in which individuals are likely to reveal a more complex picture of themselves, some organizations are including a search of these sources as part of a background check. Bearing in mind that employers are obligated to disclose all information used in making a decision not to hire, YSOs considering using this type of check should carefully assess the benefits and risks of acquiring this information.
Among the potential benefits is the possibility of discovering information regarding inappropriate behaviors that would not fit with company codes of conduct, including sexualized postings to or about minors, other forms of violence, and/or drug or alcohol abuse.
Potential Risks include:
- Finding information that cannot be used in the interviewing and hiring process 7
, such as:
- Religious affiliations
- Disability status
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Attribution of information about another person with the same or similar name to the candidate.
- Inability to verify the source or accuracy of information posted about the candidate.
Reference checks provide additional information about applicants and help verify previous work and volunteer history.
- Obtain verbal, not just written, references for applicants. Phone conversations with two or three previous employers can elicit much more information than written responses.
- Match references with employment and volunteer history. Is anyone important missing from the references, such as the supervisor from the applicant’s most recent job, or any reference from a former employer in a child related field? Is there a reason (i.e., applicants may not want the present employer to know they are looking)? To provide a more complete picture of the applicant, references should come from a variety of sources and should not be limited to family members or friends.
- Be aware that many employers will only provide basic information, such as dates of employment or rehiring eligibility. If a former employer will only provide limited information, it could be a red flag. Clarify whether the person providing the reference is limiting information because of company policy (See Appendix 8 for sample questions).
Observation of the Applicant
When possible, it can be informative to observe the applicant in the environment with the child(ren) and youth to look for potential red flags. If this is done pre-hire, and before the background checks are complete, make sure the individual is supervised and monitored at all times by current (cleared) staff. If there are behaviors, actions, or statements that are concerning, do not ignore them. This does not necessarily mean there is a problem, but it may be a potential issue that needs further observation or inquiry. For certain positions such as respite providers, tutoring, or mentoring programs where children and youth meet with staff in their homes, it will be especially important to immediately discuss concerns, reiterate the child safety policies of the organization, and be clear that the Code of Conduct – especially as it pertains to children and youth – is taken seriously and is strictly enforced.
Assessment of Home Environment
The need for assessing an applicant’s home environment depends on the mission of the organization. This may be an essential strategy for mentoring programs where youth meet with mentors at their homes, but it may be irrelevant and inappropriate for other organizations, such as overnight camps or after-school programs.
Massachusetts Criminal Background Checks
Criminal background checks are an important tool in screening and selection. YSOs should ensure that they are aware of any federal, state or organizational requirements for background checks that pertain to them. Again, be aware that these checks do not, by themselves, guarantee that sexual offenders will be identified, and can present significant limitations. Not all sex offenders have criminal records and, if they do, their criminal history may not include sexual offenses.
In Massachusetts, the acronym “CORI” stands for “Criminal Offender Record Information.” The term CORI is commonly used to refer to the specific criminal history information that employers, landlords, schools and others can obtain directly from the Commonwealth – most recently via an online system called iCORI. Adult court records are public information unless sealed by court order. There are various ways that individuals and organizations can access CORI information. These include registering the organization with the online iCORI service, conducting an online search, and submitting a request form directly to the Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice and Information Services (DCJIS). A copy of the CORI Request Form, and a CORI Acknowledgement Form (to be signed by the applicant) can be found in Appendix 8. There is also a level of CORI access available to the public called an “Open” CORI. Additional details about access to Massachusetts criminal records, the CORI and iCORI process, organizational requirements, and the types of information CORI can provide can be found on the DCJIS website 8 and the Massachusetts Court System. 9
Similarly, the acronym “SORI” stands for “Sex Offender Registry Information”, and pertains to information about convicted and/or adjudicated sex offenders residing, working or attending school in the Commonwealth. In Massachusetts, sex offenders are classified by the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) as to their risk to reoffend sexually and the degree of danger they pose to the public. A Level 1 designation means the offender has been deemed a low risk, Level 2 is an offender deemed a moderate risk, and Level 3 is designated as a high risk to re-offend. The Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Law allows for the release of information on sex offenders categorized at Level 2 and Level 3.
