Criminal Background Checks Update

Camps rely on employees and volunteers to provide essential services
throughout the year. These individuals work with children and youth, often
on a daily basis, in a variety of camp settings.

The American Camping Association and its camps are committed to providing
a safe and positive camp experience to all who participate. In order to
protect children from potential abuse and mistreatment, camps need to
have the ability to perform comprehensive, timely and cost effective background
checks on all potential employees and volunteers.

The process of obtaining checks has been fraught with challenges from
patchwork accessibility, to cost, to timeliness of response.

New Legislation Proposed

In the 107th Congress, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), introduced The National
Child Protection Improvement Act (S. 1868). This act would help simplify
the current system by establishing a national coordination center for
all background checks.

This center would coordinate, at little or no cost, a primarily fingerprint-based
criminal background check for organizations that serve children. The bill
also ensures that all responses would be processed in fifteen business
days or less.

The legislation authorizes a total of $180 million over the next five
years to underwrite all expenses associated with providing no-cost background
checks, plus $5 million in fiscal year 2003, plus sums for an additional
four years to be distributed by the states to acquire better fingerprinting
systems and to improve their criminal records.

Senator Biden is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Crime
and Drugs, and has expressed his commitment to this legislation. Currently,
there are no co-sponsors of the bill and ACA members are encouraged to
contact their senators and ask them to support S. 1868. For a template
letter and contact information, please visit the public policy section
of ACA’s Web site (www.ACAcamps.org/publicpolicy).

Background

In 1998, President Clinton signed The Volunteers for Children Act, an
amendment to the National Child Protection Act of 1993. The act gave qualified
entities the ability to request fingerprint-based national criminal history
background checks of volunteers and employees. While this was an important
development in legislation protecting children, inconsistencies in implementation
among states still exist to this day.

Defining Qualified Entity

A qualified entity is any business or organization that provides care,
treatment, education, training, instruction, supervision, or recreation
for children, the elderly, or individuals with disabilities whether public,
private, for-profit, nonprofit, or voluntary. Clearly, this definition
fits the camp community.

Federal Law Is Voluntary

Because the federal law is voluntary, state police agencies can decide
whether or not they want to conduct the checks, and children’s organizations
can decide whether or not they want to pursue them. The voluntary nature
of the law leads to inconsistencies in states’ use of the law.

National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact

Efforts have been made to improve this system. The compact has asked
states to share criminal record information with other jurisdictions in
response to noncriminal justice requests including background checks.
However, only seven states — Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Montana, South
Carolina, Colorado, and Iowa — have ratified the Compact since it was
enacted in 1998.

The FBI also established the Interstate Identification Index. When an
inquiry is made, it searches simultaneously the databases of each state’s
criminal history record repository. In order for the system to work effectively,
however, each state needs to participate in the Compact.

Current Procedure

The current procedure for conducting background checks continues to vary
from state to state, making response time, cost, and results quite varied.
This procedure is not acceptable to the American Camping Association,
which wants all camps to have the ability to obtain safe and cost-effective
background checks in a timely manner.

Requesting Fingerprint Checks

To request fingerprint-based national criminal history background checks
of volunteers and employees, a qualified entity should contact their state
law enforcement agency. Employers will send fingerprints and other employee
information to their state law enforcement identification bureau, which
will, in turn, contact the FBI. No group or organization can request a
check unless a set of fingerprints is obtained from the employee or volunteer,
and the employee or volunteer must also sign a statement that includes
specific information.

Through the state law enforcement agency, the organization will receive
a statement detailing whether or not the individual in question has been
convicted of a crime that bears upon their suitability to provide care.
“Rap sheets” are not released.

Volunteer organizations must pay a fee to state and federal agencies
to access the information. The combined cost varies.

Many camps are utilizing commercial background-checking companies to
complete this task in staff screening and hiring. An article describing
the use of such services can be found in the October
1999 issue
of CampLine.

Originally published in the 2002 Winter issue
of The CampLine.

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