If you're thinking about volunteering to be a troop leader this fall, don't be surprised that the Girl Scouts application requires a criminal background check. To identify potential volunteers with a history of child abuse or sex offenses, many organizations in Colorado and across the nation that focus on youth have been screening volunteers for the past few years.
Thanks to the federal Child Safety Pilot Program introduced in 2003, it has been easier for organizations serving children and youth to obtain criminal background reports on both employees and volunteers. And the program will be a few steps closer to shedding its "pilot" classification if, or when, the Child Protection Improvements Act of 2009 passes into law. The U.S. House of Representatives cleared the bill this week to move on to the Senate.
According to sponsor Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the program has proved itself effective. The FBI has conducted upwards of 89,000 fingerprint checks for organizations, identifying more than 5,000 potential volunteers with "criminal records of concern."
Many of those people had criminal records outside of the state where they wanted to volunteer. Only by bringing the U.S. Department of Justice and states together are such nationwide searches possible. And that's what the program is all about.
Past efforts to smooth the way for nonprofits to screen volunteers have not been as successful. Bill sponsors cite barriers at the state level that include access to F.B.I. criminal background data and costs to the organization. The 2009 act directs the U.S. Attorney General's office to work with states to remove those obstacles.
Also, the program achieves results at low or no cost to taxpayers. The bill also caps background check fees to nonprofits at $25 and gives the government no more than 10 days to respond to a request.
It should be noted, of course, that equal employment opportunity and data privacy laws come into play. The government agency conducting the background check must notify any potential volunteer identified as having a "criminal history of concern." That person can challenge the report or can withdraw his or her consent to release the report to the volunteer organization.
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