Background Checks, Youth Sports, and the Local News

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Background check on youth sports volunteers have exploded in popularity within the last few years. Administrators within these organizations take steps to protect children, recognizing the opportunity athletics affords people with bad intentions. Professionals in our industry work with these organizations, striving to create a solution that achieves this goal. However, there is no magic bullet, no way to guarantee, each and every time, someone who intends to do harm cannot. Therefore, it is important to look at the methods and tools youth organizations choose to protect children and limit opportunity.

Recently, a man who volunteered with his youth organization was arrested for possessing child pornography. This national organization has partnered with a company to administer a background check. Each local organization receives 80 free checks to screen their volunteers. After 80, each additional check costs one dollar.

Now, my point is not to attack a competitor or say there are definitely criminal records on this individual that should have been found. And this is not an attack on youth sports or the people who devote their time to running these organizations.

But I played youth sports and spent several years coaching when my “athletic” career was finished. And, prior to joining this industry, I spent time working in radio and television news. I look at this from three angles.

* A former player and coach. * A background check* professional. *A journalist.

As a Former Player and Coach

I observe the way in which this product is presented to this youth organization. It is certainly well intentioned. There are clear communications and instructions. It is easy to use. There are safeguards protecting the personal information of volunteers.

The story does not say conclusively if a search was run on this person or if there were any previous convictions, but suggests many organizations do not screen comprehensively. Based on my experiences, I believe this. Many volunteers have done so for years. They do not want to provide confidential information to a fellow volunteer who coordinates this. I know from personal experience coaches are concerned with personal information that will be available to others. I understand. And strongly disagree with them. Parents are not at every game or practice. Games end at dusk or later. There can be 40-50 opportunities per season for coaches and players to interact in a one on one setting. Coaches and volunteers absolutely should be screened.

As a Background Check Professional

I look at the product provided. Each background check up to 80 is free, and then costs just one dollar?

Think of the service your company provides. How much value does a product have if it’s provided for free? At most a buck? A buck doesn’t get you a cup of coffee anymore. What exactly does a dollar background check get you?

My colleague recently blogged on national database searches. These searches tend to be “data dumps” and contain incomplete, inaccurate, and outdated information. Many courts choose not to “dump” their criminal record information anyways. These are very cheap products and unfortunately, not good enough as the sole source of a criminal records check.

Generally speaking, when a company provides criminal record information, federal law requires one of two things. The first option is the providing company ensures the information is as accurate and current as possible. Doing this from information that originated out of a database demands a considerable amount of legwork and oversight.

The second option is to ping the database, provide what comes up, then send the applicant what amounts to a “maybe, maybe not” letter. It basically says “information was found and shared. It may or may not be accurate. It may or may not be you.”

Now remember how much this service costs. Maybe there are subsidies provided by the national organization or mass discounts behind the scenes I don’t know about. And a rule of thumb in this industry is that any type of search is better than nothing. And I do not advocate abandoning this service if the alternative is nothing. But there’s very little about this product that makes me feel as comfortable and safe as the marketing materials suggest.

Finally, As a Journalist.

Unfortunately, this story is too common. Volunteers, crime, children, followed by shock and outrage. However, I can’t recall the last time I saw a news organization report this story, use the words background check and actually say what that means.

A professional service that costs a dollar and pings a database that may or may not be accurate, complete or up to date? That can be called a background check*.

A professional service conducted by trained experts personally visiting county courthouses looking for felonies and misdemeanors? A mandate to provide information that is as accurate and complete as possible? This is what EmployeeScreen IQ does. This can be called a background check also.

What’s your perspective?

Think back to the situation described above. What if a different volunteer in another organization had a criminal record that should have prevented him from being around children, but wasn’t found? Depending on the type of background check*, I might not be surprised. An unfortunate, regrettable, and potentially avoidable situation.

We recently launched EmployeeScreen University, an interactive learning center for clients to learn more about the industry, us and the background check* process. It is why I have been italicizing the word. My point is the services behind these words are not interchangeable. I think it’s a shame this continues to be presented to listeners, readers and viewers as a standard product where everyone agrees on a definition.

There are dozens of products available that companies like ours sell. I know the ones that go into my definition of a background check? I’m interested in your thoughts. Which ones go into yours?

Kevin Bachman is Vice President of Quality Service for Cleveland-based EmployeeScreen IQ, a best practices provider of pre-employment screening services throughout the U.S. and worldwide. Kevin can be reached at (800) 235-3954 ext. 450 or kbachman@employeescreen.com.

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