Monday, September 5, 2016

background checks required for school volunteers

Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids passes along a story about requirements for parents who want to volunteer at a Maryland school.
All schools volunteers, including those who come in for 45 minutes to help with parties or the classroom, etc., must complete mandatory online training in identifying child neglect and abuse. I can only imagine how the # of completely unfounded calls is going to skyrocket after this! (Kid’s hair isn’t combed? Doesn’t have the right clothes? Hungry because s/he skipped breakfast? Call CPS!)

But the best part is that anyone who might have “unsupervised access” to kids – including in the hallways – must undergo fingerprinting and background checks. Has there been a rash of abuse by unsupervised adults in the recent past? Of course not, but you can NEVER BE TOO SAFE.
What problem were the new requirements supposed to solve? Does the school have a history of volunteers abusing children? No.

Is there reason to believe that there is a new trend where volunteers abuse children at the school? Nope. Only a feeling.

But if someone wanted to abuse children? He or she would not need a school full of children to accomplish that. A family dinner would suffice. Dance class or Sunday school.

Child abuse is largely a crime of opportunity. Someone who abuses a child is far more likely to abuse a child already nearby, a child who already trusts the abuser. A family member. A teacher. A coach.

Someone who would pass the background check. 

Why would anyone argue against the background check if there is nothing to hide? Lenore says:
This normalization of background checks for any and every adult interacting with kids is based on the assumption that everyone is a child molester until proven otherwise. And yet, what is that “proving” worth? The vast majority of the 850,000 people on the Sex Offender List will not commit a new sex crime...  At the same time, Jerry Sandusky would have passed any background check with flying colors.
Consider that your child's excellent Sunday school teacher could have committed armed robbery in another state twenty years ago and the background check will not discover that because background checks often do not go back that far or examine records in other states. Because the registry is online and because nothing available online can be completely erased, a former sex offender can always be identified as a sex offender, no matter how exemplary his life in the intervening years.

Knowing that someone is listed on the sex offender registry tells us nothing about whether he is dangerous. Even the risk levels that some states assign to registrants tell us nothing. Since the vast majority of registered sex offenders will not offend again, any risk assessment is a weak attempt to distinguish between someone who is almost certainly not going to offend again and someone who is extremely unlikely to offend again.

At Free Range Kids, commenter SKL says:
I think that even if someone has made a mistake in the past, it is probably still better on a macro basis to have that person active in the community. Policies that make people hide in their homes and take their kids out of activities are not better IMO. Kids who are most at risk should be out in the community where they can see how normal people behave, they can talk to someone if they need to, and others can notice if something isn’t right. When you look at the cases of kids most failed by adults, these kids have been isolated and thus denied help. Policies that isolate families are generally bad. [My emphasis.]
A blanket policy for background checks can isolate a family. When someone has spent years or decades overcoming a troubled past, digging it up again in a background check can do great harm. We risk children learning about a parent's past crimes before children are able to understand what that means.

A background check will tell us about someone's crimes but it will say nothing about how his or her life has turned around.


TheWife said...

Will training result in in unfounded calls skyrocketing after parents take mandatory online training? If the training is any good this shouldn't happen and having more adults who are tuned in regarding signs of abuse can only be a good thing. Messy hair isn't a sign of neglect. However a a kid turning up at school with no food in their belly, or inappropriately dressed can be a sign of neglect, or a sign of poverty or misplaced priorities by the adults in their lives. Or it can be a sign they slept in and had to make a mad dash to school. If such reports were made then authorities are more than capable of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Sexual abuse is more likely to happen opportunistically and by someone known to the child, yes, however, this kind of volunteering is carried out by people known and trusted by the child (ie, a schoolmates parent, a teachers partner etc). So isn't screening to ensure past offences aren't an issue a sensible approach? Do we wait until a few kids have been abused under such circumstances before putting in place preventative measures? Isn't it more sensible to take a pro active approach? It often takes years for a child to disclose that abuse occurred (if they ever do).

Of course, checks will only weed out potential volunteers who have a criminal record, it's not predicative of future behaviour. I suspect anyone with such a criminal record would not sign up for such voluntary work post conviction as they will be aware their conviction would be revealed by a check. But with no check in place, who knows if a persistent offender would take the opportunity. Why take the chance? Also, they will have been well advised post conviction to avoid such scenarios to protect themselves from being placed in a position that leaves them vulnerable to accusations; being left alone with a child, or an opportunistic abuse occurring involving another adult that would lead the police authorities to scrutinise them in the first instance merely for being in the vicinity.

LizaMoore said...

Ugh! You know who passes background checks? People who haven't gotten caught. The ones that won't pass know not to apply for it!!

Worrying about stranger danger allows you to ignore the real threat in your own home.

If you have volunteered for a school party, you know there isn't a chance of getting a kid alone!

So stupid!

I hope you and your family are well, Marie.