Do you think all school volunteers need a police check?

by Lara on November 29, 2011

There is a campaign/petition to make police checks for school volunteers in Ottawa-area schools mandatory.  I haven’t signed it.

I’m not an expert and this is only my opinion, but I’m going to tell you what my thought process was on all of this.

1) I assume people are lazy, probably because I am. When I’m talking about social media I have a measure I often suggest people use when they try to ask for engagement “would YOU answer the question”.

I would not bother to get a police check done, YEARLY, on the off chance that I may be needed or may have time to go in and volunteer. THEREFORE, if a note came home that said “we need 2 more parent volunteers for the field trip on Friday or we’re going to have to cancel” then I’m out of the running.

In that scenario, I probably would have said “sure, I’m free Friday, I’ll be there”. With their current policies I’m not eligible.

Could I add “get a police check in case you ever feel like volunteering this year” to my to do list? Yes, but I can almost guarantee it won’t make it to the top of the “get it done” list.

(the above can replace the word lazy for busy)

2) This does not mean I don’t care about my kids

Maybe I’m just too trustworthy, or maybe I think the chances of a police record screening out the bad guys who would be volunteering at my school is a bit unlikely.

Maybe I’m just living on the edge to think it would be ok to have parents and grandparents volunteer with my kids without a police check.

3) I have no issues with the police check policy as long as people understand there will be less volunteers

This is really just a continuation of 1 – because I assume people are lazy, I feel people will not bother.

If there is a need for volunteers, this policy could shoot the schools in the foot, so to speak.

4) Where does it end?

Maybe I’m missing something – have there been all kinds of cases of volunteers up to no good? I’m not saying we need to have something bad happen to put in safety measures, but most of the time volunteers are with teachers (who I totally think should have police checks) or big groups of kids, or other volunteers.

Should I be having parents of my kids’ friends show me a police check for them to go over for a playdate? Should I be providing a copy of mine at the door when other kids come over?

I am not really against all of this, as it may seem that I am.  If you created a system that was really easy for people – send home a form, ask all parents to full it out and return to the school, the school has police checks performed and confirms with parents when done, then maybe I wouldn’t see it as such a barrier to getting the help in schools I know they could use.

No matter what you think, I’d love to hear your opinions on the matter (but please respect that not everyone has the same opinion and that’s ok)!

 

28 comments
Heather
Heather

I'm curious where Sue (previous poster) is from.

sue
sue

I think it is a good idea.. BUT the process needs to change. This was made mandatory in our school area several years ago... In order for us to go through the process we need to 1/ travel 5-10 miles out our way to pick up the necessary paperwork from school district building 2/go to the local police station to get fingerprints done (not easy in a small town that only has 2-3 policemen working) - 3/ Drive back the 5-10 miles to the original place to deposit all completed paperwork and fingerprints together with a fee (either 25 - 35$, i don't recall the amount), this can be done once for all the years the kids are at the school as long as you volunteer at least once in the school year. I am sure the amount of people volunteering has considerably declined since the introduction of this system. I don't know what annoys me more, that we have to pay a fee or we have to go back and forth doing all the necessary steps. I haven't gone through these steps so i cannot volunteer at he school.. but i would if the process was simpler - if we just filled out 1 form at 1 place with small or no fee, then the school would probably have more than enough volunteers.

Christy @morethanmommy
Christy @morethanmommy

Sounds like part of the problem is the process. I'm in the US (Massachusetts) and we have to fill out a form at the school (annually) which is then signed by a witness. They handle a background check without any extra effort. We don't get fingerprinted or anything. If you're willing to volunteer at the school, it usually isn't a big issue to swing by at some point to fill out the form. The form itself is a deterrent to those with a criminal background. It can't capture all of the bad folks out there, but it's better than nothing. I do feel better that the people who are around my children every day have been screened and and that the volunteers won't be random people in kids' lives. They have to have made a commitment.

