When it comes to school safety, the advantages of security cameras in schools outnumber the disadvantages of keeping people and assets safe and secure.
Selecting a background screening firm can be a daunting task. An online search for background screening firms will reveal countless organizations that provide these services. This certainly muddies the waters enough to make any selection more than a little difficult. Choosing a reputable and proven background screening firm is one of the most critical business decisions you will make. Yet, the background screening industry itself has not helped to make this an easy decision.
Unfortunately, a lack of transparency still forms the foundation of the screening industry. A close examination of listings will reveal that screening providers are more focused on providing what they want to provide rather than what is needed. What does that mean? It means speed and low price has become the key competitive advantage points. And quality often takes a backseat.
Granted, the efficient use of technology can drive down costs AND shorten the turnaround time. But when screening companies purport to complete background checks not in days, but in minutes, I take pause.
Yes, more and more courts records are becoming automated and readily accessible. However, many courts records still necessitate a court researcher to do the job correctly. In certain regions of the U.S., clerks are required to do the search. Sometimes, when a county has upper and lower courts that are not connected, each has to be searched separately.
When I read that a screening company is completing a background check in minutes, it leads me to conclude that they are relying on databases and they are neglecting to search lower courts. Nor do I have any idea what they are doing with the counties that require a county clerk to conduct the search.
Background screening is a risk-management solution. This is not a process that allows you to check a box and claim you have done your due diligence. Poor research can foster complaints of negligent hiring and negligent retention as well as give rise to a proliferation of federal lawsuits related to federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) violations.
We understand that it would be impossible for a lay person to know many of the problems inherent in the screening industry, so we have assembled a list of questions that should be asked of your prospective screening companies.
- How do you define a background check? There is no standard definition; however, background screening relies heavily on incomplete public record sources. A thorough background screening program should consist of multiple checks and balances that include identification, multi-state databases, county criminal searches and federal courts.
- Is the background check instant? There is no such thing as a dependable instant database search. I assume that if a background check is “instant” that it is a database only search. There is no single database, not even the FBI’s NCIC, that is comprehensive enough to stand as a single-source screening program. Using only a database for employment purposes can open up FCRA violation issues. It is not even a viable option for volunteer organizations because most databases have a high failure rate even for convicted sex offenders.
- Cost of a background check? You cannot do quality background checks for $5, but at the same time, it should not break your piggy bank. Comprehensive employee background checks should range from $20-$40 for a core national criminal background check. Volunteer checks can range from $10- $20 for a core criminal check.
Always Read the fine print carefully. Many screening firms do not clearly articulate all of the hidden costs e.g. aka names, additional counties, expanded past 7 years, etc.
- How far back do your background check reports go? This is a question you should always ask as there are several factors that impact this answer. A thorough background check should go back as far as allowed. We believe it is critical for our clients to have all the information they need to make informed decisions. Even so, there are strict guidelines from the EEOC, FCRA as well as state and local laws that must be followed. Consequently, what factors can impact how far back a background check extends?
- Convictions vs Non-Convictions. The federal FCRA restricts reporting of non-convictions to no more than 7 years unless the salary for the position is $75,000 or more. Some state laws further restrict convictions or do not allow their reporting.
- Individual state. Several states have further restricted the reporting of adverse information.
- How far back court records go. Some states maintain criminal records that extend 30 years or more. Other states purge misdemeanor records at 10 years.
- How are alias names searched? Alias names bring up thoughts of Jason Bourne and espionage, but really, it is a fancy way of saying any other name your candidate has been known by. With name-based background checks, it is critical to include any possible alias names to ensure your candidates do not have a criminal history under a former married name, maiden name, birth name, etc. Many screening firms do not include this service in their pricing and then, clients are unpleasantly surprised when hit with additional fees because a candidate has 3 different names. We do not charge extra for searching other names. We consider it an important part of a thorough search. It is included in the original quote.
