Risk Management: Questions from the Field

by Ed Schirick

I spoke to several camp directors this past summer who were uncertain about how criminal background checks fit into their employment practices. After many good discussions, I concluded that there might be other camp professionals with similar questions.

The following “mini” audit of this issue and subsequent comments are designed to stimulate a review of your camp’s risk management practices and policies. The list is compiled from common questions stemming from discussion on this subject with various directors.

What is your camp’s policy on criminal background checks?

Buying liability insurance (transferring the risk) for the risks of child maltreatment is increasingly dependent upon a human resource plan that includes criminal background checks of all staff who have access to children or supervisory authority over them. Insurance company underwriters want to know that your employment applications include questions about convictions of crimes — especially crimes involving children — and that you have a solid risk management plan in place to address the risks.

If your employment application does not contain this type of question, we recommend revising your application at your earliest opportunity. Check with other camp directors to determine how they ask this question, or ask your attorney for assistance.

If you just reprinted a ten-year supply of your employment application and didn’t include a question about conviction of a crime, consider using the Voluntary Disclosure Statement (Form FM 16) developed by ACA as a supplement to your staff application. Alternatively, if you don’t have the budget dollars available to revamp your application, consider using the Camp Staff Application (Form FM 10N) ACA developed, which contains a criminal record question. All forms are available from the ACA Bookstore, or call 800-428-2267.

Is your policy in writing?

If it isn’t, it should be. We recommend that your human resource policies, which will include your criminal background checking policy, be included in your risk management plan, as well as, in your staff manual.

Some directors have expressed concern about putting these policies in writing. These concerns are legitimate and flow from the idea that if something goes wrong and we didn’t follow our written policy, we “hang ourselves.” Your human resource policies shouldn’t be a secret. Publishing the policy is the best way to communicate it. Talking about your policies with staff — constantly refining them with input from staff — will not only improve your policies, but also help staff implement them more effectively.

Do you screen volunteer/paid workers in the same way?

If volunteer workers have access to children, or have supervisory authority over children, then conduct criminal background checks the same way you conduct them for paid staff.

Do you have a volunteer worker application? If you don’t, consider developing one that includes space for volunteer work experience, as well as past, paid worker experience. The same questions should beincorporated about conviction of crimes, etc.

What about CITs? Aren’t they volunteer workers? CITs can be considered volunteer workers to some degree. But each camp’s leadership development program is a little different, so it is difficult to offer advice that applies to each program’s subtlety. For example, some camps only accept former campers into their CIT programs so the director and others in the organization already know them. Some camps don’t require CITs to be former campers. Some CITs pay tuition; others don’t.

Since CITs are minors, the best advice is to make sure there is a formal application process that includes personal references. Be sure to check these personal references with the same diligence you apply to paid staff references. Include a personal interview, if you can — especially if your program doesn’t require CITs to be former campers. A criminal background investigation of minors is inappropriate, since, if there were any criminal convictions, the juvenile record would most likely be unavailable. Instead, consider having the CITs sign an affidavit of good conduct or the ACA Voluntary Disclosure Statement.

Should you periodically check the criminal background of current staff?

Take a “Mini” Audit of Your Camp’s Risk Management Policies
What is your camp’s human resource policy on criminal background checks of prospective employees?
Is your policy in writing?
Do you screen volunteer workers the same way?
Do you periodically check the criminal background record of current employees?
What type of criminal background check do you use?
How do you check minor employees?
Does your employment application authorize a criminal background check and include the appropriate Fair Credit Reporting Act language?
When was your human resource policy reviewed last by your Boardof Directors and your attorney?

 

If employees are year-round employees, chances are your organization would be aware of any criminal activity. So, as long as you investigated their criminal history before you hired them, we don’t think it is necessary to check them periodically during employment.

What are the best criminal background checks?

We recommend using an independent contractor, employment background screening service, or your local law enforcement contacts to help you decide which background checks work best for you. We also think these organizations should perform the background checks. This will ensure privacy, as well as efficiency.

Choose the criminal background investigation tool or combination of tools that makes the most sense for your business.

National
A fingerprint-based national criminal background check is only available through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This is the most comprehensive criminal background check available. The FBI fingerprint check may or may not be available to you through your local law enforcement contacts. It is costly and may take some time. As a practical matter, this may be the type of check to use when investigating candidates for key, full-time leadership positions who have lived in many states.

State
Many states, but not all, now allow employers to conduct fingerprint-based criminal background investigations on prospective employees. You may have to go through local law enforcement or through the state department of justice. Cost of these services varies by state, as does the response time. Fingerprint checks are more time consuming, but offer the most comprehensive information available on the state level. A statewide criminal check may make the most sense for employees who live and go to school in one state. Logistics for getting the fingerprints from college students may make this alternative a difficult choice for some camps.

Local
Generally, it is our understanding that a local criminal history check can be accomplished using the person’s full legal name and date of birth. This may be the most cost-effective approach for conducting criminal background investigations on prospective summer staff. And it is the simplest approach. These checks should be conducted in the county where the person resides, as well as in the county where he or she attends school. Criminal history checks should be conducted each year on all summer staff. This includes former campers and those employees returning from last summer.

Besides using one or more of these criminal history checking tools, all full-time and seasonal staff names should be checked against the State Child Abuser and Sex Abuser Registry. Your organization can conduct these checks. Many states have established telephone numbers to call or published information on the Internet. The information is free, or the cost is minimal.

How do you check the criminal history of minor employees?

A criminal history investigation of minor employees under eighteen does not yield information because any criminal convictions — or brushes with the law — are usually “sealed” by juvenile courts and are unavailable to the public. We recommend that minor employees go through the same employment screening process as adults. Instead of a criminal history check, we suggest completion of an affidavit of good conduct or the ACA Voluntary Disclosure Statement.

Does your employment application provide appropriate legal notice?

Some directors are incorporating the authorization to conduct a criminal background check and other inquiries right into their application. Others have decided to use separate documents dedicated to this purpose. Whichever approach you decide to take, make sure the document contains proper legal notice and disclosure wording. Check with the background screening service you’ve selected or your attorney for guidance on this issue.

When was your human resource policy reviewed last?

Obviously, if you don’t know the answer to this question, now would be a good time to conduct a review. You should review your human resource policy on an annual basis. Your board of directors and attorney are critical partners in developing and approving any changes. The criminal background checking policy — as an overall part of the human resource policy and risk management plan — probably doesn’t need to be reviewed annually, unless there are developments that justify this.

Hopefully these questions and answers have been informative and have helped to motivate you to consider your camp’s criminal background checking policies and practices and your risk management plan, in general.

Ed Schirick is president of Schirick and Associates Insurance Brokers in Rock Hill, New York, where he specializes in providing risk management advice and in arranging insurance coverage for camps. Schirick is a chartered property casualty underwriter and a certified insurance counselor. He can be reached at 845-794-3113.

Originally published in the 2003 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.

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