Unfortunately, every year a number of convicted felons will try to spend unsupervised time with children by volunteering with a non-profit organization. However, a nationwide FBI fingerprint search, part of the PROTECT Act pilot program, has prevented many such offenders from volunteering -- and protected children from harm.
To build on the success of the pilot and make these essential background checks permanently and widely available to youth-serving organizations, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) have sponsored the bipartisan Child Protection Improvements Act. The legislation would:
* Ensure that youth-serving organizations, all across the country, would have access to FBI fingerprint searches in a timely, affordable and accurate manner;
* Streamline the process of obtaining nationwide background checks through the creation of a new national Applicant Processing Center; and
* Protect the privacy rights of volunteers by ensuring that all volunteers have a chance to correct errors in the records.
"Giving non-profits that work with children the ability to better screen their volunteers has a proven track record of protecting our young people. And background checks for nonprofits working with children can be conducted quickly, affordably, and accurately," Rep. Schiff said. "It's time to create a permanent system, one that will protect children while ensuring the privacy of volunteers. When it comes to protecting children across the country involved with mentoring organizations, after-school programs, youth sports, and more, we should always strive for the gold standard."
"Parents and their children should not need to worry about their safety and well-being when participating in unsupervised youth organization activities," Rep. Rogers said. "The Child Protection Improvements Act would achieve both goals of protecting children from possible harm in youth-oriented programs and respecting the privacy of those who selflessly choose to volunteer."
Congress created the Child Safety Pilot Program in 2003 to demonstrate the feasibility of allowing youth-serving nonprofits to access FBI background checks. Three times since then, Congress has acted to extend the pilot so that thousands of community organizations all over the country don't lose access to background checks for their volunteers.
Nearly 90,000 FBI fingerprint checks have been conducted through the pilot. In 94 percent of the cases, the background check returns no serious criminal history. However, in 6 percent of the cases, a record of some kind was found, in some cases an extensive record which the applicant attempted to conceal. In 23 percent of those cases, the applicant gave a name other than the one in their criminal history. Applicants were found with convictions for everything from murder to child abuse to sexual assault; and frequently those convictions were from out of State so that only an FBI background check would have found them.
Outside of the pilot, just one-third of states currently allow youth-serving organizations to access FBI searches. Even when these searches are available, high costs and lengthy response times often make them inaccessible. The goal of this bill is to keep the cost of background checks as low as possible so that they remain affordable for the smallest non-profits, while ensuring the program can be sustained without annual appropriations.
"We are grateful to Representatives Schiff and Rogers for introducing this critical legislation today," said Larry Wright, President and CEO of MENTOR. "It is essential that we pass this bill to protect the safety of millions of children across the country by screening potential volunteers and employees at youth serving organizations."
"We applaud Congressman Adam Schiff for introducing the Child Protection Improvements Act. As a former Big Brother, the Congressman understands that child safety is at the foundation of quality youth mentoring services," said Karen J. Mathis, Big Brothers Big Sisters President and CEO. "To achieve the highest quality standards possible, it is critical that service providers constantly review and strengthen screening and background check systems as new best practices in the industry emerge."
Last Congress, this legislation passed the House with a strong bipartisan majority of 413-4. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently introduced a companion to this bill in the Senate.