- Are employees of the screening firms screened regularly? It seems like a question you would not need to ask, but I would encourage you to inquire about the backgrounds of the people you will be trusting with such sensitive information. Some screening firms “offshore” parts of their screening process like verifications. How do you ensure that none of your sensitive data on your employees, vendors, volunteers are not being sent to another country with little to no quality control? One of our large international volunteer partners told me that several of their affiliates were adamant about using a specific local background screening company. A quick internet search by our partner revealed that the screening firm operated out of a house where the owner also sold jams and jellies. This was not the secure environment they had hoped for. We re-screen our employees on an annual basis.
- Security of Data. We mentioned in #6 that some screening firms “offshore” data which creates security issues for how the data is transferred. More importantly, what happens to it on the other end where it could be taken, printed, sold, etc.? Security is a huge concern with all of our data, and you can be confident that our screening firm uses industry ‘best practices’ for securing your data both in transit and at rest. What does that mean? We use SSAE 16 and provide quarterly reports. In addition, we engage with cyber security experts to perform penetration testing to expose any vulnerabilities in our software.
- Is compliance a core mission? Complying with federal laws such as FCRA, DPPA and EEOC should be part of the core mission of any screening firm. The majority of compliance is incumbent upon the end user; however, you want a screening partner that will keep you abreast of changes and what is happening in the industry. We provide a number of educational opportunities each month i.e. live training events, live webinars, articles, and email communications.
- Customer service. Yes, everybody claims to have it but very few organizations truly do. With unemployment at all time lows in most communities, hiring is extremely competitive. When you have a question about a background screening report, you should be able to receive an answer quickly. We have removed all barriers to customer service communications by appointing a Chief of Client Strategies who oversees a team that works all day, every day, with clients. All of our clients have access to a direct line to the team, email, and chat. We believe technology is key to the background screening process, but we will not remove human eyes from the equation.
- Education. Things change in the background screening world very quickly. New movements like “Ban the Box” can start sweeping the nation making it critical that your screening partner provide opportunities for learning and education. We provide almost daily education opportunities with articles, live training, live webinars and one-on-one events.
In summary, a background screening firm should be more than willing to answer these questions. If they are not, move one. There are numerous screening firms that will. You do not want to place the safety and security of your background screening process in the hands of an organization that is cutting corners or providing low quality products or services. If a company won’t take the time to answer your questions in order to win your business, how responsive will they be when you are a client?
Please give us a call or an email, we are glad to answer any questions you have or provide an audit of your current screening program: Toll Free 866-434-0002 or firstname.lastname@example.org
I wanted to give you an update on SB 160 and HB 1160, companion bills in the Indiana General Assembly that would remove private vendors as an option for schools conducting background checks. This past Thursday, I testified at the House Education Committee hearing on SB 160. Rep Jeff Thompson offered an amendment that would strengthen the current law by requiring that all background screening firms would have to meet the definition of a Consumer Reporting Agency under federal law (we do).
The amendment passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 9-2.
Several representatives stated they were influenced by the letters and emails they have received from schools.
Your efforts are working!
We still have HB 1160 in the Senate Homeland Security, Transportation and Veteran Affairs Committee. We need to contact the members of this committee and ask them to amend HB 1160 like the House Education Committee and allow private vendors to continue to serve Indiana schools.
Here are some key points from the hearing:
- The bill is being pushed by L1 screening solutions, a Boston, MA based-company,who has the exclusive contract with the Indiana State Police to provide fingerprinting services. Right now the state police only works with 10% of schools so the bill would give a private Massachusetts company a 100% monopoly.
- State police testified that there is no study done that shows fingerprint background checks are any better than name based background checks.
- Rep Arnold mentioned that on another committee they have heard testimony on problems with smaller communities either not sending or very slow to send their criminal data to the state and feds.
- No one could answer Rep Todd Huston's question "are we trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist?"
Please contact DJ Weidner email@example.com or Brigitt Klaum firstname.lastname@example.org for sample letters that can be edited.