While all Level 3 sex offender information is available on the SORB’s website (www.mass.gov/sorb), the website only lists Level 2 sex offenders classified after July 12, 2013. Organizations and the public can make SORI requests both from local police departments (all Level 2 and Level 3 sex offender information is available upon request) and the SORB. A copy of the SORI Request Form can be found in Appendix 8. Agencies and organizations can also register with the SORB to utilize its online search process call “eSORI” for employment and volunteer screening purposes. More information about sex offenders and the SORI/eSORI process can be found on the websites of the SORB and the Department of Public Safety. 10 11
National Criminal and Sexual Offense Background Checks
National criminal record and fingerprint-based registries also exist that must be queried by certain organizations like the public schools and licensed child care programs, to assess the suitability of individuals who will have direct and unmonitored access to their children and youth. The websites mentioned above also contain information about this process.
Briefly, the nationwide fingerprint check is a search of the FBI’s master fingerprint file, which can be accessed through state law enforcement agencies. The check involves searching the official state repositories of criminal-history information. These state repositories are maintained in a database called the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). IAFIS is a national fingerprint and criminal history system that responds to requests 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. IAFIS searches include arrest records, convictions, juvenile records (if provided by the state), dismissed charges or not-guilty verdicts, warrants, Sex Offender Registry information, physical characteristics (i.e., height, weight, hair, tattoos, and eye color), and aliases. All arrest data included in an Identification Record is obtained from fingerprint submissions, disposition reports, and other information submitted by agencies with criminal justice responsibilities. See Appendix 8 for more information about fingerprint-based searches.
National Sex-Offender Public Website (NSOPW)
Another national criminal identification resource is the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW). Federal law created the NSOPW which links public, state, territorial, and tribal sex offender registries from one national site. The (www.NSOPW.gov) portal allows the public to conduct nationwide searches free of charge. Utilizing this website as a screening tool may help identify sex offenders who attempt to avoid detection by moving from state to state and/or may live in one state, but apply for employment in a bordering state. In Massachusetts, YSOs can also access the NSOPW website through the SORB website: (https://www.mass.gov/eopss/agencies/sorb/). It is important to search both the national and state websites.
Although sex offenders are required to provide a large amount of personal data, the Massachusetts SORI records and NSOPW registries provide limited information, including:
- Personal information, such as name and any aliases, age, physical description, and current photos;
- Home address, work address, and employment status, and;
- Convictions, jurisdiction of convictions, dates of convictions, relevant state statute, and age of victim(s) if known
NOTE: Not all sex offenders are on the NSOPW. State laws dictate which offenders are made public. For example, it is possible that an offender will come up on a fingerprint check, but will not be listed on the public website due to the requirements of the state. Links to all state, territorial, and tribal sex-offender websites can be found by visiting the “Registry Sites” web page, accessible from www.NSOPW.gov. If you have questions about the NSOPW, contact the SORB or the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART) at (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/smart/).
Many employers, privately owned businesses, studios and clubs that provide services to children and youth do not fall under the Massachusetts or Federal laws and accreditation regulations that mandate CORI, SORI and fingerprint inquiries, but can nonetheless – following certain procedural requirements – access the publicly available aspects of all the databases above as part of their screening process. As of May 4, 2012, any employer in the Commonwealth may register for an iCORI account to screen current and prospective employees including full-time, part-time, contract, internship employees and volunteers. Even if organizations are not required to do so, registering does not take a lot of time, and it may be in a YSO’s best interests to gather this information as part of exercising due diligence in assessing the risks presented by individuals who would have access to the children they serve.
