07.14.08

House Approves Schiff Legislation to Extend Background Checks for Volunteers Working with Children

Official Seal of the US House of Representatives

Monday, July 14, 2008 Contact: Sean Oblack (202) 225-4176

House Approves Schiff Legislation to Extend Background Checks for Volunteers Working with Children

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to respond to safety concerns, the House passed legislation championed by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) to extend a highly successful program to establish a nationally-accessible background check system for youth-serving organizations. The bill, the Criminal History Background Checks Pilot Extension Act of 2008 (S. 3218), will make background checks for volunteers working with children reliable, affordable, and comprehensive. The bill approved today was the Senate companion measure authored by Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), which was previously passed by the Senate.  The bill will now be sent to the President to be signed into law.

“We are fortunate to live in a country where millions of volunteers generously make time to participate in community service,” said Schiff, a former national Board Member of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America.  “But with so many volunteers working with children we need to ensure that child predators are not preying on innocent children through the guise of volunteerism. Children’s safety is paramount, and we need to make certain that those working with our youth have been thoroughly and properly screened.”

The previous Child Safety Pilot program is set to expire at the end of this month, and this bill will extend the program for another 6 months.  The pilot program has performed over 40,000 fingerprint-based Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) background checks since 2003.  In 6.1 percent of cases, over 2000 individuals, potential volunteers were found to have a criminal record of concern, including very serious crimes like sexual abuse of minors, assault, murder, and major drug offenses.  In many cases, only a fingerprint-based national background check could reveal these criminal histories.

The pilot has been a great success, but it is not a permanent measure.  This is now the third occassion that Congress has acted to extend the pilot. Congress has felt the need to act because currently only one-third of states allow mentoring organizations to access FBI searches and some of the states which do allow access charge fees that are too high for small non-profits.  For a majority of youth-serving organizations there is no way to perform reliable, timely, and affordable national background checks on volunteers, outside of the pilot program.  To solve this problem Rep. Schiff has introduced the Child Protection Improvements Act (H.R. 5606) which would expand and improve the pilot program.  This bill is also sponsored by Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Orin Hatch (R-UT) in the Senate.

More specifically H.R. 5606 will:

  • Ensure that youth-serving organizations of all kinds, all across the country, have access to FBI fingerprint searches;
  • Streamline the process of obtaining nationwide background checks through the creation of a new national Applicant Processing Center; and;
  • Engage the expertise of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in reviewing the criminal records and making determinations as to whether the individuals should be allowed to work with children.

The measure has been endorsed by American Camp Association, Afterschool Alliance, America’s Promise Alliance, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Communities In Schools, Inc., First Focus, MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, National Collaboration for Youth, YMCA of the USA.