Here is the contact information for the Senate committee members:
Sen. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City)
Telephone: (317) 232-9808
Legislative Assistant: Ian Hauer
Telephone: (317) 232-9808
Sen. Vaneta Becker (R-Evansville)
Telephone: (317) 232-9494
Legislative Assistant: Kristen Tjaden
Telephone: (317) 232-9494
Sen. Michael Crider (R-Greenfield)
Telephone: (317) 232-9493
Legislative Assistant: Brian Rockensuess
Telephone: (317) 232-9493
Sen. James Merritt, Jr. (R-Indianapolis)
Telephone: (317) 232-9533
Legislative Assistant: Dawna Smith
Telephone: (317) 232-9533
Sen. Allen Paul
Telephone: (317) 232-9533 Sen. Jim Arnold (D-LaPorte) – Ranking Minority Member
Telephone: (317) 232-9441
Legislative Assistant: Michelle Moody
Telephone: (317) 232-9532
Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis)
Telephone: (317) 546-5136
Legislative Assistant: Tyler Hempfling
Telephone: (317) 232-9534
Sen. Earline Rogers (D-Gary)
Telephone: (219) 949-7578
Legislative Assistant: Tracy Woolbright
Telephone: (317) 232-9491
Please do not hesitate to email or call if you have questions.
Volunteers can pose a significant risk to school districts so it is critical to conduct comprehensive volunteer background checks and not rely on incomplete and cheap background screening solutions which place our kids at risk. The following 7 minute presentation provides a road map to implementing a comprehensive volunteer background screening program.
New Jersey appears to be the first state to mandate school background checks for board members. I have been following this law closely over the past few weeks because all school board members were required to submit to the new background check law by the end of December 2011. Well, December has passed and hundreds of board members have yet to complete a criminal background check. The NJ Department of Education is demanding that more than 350 board members step down or potentially face jail if they show up at a board meeting.
The intent of the law is right on target. There is no reason a board member, who oversees millions of dollars in public money, should be exempted from a background screening policy.
However, the letter of the law is proving to be a bit sticky. It seems NJ has applied a zero tolerance criminal record policy to the new law. No school board member shall have a first or second degree conviction. Basically, they cannot have a criminal record of any kind or at any time.
As of today, at least 12 board members have lost their positions because of criminal convictions. And who knows, maybe some of the 350 abstainers have something to hide?
Yes, I agree that it is important for school board members to have a criminal background check. But I also see a couple problems:
- The Law is Too Rigid. What if a board member had a DUI or public intoxication conviction 20 years ago? Your employment background screening policies are not zero tolerance policies (or they should not be if you want to stay out of court). The EEOC has given us a model that requires a 3 step approach to using criminal records:
- What is the nature of the criminal record?
- How long ago was the crime committed?
- How does the criminal record impact the position?
Or quite simply, make sure the criminal record creates a business necessity for denying the position.
- The Law Lacks Oversight. The law defers to local school boards to enforce the new school background checks law. If the state is going to mandate background checks then they should provide oversight and compliance. Don’t expect organizations to police themselves.
Now, let’s see how the rest of the country responds. What are your thoughts? Should we require background checks on school board members?
Does your current school volunteer background checks policy keep you awake at night? If you are relying on a cheap “national” database search or the Indiana Limited Criminal History then your sleepless nights are well founded. Honestly, I would not let you babysit my dog if your criminal background check was a cheap database or limited criminal history search.
Hang on. I hear your groaning already. “You don’t understand how tight school budgets are right now.”
Yes I do. I feel your pain. But the truth of the matter is we have to make keeping our kids safe a top priority.
I have spent the past 15 years working to end violence as a detective and consultant so I know how slick, dangerous and committed our enemy is. People who harm kids seek positions with access to them.
Does that really surprise you?
The economy has handed us a couple years of devastating budget cuts which has shifted our focus to the bottom line. Believe me, I understand.
However, our enemy does not sleep, take a vacation or go away when the economy falters. He (or she) has an insatiable appetite that is only satisfied by abusing our children.
So is your gut telling you a free background check is too good to be true? It is. The Limited Criminal History for Indiana schools might be free but it comes at a greater cost. Risk of harm. That is why the state no longer allows schools to use it for screening employees or contractors.
If you think $10 is too good to be true. It is. There is no such thing as a quality background check for $10. Sorry. I know, other background screening firms swear a background check can be done for $10. Baloney. Ask them to guarantee their cheap search.