Remember, the existence of a criminal record does not necessarily automatically disqualify a candidate from employment or volunteer service with children and youth. Although certain offenses are considered grounds for automatic disqualification, most are not. In situations that allow for some discretion, the individual reviewing the results of criminal history information can also consider and weigh several additional factors on a case-by-case basis. These factors include:
- The relevance of the criminal offense to the nature of the employment or volunteer service being sought;
- The nature of the work to be performed;
- The seriousness and specific circumstances of the offense;
- The age of the candidate at the time of the offense;
- The number of offenses;
- The length of time since the offense occurred;
- Whether the applicant has pending charges; and
- Any relevant evidence of rehabilitation or lack thereof.
More information about the options available, and disqualification criteria can be found in Appendix 8 below under “What if a Criminal Record is Discovered?”
For criminal background checks, consider the following:
- Save time and resources by delaying criminal background checks until the end of the screening and selection process. For some organizations this may be required by state law or regulation. Applicants who do not make it through the written applications, personal interviews, and reference checks will not need a criminal background check;
- Obtain permission from applicants before beginning a criminal background check. Ensure all names and date of birth are correct. Any incorrect information may result in missing criminal background information. (see form in Appendix 8);
- Determine the type and level of check required for each applicant. Records are not always linked or comprehensive, so a thorough search may be needed to address concerns about an applicant (i.e., if an applicant has moved frequently, checks in multiple states may be necessary);
- Plan for the time and financial resources needed to conduct background checks;
- Decide which offenses to examine in the background checks and which offenses will disqualify applicants. For work with children and/or youth, absolute disqualifiers include violent behavior and child sexual abuse perpetration history. Depending on the risk of the situation or the mission of your organization, drug and driving offenses may also be disqualifiers. Arrest data are not grounds for disqualification; only offenses resulting in convictions may be used;
- Develop procedures to keep the results of criminal background checks confidential. Select a secure storage location and limit access to the files to authorized personnel only, and;
- Ensure that the organization’s process for conducting criminal background checks is legally sound. Consult county, state, and national laws and regulations, as well as the organization’s attorney and insurance company, as needed.
Checks on Professional Credentials, Disciplinary Records and Driving History
For positions that specify an educational requirement, YSOs should verify any credentials listed on the employment application by receipt and review of an official transcript or by contacting the colleges or universities listed.
For positions that require professional certification or licensure, YSOs should obtain from the applicant a copy of the current license or registration, or verify with the accrediting or licensing authority that the applicant is accredited or licensed, and that the accreditation or licensure is current. The same accrediting or licensing authority can be asked about any past or present disciplinary actions involving the applicant.
Applicants for employment or volunteer service who will be driving children and youth as part of their duties should provide the YSO with a copy of a current, valid driver’s license, should verify annually that their driver’s license has not been revoked or suspended, and should report any suspension or revocation immediately. A Massachusetts employer conducting a pre-employment screening or employee background check can also obtain a copy of the applicant’s driving record directly from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles online or by mail. 12
Checking Applicants Against Internal Records
This strategy involves keeping lists of applicants who are disqualified during the screening process and employees/volunteers who are dismissed because of an offense. During the screening and selection process, your organization would then check current applicants against these lists to make sure the applicant has not been previously disqualified or dismissed.
Using the Screening Toolbox – Guidance for Decision Making
The Task Force recommends that all applicants who are seeking positions of trust, either as employees or volunteers, in a YSO that serves children and youth in any capacity should be screened at a basic level. As described above, basic screening includes a comprehensive application form with a signed statement of suitability, a thorough personal interview that examines the applicant’s past employment or volunteer experience and explores indicators of potential problem behavior (with possible observation of the applicant’s interaction with children and youth) and multiple reference checks – both written and verbal – with past employers or organizations in which the applicant has volunteered.
Further, YSOs should include a description of this process in their policies and procedures, on their websites and in any marketing, recruitment and advertising activity, along with a statement about the organization’s commitment to maintaining a safe environment for all children and youth in their 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 in accordance with best practices. Existence of this commitment will enhance the possibility of attracting the types of individuals the YSO is hoping 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 in order to gain access to children.
