Does Your State Mandate Volunteer Background Checks?

The federally sponsored Child Safety Pilot Program looked at data from fingerprint-based background checks of nearly 68,000 volunteers and found that  that the vast majority (94%) of volunteers had no criminal history. For the most part, those who volunteer to work with youth sports leagues are parents and community members; our friends and neighbors that we know and trust. However, the study also looked at the remaining 6% and found that:

  • More than 4,000 volunteer applicants had a criminal history of concern, including offenses such as sexual abuse of minors, assault, child cruelty, murder, and serious drug offenses.
  • 41% of these individuals had criminal histories from other states, which local name-based checks would not have identified.
  • 50% of these individuals had falsely indicated on their applications that they did not have a criminal history

Believe it or not, some states actually require coach and volunteer background checks by law. In New York state, for instance (home to SportsSignup), “Background checks are currently required by State law or regulation for individuals who have contact with children in camps, childcare programs, and therapeutic programs… a municipality can help create a safer environment for community youth through background checks in the hiring and screening of all individuals associated with its youth programs.” However, when the Office of the New York Comptroller conducted on audit on 8 municipalities they found that seven of the eight municipalities “failed to conduct background checks on all of the individuals who deliver their youth program services.” Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego), a member of the California State Assembly recently introduced California Assembly Bill 465 that would require all youth sports coaches and volunteers to undergo background checks.

Many national youth sports organizations, like the American Youth Soccer Organization and Little League Baseball Inc., also require volunteers who work with children to undergo criminal background checks.

However, much like in New York many municipalities and leagues are not abiding by these federal, state, and organization rules (or are slipping through the loopholes in the law). In California, the parents of a young soccer player who was raped by her coach are suing the soccer league, as well as the state and national soccer associations, for not running a background check on her coach. The parents are claiming that had the league run a background check they would have found out he had been convicted in 2007 for physical abuse and should have never been allowed to coach in the first place.

In New York, some of the audited municipalities said that their familiarity with the applicants kept them from running a volunteer background check. They also argued that screening every volunteer would stretch already thin resources. Not every state has legislation in place that requires youth sports organizations to run background checks on every volunteer that walks through the doors, but no matter what the law mandates local sports leagues should take it upon themselves to be as diligent as possible when it comes to protecting the young players.

Because SportsSignup is committed to making youth sports a safe and healthy environment for every child, our KidSafePlus system will help sports leagues automate, streamline and secure the coach and volunteer background check process, all in full compliance with Federal Reporting rules. This translates to protecting not only the kids, but also your sports organization and the privacy of your coaches and volunteers. With KidSafePlus, all results are re-verified by trained researchers and compared against the National Criminal File Search, a database of over 200 million criminal records compiled from numerous records including government watch lists, fugitive watch lists, sexual and violent offenders registries, state and county repositories, and state department of corrections.