Monday, November 2, 2009

Background Checks for Volunteers

I tried to come up with a clever topic to send out today, but alas, not much came to mind.  I think all of my cleverness was used up yesterday when I tried to help my kids down from the Halloween induced sugar high experienced this weekend.  I will try and do better a little later in the week. 

Something that did grab my attention this morning was an article about volunteers.  As you may remember, I feel strongly about volunteerism.  Volunteering in your community is a great way to give back, but it is also a wonderful way to get to know other people.  As the saying goes, "You love those you serve."  I have found this to be true over the years and cherish the friends I have made.

The article I was reading seemed straightforward enough, the topic was background checks for volunteers.  Many cities and states have laws requiring background checks for all people who volunteer their time with children, the elderly and the disabled.  Some states have stricter background check requirements than others, but because of the National Child Protection Act signed into law in 1993, businesses and organizations have access to national fingerprint databases to weed out volunteers with criminal backgrounds.

The US Bureau of Labor statistics believes nearly 62 million people volunteered at least one time last year.  Not all of them volunteered with children, the elderly or the disabled, but that is still a lot of background checks.  Over the last 16 years I am sure the background check policies of cities and states have kept many child offenders away form children, which is a good thing.

Now for the crazy part.  There is a growing number of people who believe background checks are a breach of privacy and information about them should not be searched just because they want to volunteer. No, really.

So here is my question.  If you want to volunteer and you want your efforts directed at children, the elderly or the disabled, and you know there are background checks involved, why are you complaining?  It was optional and you signed up for it.  There are thousands of places to volunteer that don't do a background check.

Organizations and businesses don't like to do background checks because it is fun.  In fact it isn't fun for them at all and it can cost a lot of money, anywhere from $15 to $150 per person.  They do the checks to ensure the safety of those they care for.

Here is my little story.  Years ago I went to get a fingerprint clearance card.  I wanted to volunteer with kids and was thinking about substitute teaching.  I headed down to the local police department and had my prints taken.  I sent them into the State with a check to cover the cost of a background check.  A few weeks later I got a letter stating my fingerprints weren't clear and I needed to have them redone, which I did, 7 times.  Apparently I don't have great fingerprints.  This is not the result of anything I did, just genetics which gave me ill defined ridges.  (Who knew I would ever be denied the ability to volunteer with children over something as silly as ill defined ridges???)

Anyway, it took over a year, multiple trips to different law agencies, an email to my US Senator and a FBI search before I was cleared.  Whew!  That was intense.

Now at any point in this process was I worried?  No.  At any point was I unaware they were looking at my life in great detail?  No.  Was I offended they kept denying me because they couldn't match my prints?  No.  (I do have to admit I was frustrated that it took so long, but was not offended that they were being thorough.)  The point is this, I started the process when I made the decision to volunteer with kids.  I knew they were going to do it and I actively spent the time to get my fingerprints done and redone.

If I was worried about what they would find, I doubt I would have spent the time and money to start the process.  If I was worried about an invasion of privacy I would have found another way to spend my time.

As a mother I am glad they check out the people who work with my kids.  As a volunteer I am happy to give other parents the same comfort.  It is crazy to believe only good people want to be around my kids.  It is a sad truth we live in a world with people who wish us harm, but it is true.

Now that I have depressed you I want to leave you with a great thought.  Even though these background checks are causing controversy, millions of people still spend the time to volunteer.  They show up week in and week out to be great role models and amazing influences on our community.  They give of themselves and their time to help those around them.  I am proud to be part of a country which values theses individuals...background checks and all.

1 comment:

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