Criminal Background Checks

In the February 2002 issue of The CampLine, we informed you about a proposed piece of Federal legislation that would establish a national coordination center for background checks. Known as The National Child Protection Improvement Act, this legislation was introduced by Senator Joseph Biden, and co-sponsored by Senators Corzine, Thurmond, and Jeffords. The last action of the 107th Senate was to pass this bill and hope for a joint meeting to gain House approval. Time ran out, and the bill died last year. Senator Biden is working to gain support for a similar bill and hopes to resubmit it this spring.

A number of issues have halted progress on the bill. First, it became apparent that all U.S. states and counties have not been sending all their criminal data to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) for submission. Therefore, the federal checks that are currently being done may be incomplete and not contain important information. Some states may be better than others at submitting their records, but it is difficult to tell when each state began sending information and what was included. For instance, local misdemeanors were probably not sent nor were juvenile records or pending criminal charges. (In addition, felonies vary from state to state and interpretation of local statutes is critical.)

Second, too little money was allocated in the original bill for data entry purposes to help states enter the backlog of files retained at the local levels. Current federal checks may not contain any older convictions — from fifteen to twenty years ago. This would suggest that while all states might be covered, the information is less than complete. The states maintain that local checks will produce better information at this time.

Thus, the American Camping Association (ACA) is considering what approach to take regarding a national system of background checks. Even if there were a system today, until states can get all their backlogs of data into the federal data base, the system would remain incomplete and checks could not be considered comprehensive.

What Does This Mean?

In order to protect children from potential abuse and mistreatment, camps must have the ability to perform comprehensive, timely, and cost-effective background checks on all potential employees and volunteers as one of their screening tools.

The current procedure for conducting background checks continues to vary from state to state, making response time, cost, and results quite varied. To request fingerprint-based national criminal history background checks of volunteers and employees, your camp should contact your state law enforcement agency regarding process and fees. Through the state law enforcement agency, your camp receives a statement detailing whether or not the individual in question has been convicted of a crime that bears upon their suitability to provide care.

Many camps choose to hire commercial background-checking companies to complete this task in staff screening and hiring.

Using Commercial Background-Checking Services

ACA standards require background checks for staff with direct supervision or access to children. Many other youth organizations and schools serving children require it; and the public expects that background checks have been done! However, many camps are challenged by the time, effort, and frustration of doing criminal background checks. There are commercial services that will complete this function for you for a fee. These fees represent searches on a single name (not including an additional maiden name) in a single jurisdiction and usually only at the county level. Some services will check state records; others will check federal records — both for an additional fee. All record searches done by commercial companies are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

The Federal Trade Commission has stated that you must comply with the FCRA requirements when you hire a commercial company to provide background checks, even if those checks do not include a credit history. The law governs many kinds of information, including any information about an individual’s credit, character, reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living — if the information is collected for the purpose of determining a person’s eligibility for credit or employment. Companies providing background screening information are subject to the requirements.

If using commercial companies, there are steps you must follow with applicants.

  • You must notify the employee of your intent to check background (such as criminal background).
  • You must obtain permission to do so.
  • You must notify them if information in the report will likely cause you to take an adverse action on their application and give them at least five days to respond.
  • At their request, you must provide them with a copy of the report and the name of the organization that obtained the report.
  • You must notify them of their rights at each step.

(Articles that clarify the use of such services can be found in the October 1999 and February 2003 issues of The CampLine.)

Whether your camp allows you to do checks on your own or you hire a firm, it’s up to you. We’ve listed references below to help you understand the processes involved. The ACA Public Policy Committee will continue to monitor the situation at the federal level — visit the ACA Web site frequently for updates:

• Federal Bureau of Investigation:
• Federal Trade Commission:
• Fair Credit Reporting Act:
• Parents for Megan’s Law:*
• For companies that perform this service for camps, visit the ACA Web Site at:
• For updates about the Federal Legislation described in this article, visit ACA’s Public Policy site:

*Megan’s Law is named after a seven-year-old Hamilton Township, New Jersey, girl named Megan Nicole Kanka. On July 29, 1994, she was lured into her neighbor’s home with the promise of a puppy and was brutally raped and murdered by a two-time convicted sex offender who had been convicted in a 1981 attack on a five-year-old child and an attempted sexual assault on a seven-year-old. Eighty-nine days after Megan Kanka’s disappearance, New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman signed the first state-level version of what we know as Megan’s Law. The passage of Megan’s Law in New Jersey eventually led to the May 1996 passage of a federal law which is also known as Megan’s Law. New Jersey’s Megan’s Law has specific mandates for active community notification which ensures that the community will be made aware of the presence of convicted sex offenders posing a risk to public safety.

Originally published in the 2003 Spring issue of The CampLine.

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