DiNapoli: Local Governments Need to Improve Background Checks

11:58 PM, Jan 25, 2013   |    comments
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By Haley Viccaro, Albany Bureau

ALBANY -- Local governments need to improve conduct background checks for people working in youth program services, an audit Friday from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found.

The audit said that seven cities and towns failed to conduct proper background checks on individuals who provide youth program services. Some municipalities failed to do background checks at all, while others only did partial screenings, DiNapoli said.

The cities of Binghamton, Middletown and Utica and the towns of Amherst, Erie County, and Seneca Falls, Seneca County, performed some screenings but were inconsistent and did not have complete documentation.

The town of Manlius, Onondaga County, and the city of New Rochelle, Westchester County, failed to perform background checks for all applicants. They did screen individuals required by state-funded programs.

"It is essential that local officials take action to ensure they are consistently screening all persons who provide youth program services in their communities," DiNapoli said in a statement. "Parents need to trust that all of the necessary steps have been taken to keep their children out of harm's way."

Clifton Park, Saratoga County, was the only municipality that the comptroller's audit found annually screened individuals and checked the state's sex offender registry as well as other resources to perform a complete background check.

The comptroller said four municipalities did not check volunteers' criminal history, five did not screen workers for sexual offenses, and six did perform background checks for new employees.

The audit did not find any individuals working in youth program services that were registered sex offenders or having criminal histories.

Carol Quinlivan, acting director of the Parks and Recreation Department in Binghamton, said the problem is that there are no mandated procedures to follow with the state. She said the city has expanded background checks of coaches, who undergo background checks by local police

"There has been no mandate from the state as to how we precede coming out of this audit," she said. "I would love to have a mandated procedure and policies that we need to follow. With our budget, it doesn't allow a whole lot so we are at the mercy of the state to help us get through this."

Edmund Theobald, the Manlius town supervisor, said the town has conducted the mandated sex offender registry background check, but didn't do the local background checks. If the state wants more expanded checks, they should help pay for it, Theobald said.

"The priority to us is the kids and if they feel like statewide checks should be done, it is $80 per person in the state," he said. "That is going to be about a $5,000 increase to our budget, so we would hope that they help us to bring the cost down."

There was immediate comment from New Rochelle and Seneca Falls officials.

Youth programs include pre-school and after school activities, summer camps and other children's programs. State law requires background checks for workers who are in contact with children.

For a copy of the comptroller's report visit http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/swr/2013/backgroundchecks/global.pdf

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