Why Nonprofits Should Be Wary Of Relying Simply On Background Checks To Protect Children

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Not-For-Profits Organizations

Houston police have charged a former volunteer with Boy Scouts of America with child sexual abuse and online solicitation of a minor. The 41-year-old man regularly interacted with children during his volunteer work with a Boy Scout troop. The man volunteered for 15 years, was subjected to a background check, and served as a Scoutmaster.

The charges stem from the man's alleged actions with one child, but investigators suspect there may be additional victims. Bryan Kirk "Former Boy Scout Leader Charged With Child Sexual Abuse," patch.com (Oct. 18, 2017).                                                                                                                         

Commentary and Checklist

When hiring employees or volunteers, it is important to develop and consistently follow a detailed procedure for screening, including reference and background checks. However, background checks are not fool-proof. Many sex offenders do not have a criminal past. 

Consequently, child safety measures should also involve training of all adults on child sexual abuse prevention; maintaining regular observation of all adults working together; and creating accessible reporting processes.

To go beyond initial screening, consider the following suggestions to strengthen your child safety protocol:

  • Establish a code of conduct and require all employees and volunteers to sign it. Provide a detailed description of what types of behaviors are and are not allowed.
  • Include in the code of conduct a requirement to report any guideline violations or any suspicious behaviors.
  • Eliminate any situation in which children are supervised by only one adult.
  • Conduct training on how to recognize child abuse and how to report inappropriate behavior immediately to the police or the state's child protective agencies. Reporting to the organization comes after the initial reporting to law enforcement professionals.
  • Coordinate the monitoring of programs and activities that involve children.
  • Provide avenues for employees, volunteers, clients, and parents to report suspicious behavior. Include an option for submitting a report in written form.
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