Background Checks and Volunteers.

It is one fear of many parents today – the innocence of their children being taken away by an sexual predator adult or an abduction by an adult.

To combat this, governments and groups – everything from states to Little League – have passed laws and rules requiring that people who come in contact with children have background checks performed on them.

The theory is performing a background check will eliminate child predators. Yet as with most things, theory is one thing, practice is another.

In the Sunshine State of Florida, if you step onto a school campus in any other capacity other than a parent and have contact with children, you must have a background check done on your life. If you are a teacher, you must have a background check. If you are a maintenance worker, you must have a background check. Here in our county, if you are a contractor, your employees must have background checks. If you are a volunteer mother or father working on a bake sale, you must have a background check. If you volunteer for a school field trip, you must have a background check. If you go to talk to your child’s teacher, you don’t need a background check. But if you volunteer to help as a teacher’s aid, you need a background check.

The fees for the background checks themselves range anywhere from $70 – $115, depending on a variety of factors. Some schools and programs will help pay for the cost of the background check. Others require the would-be volunteer to foot the entire cost. If you are a teacher, the school system pays for your background check.

That, of course, leads to the strange situation where a person who is looking to donate their time and efforts have to pay for the privilege, while a person who will be making money from working at the school has their background fees paid by the government.

Aside from the costs of the background checks, one has to question their effectiveness.

There are literally hundreds of sites dedicated to teachers as sexual predators.

The site “School Teacher News” has lists and interactive maps describing and showing the locations of the 411 scandals involving teachers in 2010, the 464 scandals in 2009, the 478 scandals in 2008 and the 263 scandals to date in 2011.

Locations of Teacher Scandals in 2011

Locations of Teacher Scandals in 2010

If background checks were an effective, would we have this many incidents?

We are not trying to disparage teachers. Clearly the number of teachers that are involved in these types of things are a minute portion of the ranks of teachers.

We are questioning the effectiveness of the background checks as there is a fundamental flaw in the checks themselves – they can only look at past behavior and cannot predict the future actions of anyone.

There is also the concern as to the accuracy of the checks themselves.

A federal class action claims that consumer credit agency Infotrack Information Services falsely identified “hundreds or thousands of consumers as sex offenders in consumer reports provided to employers.”

“This was not a one-time mistake on Infotrack’s part,” the complaint states. “Infotrack reports sex offender information about consumers whenever the consumer’s first and last name matches the first and last name of any sex offender in its national sex offender database. Moreover, it never checks to determine whether the consumer’s date of birth – or other personal identifying information – matches the date of birth of the actual sex offender. The failure to implement such basic cross-checking procedures has resulted in the erroneous labeling of hundreds or thousands of consumers as sex offenders in consumer reports provided to employers.” (Emphasis in original.)

The data can be faulty, the results don’t have the desired effect and yet we keep throwing money at this problem in a “feel good” effort that does nothing other than prevent honest people from volunteering at schools. Volunteers either cannot afford the background check fee, don’t want to pay the fee or walk away from the background check due to the overwhelming invasiveness into their private lives.

How invasive?

A friend of ours is a mother of two girls, aged 8 and 13. The friend has volunteered at her private school in the past without issues. She has worked during lunchtimes as a cafeteria monitor, worked on bake sales, gone on field trips, worked on committees for “Teacher Appreciation Day,” organized the Scholastic Book Club Sales, and helped in the organization of the school uniform sale.

This year she was told she needed to have a background check done. She had to fill out a long form and then sign a legal waiver on the background check.

This is what the waiver reads:

(We have blocked out the name of the school and the company providing the background check.)

This authorization and consent for release of personal information acknowledges that THE SCHOOL (hereager referred to as “Company”) and/or its agent, BACKGROUND CHECK COMPANY, may now or at any time I am assigned to, volunteer with or am employed by this Company, conduct investigations whether the records are of a public, private or confidential nature. These investigations might include, but are not limited to, searches of educational institutions attended; financial or credit institutions, including records of loans, records of commercial or retail credit agencies; other financial statements; records of previous employment, including work history, efficiency ratings, complaints and grievances filed by or against me; records and recollections of attorney-at-law or of other counsel, whether representing me or any other person (in either civil or criminal case in which I have been involved); records from the US Veterans’ Administration; criminal history information on file in local, state, or federal agencies; and motor vehicle records, and following an employment offer, workers’ compensation reports from either the Department of Labor, National Personnel Records or the Industrial Commission or similar agencies under the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act 15, USC section 1681 et seq. I also authorize the National Personnel Records Center, or other custodian of my military service record, to release to BACKGROUND CHECK COMPANY, the following information and/or copies of documents from my military service record: DD214, service record, and any disciplinary records.

I understand that these searches will be used to determine work assignment or employment eligibility under the company’s employment or volunteer policies. Therefore, I authorize and consent for full release of records (either orally or in writing) to the authorized representatives of the Company. In addition, I release and discharge the company and its agent and associates to the fell extent permitted by law from any claims, damages, losses, liabilities, costs expenses or any other charge or complaint filed with any agency arising from retrieving and reporting this information. I understand that according to the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, I am entitled to know whether employment was denied based upon the information obtained and to receive, upon written request, a disclosure of the background report. I also understand that I may request a copy of the report from my employer who has contracted with BACKGROUND CHECK COMPANY (ADDRESS OF BACKGROUND CHECK COMPANY). After reading this document, I fully understand its contents and authorize the background verification. (emphasis ours)

We are sure that many people will say “if you don’t have anything to hide, then this is not an issue.”


What is being asked of school volunteers is pay to have their entire life opened like a can of sardines in order for someone to pass judgement on that life based on what what may be false information. That judgment is then reported back to the school, where their lives and reputations may be ruined within the community in a logical fallacy of predicting what the volunteer may do in the future.

See what fun a hundred bucks can get you?

The results are predictable: people aren’t volunteering.

The United Kingdom tried to implement the same type of background checks.

Immediately people began to complain. Part of those complaints centered around such checks may actually put more kids at risk, rather than help protect them.

A Civitas spokesman said: “If the government fails to halt the [Vetting and Barring Scheme], the scheme will continue to poison the relationship between the generations, intersecting a broader culture of fear, which creates a formal barrier between adults and children.”

Civitas said the system went against the government’s “Big Society” idea, and “actually increases the risks to children”.

The organisation said problems included:

  • More than 12,000 innocent people erroneously being labelled as paedophiles, violent or criminals
  • Councils banning parents from playgrounds, saying only vetted “play rangers” would be allowed in
  • Parents running into difficulties when trying to share the responsibilities of the school run
  • The proposed British system has been scaled back to a much more reasonable level:

    Only those in sensitive posts or who have intensive contact with children or vulnerable people will need to be cleared and undergo criminal record checks.

    Instead of millions having to register themselves with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which would conduct criminal record checks and oversee a national database, the onus will shift to the employer to ensure staff are properly checked and cleared to work.

    The number of people affected is expected to more than halve.

    In a related move, criminal record checks will no longer be sent directly to potential employers but to the individual first to allow them to challenge any concerns or suspected errors.

    In our opinion, the British have gotten it right. While many of the problems such as false reporting are still there, parents who want to volunteer at their child’s school are no longer required to attempt to prove they are innocent of anything.

    Today’s schools are hurting. We are in need of more parental involvement and volunteerism at all levels. Everything from teacher’s aides, lunch room aides, hall monitors, chaperones, to drama and athletic coaches should be encouraged and not have barriers in place which automatically discourage honest men and women.

    We need to enact and spend on policies that actually protect children, rather than give the illusion of that protection.

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