To bring clarity to the issue of background checks for employees and volunteers who work directly and routinely with children, Rep. Tina Pickett (above) has voted in support of legislation to address much of the confusion surrounding a new state law requiring the checks.
“With the provisions of this new law taking effect, many employers and volunteers have been uncertain about whether they fall within the scope of needing these background checks,” Pickett said. “Our intent is to ensure the safety of children across the state, but by no means did we want to discourage the valued dedication of so many volunteers. In many cases, we never intended moms who bring cupcakes to school, a guest reader to a classroom or a one-time volunteer for a youth field day to undergo the clearances. That’s why we put forth this legislation to clear up much of the confusion, and I believe we have passed a good product that should answer many of the underyling questions.”
The legislation passing the House on Wednesday more clearly defines who is and who is not subject to the background check requirements and, where possible, makes the requirements less onerous for adult volunteers. Specifically, only those volunteers and employees with direct and routine interaction with a child as part of a child care service, a school, or a program, activity or service need to obtain the clearances.
Under Act 153 of 2014, additional and periodic background checks are required for both employees and volunteers who are directly involved with children: state police criminal background checks and Department of Human Services (DHS) child abuse clearances. In addition, FBI background checks are required for all affected employees and adult volunteers who have lived in Pennsylvania for fewer than 10 continuous years.
Additionally, volunteers will not have to pay the $10 fees for the DHS child abuse clearances and state police criminal background checks. On June 10, the administration waived the fees for volunteers only, effective July 25. The administration is also reducing the clearances to $8 each for affected employees.
For practical purposes, the legislation allows employees, once clearances are obtained, to use them for additional paid positions. This portability is already in place for volunteers. As far as record keeping, employers and organizations are permitted to keep non-original copies of the required documents on file, rather than the originals.
The legislation now awaits consideration by the Senate. Pickett has constituents Bradford, Sullivan and Susquehanna Counties.
Last year, the Department of Human Services processed more than 600,000 child abuse clearance applications, with more than 460,000 from January through May this year. Half of the DHS clearances are being applied for online, in the first year that the online option has been available.
Only new volunteers must obtain the clearances by July 1, 2015, while existing volunteers or volunteers never before required to obtain them have until July 1, 2016, to secure the clearances.
More information is available at www.KeepKidsSafe.pa.gov.