House Passes Schiff Legislation to Protect Children from Predators

Washington, DC– Every year, people who have been convicted of criminal offenses volunteer to spend unsupervised time with children. Fortunately, a nationwide FBI fingerprint search, part of the PROTECT Act pilot program, prevented many such offenders from volunteering – possibly protecting children from harm.

To build on the success of the pilot and make these essential background checks permanently and widely available to youth-serving organizations, Rep. Schiff sponsored H.R. 1469, the Child Protection Improvements Act of 2009. The legislation, which passed the House today, would:

  • Ensure that youth-serving organizations, all across the country, would have access to FBI fingerprint searches in a timely and affordable manner;
  • Streamline the process of obtaining nationwide background checks through the creation of a new national Applicant Processing Center; and
  • Protect the privacy rights of volunteers by ensuring that all volunteers have a chance to correct errors in the records.

"Giving non-profits that work with children the ability to better screen their volunteers has a proven track record of protecting our young people," Rep. Schiff said. "The goal of this bill is to keep the cost of background checks as low as possible so that they remain affordable for the smallest non-profits, while ensuring the program can be sustained without annual appropriations. This will greatly benefit the millions of children and adults across the country involved with mentoring organizations, after-school programs, youth sports, and more.”

More than 89,000 FBI fingerprint checks have been conducted through the child safety pilot, and 6.1 percent of potential volunteers were found to have criminal records of concern – more than 5,300 individuals. In addition, more than 40 percent of individuals with criminal records had crimes in states other than where they were applying to volunteer – meaning that only a nationwide check would have caught the criminal records. Outside of the pilot, just one-third of states currently allow youth-serving organizations to access FBI searches. Even when these searches are available, high costs and lengthy response times often make them inaccessible.

“As the nation’s largest and oldest youth mentoring organization, keeping children safe is the first consideration for Big Brothers Big Sisters,” said Karen Mathis, Chief Executive, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. “The Child Protection Improvements Act will ensure that every Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate has access to accurate, affordable, and timely background check information about potential volunteers. I thank Congressman Schiff, a former Big Brother himself, for his leadership and for his work on this vital legislation.”

“I commend Congressman Adam Schiff and the House of Representatives on the passage of the Child Protection Improvements Act,” said Larry Wright, President and CEO of MENTOR. “This legislation builds on the success of the Child Safety Pilot, first passed in 2003, which showed that background checks are necessary to keep children safe, and that the checks can be done quickly, cheaply, and accurately. With the passage of this bill by the House, we have taken a step to serving the millions of children in the United States who benefit from mentoring by dedicated volunteers.”