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#MemberMonday: Youth Service and the Importance of Background Checks

By Brandi McGrath Kong, Director of Member Services and Conferences

During recent conversations held at our Regional Conventions, we have heard about the passion that many of our clubs have for youth-based service and activities. It is in this spirit that we want to remind our clubs about the importance of background checks when working with youth and other vulnerable populations. 

Sertomans are known far and wide for the service that they provide in communities across the United States and Canada. Many clubs focus their mission activities on youth programs to help inspire and support future generations. This work is to be applauded and is something that your national organization is incredibly proud to share with the world. However, if your club has youth-oriented service projects, there may be a liability you have not considered.

To help protect the children your program serves, as well as the best interests of your club, Sertoma recommends that all clubs conduct criminal background checks on any members, volunteers or paid staff who may interact with minors and vulnerable adults at any events, programs, camps, etc., that may be supported, organized, or sponsored by the club.

The American Camp Association defines a criminal background check as “a process of looking into the history of an individual to determine whether they have a criminal record.” A foremost nonprofit organization charged with representing the interests of the camp industry, the ACA also recommends that all camps and youth-serving organizations perform criminal background checks for anyone with access to children, youth, and vulnerable adults. This can be a check based on the person’s name and Social Security number or a check that matches an individual’s fingerprints. 

Database Options

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – This is the most comprehensive database and includes all federal crimes, plus 70-90% of state criminal databases. Low-level misdemeanors, driving citations and DUIs account for the portion of state records not included in the FBI database.
  • State – Each state has its own autonomous database maintained by a state agency. The operations, depth and method of these checks vary from state to state.
  • County/local – This will only contain local crimes. Checks are typically performed through the county sheriff’s office or the local police department. 
  • Private vendors/databases – Private businesses may offer services to conduct background checks, including those offered through websites.  

Please note, any crimes that would cause an individual to be on a sex offender registry should show up in a state or FBI criminal background check. Verify with an attorney if you have any question about the type of check that is most appropriate for your club.