As summer camp season approaches, the American Camp Association is urging passage of a law that would make the screening of potential employees and volunteers more possible.
"A gaping hole" exists in federal law that keeps camps and other youth organizations from accessing federal criminal background checks, said Peg Smith, chief executive of the American Camp Association.
“Most parents assume there’s a national system and there’s not,” she said.
She urges passage of the Child Protection Improvements Act introduced in the Senate in July by Sen. Charles Schumer.
The bill would set up a single clearinghouse to process background checks — either within the FBI or overseen by the FBI.
Currently, the federal system is accessible in fewer than half of states, said Elena Rocha, director of youth development policy and partnerships for YMCA of the USA. "FBI checks are a critical part of an effective screening strategy," she said.
The legislation has been repeatedly introduced in Congress, and Rocha said it has broad bipartisan support. It has been endorsed by the Afterschool Alliance, American Camp Association, America’s Promise Alliance, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Camp Fire USA, Communities In Schools, Inc., First Focus, GLSEN — the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, National Collaboration for Youth, and YMCA of the USA.
The American Civil Liberties Union takes no position on the legislation.
A test program, the PROTECT Child Safety Pilot, was set up in 2003 to determine the feasibility of a nationwide system of fingerprint checks.
MENTOR used this pilot program to screen volunteers for mentoring organizations that are part of its network. More than 77,000 background checks were done and 6 percent were found to have criminal records of concern.
Under the Schumer legislation, a clearinghouse would approve organizations that could use the service.
Potential employees or volunteers would be able to see their history and challenge the accuracy of it.