To strengthen the screening and hiring process further, use the questions in Table 2 (Thinking About Risk) to make decisions about what additional background screening practices to utilize. Whether done formally by offices within a large YSO, or with pencil and paper by a small business owner, the questions are designed to assist a careful examination of the types of risk individuals in positions of trust with children may pose – focusing on opportunities for harm. The questions help to think about the physical setting; the ages and vulnerabilities of the children/youth; the applicant’s potential contact with the child/youth; the nature, duration and frequency of that contact; and the level of supervision and monitoring of that contact. Based on the results of this analysis further screening may need to take place.
The greater the potential for an individual to have one-on-one contact with children or youth that is unmonitored or unsupervised, the greater the need to supplement the basic screening. As circumstances require, additional screening can be provided by any or all of the additional items in the Screening Toolbox. The Task Force recognizes that this may present some challenges to smaller organizations, but recommends that when the risk is higher, the more information one has about an applicant, the better. Supplementing the basic screening with a search of even the publicly available criminal and sexual offense history as described above can provide a more complete history of the individuals being considered and thus make the environment potentially safer for the children and youth being served.
Interviewers may wish to make the applicant (and parents) aware that their organization is especially mindful of concerns regarding child-sexual abuse within youth-serving organizations and that it is proactive in taking appropriate measures to protect children. Organizational policy should also make it clear that criminal and sexual offense records check will be accomplished periodically after hire. Sometimes making the applicant aware of this process will serve as a deterrent to individuals with questionable motives.
1 Leclerc B. & Cale, J. (2015). Adult sex offenders in youth-oriented institutions: Evidence on sexual victimization experiences of offenders and their offending patterns. Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice. 497. Available from: (https://aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi497)
2 K – 12 Education: Selected Cases of Public and Private Schools That Hired or Retained Individuals with Histories of Sexual Misconduct. GAO-11-200. Washington, D.C.: December 8, 2010.
3 Federal Agencies Can Better Support State Efforts to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Abuse by School Personnel. GOA-14-42. Washington, D.C.: January, 2014.
4 Examples include, staff screening requirements from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for teachers and staff, the Department for Early Education and Care for licensed child care organizations, and similar screening requirements imposed by the MA DPH for summer camps.
5 Massachusetts requires organizations like public, private and parochial schools to CORI employees at least once every 3 years. Some do it annually. See: (https://www.mass.gov/edu/birth-grade-12/early-education-and-care/laws-regulations-and-policies/background-records-check-regulations-and-policies/frequently-asked-questions-regarding-background-checks.html)
6 Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey – (https://www.cpe.rutgers.edu/njdcf2013/docs/010-Preventing-Child-Sexual-Abuse.pdf)
7 These items are protected from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1964 and other local laws. A candidate cannot be disqualified from a job based on this information alone, and when it is present, can make use of any other information legally challenging. For more information, see the USEEOC website: (https://www.eeoc.gov/employers)
- Executive Summary
- How to Read This Report
- Mission & Purpose of Taskforce
- A Brief History of How the Taskforce Was Organized
- The Charge of the Legislative Language
- Key Sections
- Section 1: Developing Policies and Procedures for Child Protection
- Section 2: Screening and Background Checks for Selecting Employees and Volunteers
- Section 3: Code of Conduct and Monitoring
- Section 4: Ensuring Safe Physical Environments and Safe Technology
- Section 5: Recognizing, Responding to, and Reporting Allegations and Suspicions of Child Sexual Abuse
- Section 6: Training About Child Sexual Abuse Prevention
- Additional Considerations
- Applying the Framework: A Five-Year Plan
- Definitions, Acronyms, Glossary
- Legislative Mandate
- Taskforce Committees and Membership
- Guest Presenters
- Schedule of Meetings
- Section-Specific Appendices
- Downloadable Resources
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