Protecting Children with a Background Check Policy
by Darren Jones • January 3, 2018
Over the last few years, I have talked to many homeschool groups that have seen the benefits of developing a child protection policy to keep children safe at their events. Preventing child abuse is a vital part of building a strong, healthy homeschooling culture, and HSLDA is committed to helping groups cultivate awareness of this critical issue. For details on what areas a child protection policy could cover, such as screening, training, and reporting abuse, please see my previous article.
One of the questions I’ve received most from groups this year is “How broad should our background check policy be?” Some large co-ops require all of their leaders and teachers to undergo background checks. I’ve also run across several groups that require every parent who joins the group to have a check done. (These are often groups in which parents are on a rotating “drop off” schedule, so any parent could be taking care of anyone else’s child.) Of course, homeschooling parents tend to be protective of privacy rights, so groups that initiate background checks for all members sometimes run into friction—or indeed direct opposition. This is because background checks involve potentially sensitive information; some require full names and dates of birth, while other, more intensive, checks may require Social Security numbers.
I believe it is helpful for your background check policy to specifically spell out what information is being sought by the check and what results would constitute a barrier to participation in your group. Some groups have established rules that parents who are flagged in background checks will not be allowed on campus during co-op hours, while others will not even let those families join. If your group has an insurance policy, you should check with your agent to determine if that policy sets guidelines for you.
As with all group policies, you as the group leader need to know the personality and purpose of your group. Are you a small, intimate group of like-minded families, or a large, widely diverse co-op? Develop your policy accordingly.
There are several ways to do background checks, some free and some paid, and they focus on different parts of a person’s background (criminal, financial, etc.). Most groups that I’ve talked to do these checks through the state police or through a private company. Although HSLDA does not endorse any background check companies, I can provide a list of companies that other homeschool organizations have told us they use. Often the state police are the best means to conduct the check.
One group that called me was thinking about using the local child protective services (CPS) agency to do the background checks, but HSLDA does not recommend this since CPS’s primary job is investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect. In fact, the leadership of that group ran into serious resistance from its members.
Unless there is a specific reason for your members to provide you with Social Security numbers, for privacy reasons HSLDA generally recommends against it. And no matter what process you use for doing background checks, please ensure that all the information is kept totally confidential.
Please note: Pennsylvania has its own special law on background checks. Contact HSLDA for more information.
I am always happy to discuss and review your homeschool group’s policies. Please call me at 540-338-5600 (extension: 8619), or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.