Pennsylvania has become the gold standard in child protection. In the last two years, the state has passed 23 new pieces of legislation aimed at beefing up background check requirements, increasing child protection protocols, and solidifying mandated reporter status. The reforms are the answers to a child task force on child protection that was, essentially, the state’s response to the fallout created by the Jerry Sandusky case.

It’s expected that more states will follow Pennsylvania’s lead. This article says at least three states have already taken proactive measures:

  • Higher education employees are now considered mandated reporters in Connecticut.
  • New Jersey and Delaware both require ALL people make a report to authorities when they have a reasonable belief that child abuse has occurred. 

Background Checks

One of the key pieces of Pennsylvania legislature has a major impact on background screening.

The law demands that routine checks occur every 36 months and that employees and volunteers are mandated to report any arrests and/or convictions. Here’s a breakdown of its key implications, according to Michelle Snyder, executive director of the Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute, an interfaith agency that provides counseling services and training for religious organizations, and as reported in this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

Volunteers who work with children are now ‘mandated reporters’ and that they are required to report suspected child abuse to a state hotline. Many professionals like teachers and counselors who work with children have long been considered ‘mandated reporters.’

Every paid employee who interacts with children must have three background checks – a Pennsylvania child-abuse history report, a state criminal records check, and an FBI fingerprint record check. These must be updated every three years.

Volunteers must pass the same two state clearances. If they haven’t lived in Pennsylvania for the past 10 years, they will also need to pass the FBI fingerprint check. Again, these will need to be run every three years.


One of the major complications of the new law, however, is that volunteers were initially told they’d have to pay for two clearances associated with their background checks. Although the fees are estimated to be about $20, lots of organizations and volunteers started voicing concerns that the fees were burdensome and would deter volunteerism.

The governor of Pennsylvania responded with vigor to these concerns by waiving all fees for volunteers. Employees will stay
have to pay a nominal, reduced fee for the clearances but will be required to pay the full amount for an FBI fingerprint check.

Non-profit organizations like youth sports groups who rely heavily on volunteers to provide services are obviously pleased with the governor’s decision. There is no doubt that the cost of background checks is one the major factors employers and civic groups must consider in implementing a screening policy. When their choices are dictated or limited by law, that can definitely feel constraining.

Stopping an Epidemic

Estimates show that 90% of sex offenders don’t have criminal records and therefore will go undetected without proper training of your volunteers and staff to identify signs of abuse and how to handle reporting of abuse. The key here is that your volunteers and staff must be background checked before they serve, which can be difficult for office staff to manage and inconvenient for some people.

Active Screening has solved that issue by creating a paperless Applicant Entry System called ACTivate Platform. Click here to read about how ACTivate works and its numerous benefits.

We believe that when staff members and volunteers have an awareness of the basic characteristics of a sexual
abuser, the process by which an abuser picks and prepares a child for abuse, and indicators of child sexual abuse, they are better equipped to recognize and prevent abuse in ministry programs.
That’s why we’d also like to tell you about an online child safety training program available at Protect My Ministry and Protect Youth Sports, both Active Screening companies.

The child safety training course that can be completed online – anytime and anywhere – at your convenience. The child safety training course engages your volunteers and employees in a way that isn’t available at large, group training and demands their accountability for their answers. In fact, people are quizzed at the end of the training and must pass with at least 70% accuracy or they will be required to take the training and quiz again.

Click here to watch a free video of our training and learn more about comprehensive lessons plans.

Do you think your state is doing enough to keep predators away from your kids? How would you feel if you were asked to undergo a background check in order to volunteer? We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below or Tweet us here.

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