Legislation Will Expand Background Checks for Volunteers that Work with Young Children
Today three former Chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE), Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), introduced the Child Protection Improvements Act of 2008 (S.2756), legislation that will expand and make permanent a national child safety protection pilot program established in the 2003 PROTECT Act (P.L. 108-21). The program was created to allow youth-serving organizations such as MENTOR/the National Mentoring Partnership and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to run FBI background checks on prospective volunteers to determine whether they present a potential threat to children. As part of the process, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) analyzed the rap sheets of prospective volunteers and made fitness determination recommendations regarding whether the applicant was suitable to work with children.
"Millions of people volunteer to work with our nation's youth every year," said Sen. Biden, Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs. "While most of them have the best interests of our children at heart, we've got to do everything we can to keep away those who prey on our kids. This legislation will help the Boys & Girls Clubs, and others like them, screen volunteers and keep our kids safe."
Since the pilot program was created, 37,000 background checks have been performed. Of these volunteer applicants, 6.1 percent were found to have criminal backgrounds that rendered them unfit to work with children, including sexual crimes against children. Nearly 40 percent had moved across state lines with the hope of leaving their records of conviction behind and once again having unfettered access to children. The program is set to expire on July 30, 2008.
"It's no exaggeration to say that the future of our country depends on adults volunteering to help mentor youth, particularly those who might be struggling or otherwise lack positive role models," said Sen. Hatch, a member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs. "It's also no exaggeration that some criminals, under the guise of altruism, exploit youth groups to act on their sick ends. This bill will grant peace of mind to groups like the Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, and the YMCA."
"I am pleased to cosponsor the Child Protection Improvement Act which will enable organizations who work with children to confidently screen volunteers using a nationwide background check system," Sen. Specter said. "This bill will foster volunteerism while keeping our children safe."
Despite the effectiveness of the pilot program, it was limited in several respects. First, only a limited number of organizations could access the system, and secondly, inconsistencies in the appropriations process left many organizations unable to apply for background checks. To address these deficiencies, the Child Protection Improvements Act of 2008 opens the program to more youth-serving organizations and provides a means for a steady stream of resources to allow the program to grow toward the goal of protecting more children.
Specifically, the Child Protection Improvements Act of 2008 will:
* Make the pilot program permanent;
* Create an Applicant Processing Center (APC) to assist youth-serving organizations with the administrative tasks related to accessing the system, including the collection of fingerprints and working with the FBI on fees;
* Establish the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children fitness determination process permanently; and
* Authorize a fee of no more than $25 to pay for the FBI for the background check and to off-set the expenses incurred by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the new Applicant Processing Center.
The bill has been endorsed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and a wide cross section of youth-serving, nonprofit organizations, including the American Camp Association, Afterschool Alliance, America's Promise Alliance, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Communities In Schools, Inc., First Focus, MENTOR/The National Mentoring Partnership, and YMCA of the USA.
"The pilot program proved that it is essential for youth serving organizations to have access to national, fingerprint-based background checks. Even knowing that they are being fingerprinted and checked, we have found that offenders are still trying to gain legitimate access to children. Through this program, we have screened out child molesters, drug dealers, and other dangerous criminals. The pilot program worked and the program needs to be expanded," said Ernie Allen, CEO and President of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.