The great news is high quality school volunteer background checks can be completed for just a few dollars more. And there are options that do not impact your budget.
Join us for a FREE webinar to explain how you can take your volunteer background checks to a higher level and sleep better at night. Register Now.
I have to admit I am a bit of a social media junky and have been amazed over the past few weeks at the number of blog posts and tweets bemoaning school volunteer background checks. Who complains about schools requiring background checks? The complainers range from the highly ignorant to the highly educated. However, hardly a week passes that I do not come across a school teacher or volunteer in trouble for a relationship with a student.
What is frightening is many school districts conduct low quality background checks on their volunteers. And if we pair these low quality background checks with the huge volume of volunteers that walk into our schools each year we have a recipe for disaster.
So what are the 5 main reasons for low quality school volunteer background checks:
- Money. These are tough times for schools, budgets have been cut and money is tight. However, like every organization we always find money for the things that are important to us. A leading financial guru recently said “show me your checkbook and I will know where your priorities are.”
- Misunderstanding. Schools may be using out-dated state repositories or sex offender registry searches. Both of these options are extremely limited and provide very little risk mitigation.
- Volunteers are Never Alone with Kids. Sophisticated offenders do not have to be alone with a child to harm them. They can molest a child in a crowded classroom with teachers and other volunteers present.
- We Won’t Get Volunteers. If a volunteer is offended by having to submit to a background check then they have something to hide, are ignorant of the dangers in our schools or feel they are above the process. Education will solve most of these issues.
- Background Screening Firm Selling Cheap National Database Searches. If a school uses a “one click” instant background checks for $9 or $10 as a volunteer screening program save your money, you may need it for legal fees. The vast majority of criminals, including sex offenders, can slip through these databases.
Just last week a former high school volunteer pled guilty to one felony count of child seduction after admitting to having sex with a student. The convicted sex offender avoided a prison sentence but is required to register as a sex offender for the next 10 years. Keeping these offenders out of our school hallways must become a top priority.
Join us for a FREE 30 minute webinar on 06/09/11 at 2PM EST: School Volunteer Background Checks: Protecting Kids & Reducing Risk
Do you think volunteers pose legal risk to schools? Let us know what you think below.
It has been almost 7 years since WTHR Channel 13 and the Indianapolis Star did a two-part expose on the gaping holes in the Indiana State Police Limited Criminal History. Channel 13 and the Star pulled 10 names off of the Indiana Sex Offender Registry and 8 out of the 10 convicted sex offenders came back clear. It is hard to fathom, let alone stomach, a failure rate of 80% on a sex offender background check in Indiana. In July of 2009 the State of Indiana eliminated the Indiana Limited Criminal History as an employment background check option for Indiana school systems and began requiring an Expanded Criminal History Check. Too many violent offenders and unsuitable applicants were slipping through the cracks and being hired by Indiana school systems.
So why do Indiana schools continue to rely upon this broken system to conduct thousands of volunteer background checks and grant them access to our children? Money. The state gives school systems free access to the Limited Criminal History. With the current financial state of schools, discarding a free process, no matter how flawed, is not an easy sell to school boards.
However, the bottom line is the limited criminal history background checks in Indiana are still flawed. No matter how tight our budgets are we still have a duty to protect our children from those who want to harm them. So we need to be creative and come up with a solution that provides protection to the children and does not further bankrupt schools.
The Expanded Criminal History Checks require the applicants for employment to pay for their own background checks. What a noble concept. What applicant would not pay $30 for a background check in Indiana to get a job? The same concept can be successfully applied to volunteers where the cost of a comprehensive volunteer background check is nearly half the cost of the employment checks.
So the bottom line is we have not seen much progress with school volunteer background checks in Indiana. The Limited Criminal History is still flawed and full of data gaps and errors. However, the good news is you can do comprehensive volunteer background screening and it does not have to break the bank.
If you are a volunteer organization and would like more information on our volunteer background screening packages click here.
Questions? Comments? Feel free to add your thoughts below.