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Background Checks: A Necessity But Not An Answer To Child Safety Risks

Police arrested a male Girl Scout troop leader. He was charged with forcible touching, endangering the welfare of a child, and felony sexual abuse.

It is not clear how many victims were involved.

According to Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson CEO Marie Reger, the organization was made aware of the allegation about the troop leader on January 15. They suspended him immediately from his position as a voluntary troop leader and referred the matter to police. "Girl Scouts leader faces child sex abuse charges" westchester.news12.com (Mar. 07, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

Men and women, 18-years-old and older, can volunteer to be troop leaders for the Girl Scouts. The main responsibility of a troop leader is to "encourage girls to build confidence while trying new things."

This position requires a background check on all volunteers in addition to annual membership and basic leadership and program level training "to uphold the safety of the girls."

Unfortunately, criminal background database checks only flag previous convictions of offenders. They do not check for indictments or investigations of child sexual abuse. They do not check for suspicions of child sexual abuse. That is why the background check is just the first step in protecting children.

Safe adults cannot rely on the hiring process to determine if an adult is safe around children. Safe adults must be vigilant at all times regarding the behaviors of all adults working with children, and never allow themselves or another adult to be alone with a child without another adult present.

To minimize the risk of child sexual abuse, organizations should take these necessary steps:

  • Screen all employees and volunteers: All applicants should be thoroughly screened using applications, personal interviews, references, and criminal background checks. Require a review committee evaluate applicants rather than just one or two individuals.
  • Have guidelines on interactions with children: Create a written code of conduct for all employee and volunteers, including guidelines on what behaviors are appropriate, inappropriate, and harmful. Prohibit one-on-one child/adult interactions.
  • Monitor children's programs: Make certain appropriate conduct guidelines are followed by creating a method for observation, including unannounced visits.
  • Train on child sexual abuse prevention: Educate all employees and volunteers on recognizing and preventing child sexual abuse. Every adult must be trained to contact law enforcement or child protection services immediately upon any reasonable suspicion of child sexual abuse.
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