Safety & Security

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Working with Kids? Get Background Checks

15 Jan, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic
Colorado Legislators Propose Mandatory Checks for Individuals Involved with Minors

While it may seem like common sense to subject youth sports employees to background checks, the number of individuals with convictions for crimes against children – felony child abuse or sexual behavior – who slip into such jobs remains alarmingly high. In reality, the requirements for such background checks are not widespread, and are often subject to a patchwork of state laws or private organizational rules.

In Colorado, two Boulder County legislators recently proposed Senate Bill 48, which would require private youth sports organizations such as hockey and soccer clubs that operate in the state to conduct criminal background checks of all their paid employees, and volunteers who work directly with youth members five or more days per calendar month.

The legislation’s sponsors, State Senator Rollie Heath (D-Boulder) and Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont) say the goal of the bill is to identify current or prospective coaches, staffers and volunteers who have been convicted of felony child abuse or felony sexual behavior before they hired into positions in which they have access to children, reported the Longmont Times Call.

Colorado currently mandates background checks of individuals who work in school-affiliated programs, but does not extend that rule to private sports programs, leaving a gaping hole in the law for individuals with criminal backgrounds to slip through the cracks.

"I think most parents have a reasonable assumption when they drop their kids off somewhere that they're not dropping them off with someone who will do them harm,” said Rep. Singer, noting that while most programs use the common-sense background checks already, "We also know that pedophiles choose these kinds of places to work."

If SB 48 clears the Senate, it will then move onto the state House of Representatives, and will make Colorado a leader in the issue. To date, New York is the only state that mandates background checks for all community youth programs, public or private. California has laws on the books that require youth sports organizations to notify parents whether background checks are conducted, but it stops short of mandating the checks.

The issue of background checks in youth sports remains a problematic one thanks to the national patchwork of rules and voluntary nature of many programs.  Not all private groups have large resources, and there are no rules to mandate the procedures being used to conduct the checks, according to the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS), which released a white paper on the topic in 2012.

“The good news is that today, the majority of youth sports organizations require volunteers to undergo some form of screening,” according to the NAYS. “But for many, questions still remain. Since there is not a standard screening protocol that all organizations abide by, the variations in methods used is staggering. Some organizations are struggling with the resources and knowledge necessary to conduct duly diligent background checks on their potential volunteers, whether coaches, officials or administrators. Understanding the complexities of what a thorough background check entails continues to challenge many organizations.”

Prominent youth sports organizations such as Little League mandate at least a baseline of background checking regardless of state, county or city law. These checks apply to managers, coaches, board of directors members and volunteers or hired workers who provide regular service to the league or have regular contact with players or teams, and the checks must be carried out annually.

In cases when objections have been cited to rules mandating background checks, cost is often cited as the most pressing concern, as cash-strapped groups are often required to foot the bill for the checks from their own budgets.

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