What's New in Volunteer Screening?

Recently, I've had the opportunity to lead several in-person and web-based trainings on screening volunteers using an updated version of our classic training based on SAFE (Screening Applicants for Effectiveness): Guidelines to Prevent Child Molestations in Mentoring and Youth-Serving Organizations. MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership collaborated with us in April, this month I worked with the Iowa Mentoring Partnership and led trainings for new YouthBuild U.S.A. mentoring programs, and in August, I'll be leading another webinar with the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota. So, what's new? Unfortunately, what's not new is the necessity to have a stringent screening process. There are still people out in the world who intend to do harm to young people by having inappropriate relationships with and sexually abusing them. Each week brings more news about adults in trusted positions (see recent articles on the Boy Scouts of America) who violate boundaries with children and youth in their charge. We have been providing SAFE training now for 5 years, reaching over 500 youth-serving and mentoring programs who now use our resource in developing their guidelines. Standards have definitely improved over the years and I'm pleased to say that I hear more program staff say that the training validates what they're already doing rather than making them panic about what they're not doing! Several key points have been updated over the years:
  • Adding Internet searches ("Googling" a potential volunteer) to the application process
  • Having more access to public information on criminal history and records (see the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Registry)
  • The Diana Screen - a new tool to help strengthen a program's application process by identifying individuals who are a sexual risk to children
State laws are still confusing when it comes to criminal histories and sometimes they contradict national standards. We always emphasize - and this is validated by these contradictions, delays in postings, and general mix-ups of information - that a background check is not the most important part of the application process. Using your informed intuition, or the sense of observing your gut feelings about a person combined with the objective information from application materials, will be the most critical factor. Check out the webinar sponsored by MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership and look for our schedule of webinars covering this topic in more depth soon!


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