WASHINGTON — New York summer camps, hoping to keep kids safe, may want to conduct background checks on new employees and volunteers. But those background checks may be incomplete.
Under current law, non-governmental organizations seeking a background check for an employee must apply through designated state agencies. But some states, including New York, don’t give such youth-serving organizations access to FBI checks through their state background check system. That means organizations in those states, where they can only access the state criminal database, may miss criminal activity committed out of state, says Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. Even when federal searches are available, they can be cost-prohibitive.
Schumer, on the first day of summer, is renewing his longstanding push for legislation to grant organizations such as summer camps and daycare centers easier access to federal sex offender background checks so they can better screen workers and volunteers.
“These groups, tasked with ensuring the safety of children day in and day out, should never have any difficulty when it comes to accessing the FBI background checks they need to ensure dangerous predators are not allowed nowhere near our kids,” Schumer, a Democrat who represents New York, said in a statement. “Parents deserve the peace of mind knowing that their children are in good hands when they drop them off at camp and other afterschool programs.”
The Child Protection Improvements Act would ensure organizations that serve children, people with disabilities, and the elderly have affordable access to FBI fingerprint searches. The bill, backed by groups such as the Boys & Girls Club of America and YMCA of the USA, passed the House by voice vote in May. Schumer is co-sponsoring the bipartisan Senate bill this year after he first introduced it in 2009.
In New York, people can access their own criminal history records by requesting them from the state and paying a fee. Additionally, a mentoring organization such as a summer camp can register with the state to access state fingerprint checks. But that only provides an individual’s New York records, and would not include, say, an assault conviction in Ohio or a sex crime committee in Florida, Schumer said.
Schumer pointed to the 2013 case of a Schuyler County man named Daryl Vonneida, who served as a Boy Scout leader, church counselor and soccer and baseball coach, and was convicted and found guilty on 14 criminal counts after sexually abusing children for more than 40 years. Many of the hold ups with Vonneida’s case came from old record keeping and difficulty accessing information, Schumer says, but a federal background check would have found his 1989 first-degree sexual abuse conviction.
A now-expired pilot project, designed to help youth-serving organizations, shows the importance of a nationwide fingerprint-based FBI criminal background check, he said. As of September 2010, of 77,000 background checks performed through the pilot in seven years, more than 6% of volunteers were found to have a criminal record of concern, including offenses like sexual abuse of minors, assaults, murder, and serious drug offenses. In addition, more than 40 percent of the individuals with criminal records had committed an offense in a state other than where they were applying to volunteer, meaning that a state-only search would not have found relevant criminal records, according to Schumer’s office.
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