Kari
Kari

Like you Lara, I'm trusting. And I feel other parents are too - I've never once been asked for a copy of police report and these parents let their children have sleepovers at my house! There are some horrible people out there, and always will be - some of them have records, some of them don't. I like the idea of exempting parents / grandparents when it is a group activity with teachers present. My husband could not accompany on a field trip earlier this year due to his lack of a police check. It's on our list, but honestly, he commutes to the south end by bike year round - when exactly is he supposed to nip over to the police station to get that done? And I just finished grocery shopping at midnight, so I think it's fairly obvious I'm drowning and a recent police check is no where near the top of my get it done list. If I could do it online at the wee hours of the morning when I should be sleeping - great! Unfortunately, the extra effort to get to a police location, preferably without my children in tow, seems overwhelming...I'm sure I'll feel more rested and ready to make it happen after the hustle & bustle of Christmas :-)

Jennifer Walker
Jennifer Walker

I don't have kids in school yet, but I have experience working at a non-profit where I recruited volunteers who were required to have a police check before volunteering "one-on-one" with vulnerable individuals (adults, children & seniors with disabilities). This was only one step in the process. We asked volunteers to attend a 1-hour information session, complete a 1-page application form, have the police check (and share the results), attend a 2-hour interview with a social worker, and provide 3 references. Next, a team of social workers would discuss the suitability of the volunteer's application. While I realize my example deals with one-one-volunteering, nonetheless, it goes to show that there are much more stringent application processes in Ottawa to volunteer with vulnerable individuals. I don't believe such a thorough process is necessary for volunteers with the school, especially if the volunteering takes place in a group setting with teachers present. But what I do believe is that we cannot rely on a piece of paper alone for assurance. I agree with your point: "Maybe I’m just too trustworthy, or maybe I think the chances of a police record screening out the bad guys who would be volunteering at my school is a bit unlikely." On one hand, someone could have committed a crime and not have been caught and thus a have a clean record OR they could not have a record and then commit a crime. On the other hand, someone might have a record and not apply to volunteer because of it. I believe a record check can complement volunteer screening but not act as a screening device all on its own.

Lara T
Lara T

I really like the aforementioned plan of categoriazing the risk of volunteer activities and only requiring police check for the higher risk ones. As a parent, anyone who will be one-on-one with my child, I would like checked. Blanket police checks are a waste of time and money (and I agree with you Lara that many of us wouldn't get around to it, unless we could submit online or to the school). When my son was in co-op preschool, we were all required to have checks. I thought it was nuts cause we were working almost the whole time we were there, always visible to one of THREE teachers, and never alone with a child.

Cindy W
Cindy W

I think that it's great that your blog is featured here, Lara, but I respectfully disagree. I want to know that my child is being looked after by people who have had their backgrounds checked. I work with victims of crime and tragedy and there is ALWAYS 'one of those stories'. Just because someone is a parent, doesn't mean that they're not an abuser or have a record. I agree with what Elizabeth before me has said; abusers go where the vulnerable are. And as for the record checks being bogus? There is a process in Ottawa that goes beyond a simple database. That's why it's more difficult to get a clean check if you haven't been in the area for several years. While I can see that it may impact on numbers of volunteers, due to cost or the time it takes, I believe the check is important. Will it solve or stop all abuse? No, but if it stops it from happening once then it is worth it.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

Down here in our school district is it required that all volunteers have a background check done. It is required annually. The process is simple since it all submitted online via the district website. It isn't a state of Texas requirement. I don't know what databases the school accesses but I'm sure the sex offender database is one of them. As for parent volunteers, I don't think it will impact that much. If you want to help out and make it a priority, then you will make the time to do it. I'm lazy, a procrastinator and busy with work, church, etc. but I'm also committed to making my son's school better. When he was in private school I had to get fingerprinted (and pay for it myself) as well as a background check. The PTO does send out reminders over the summer via email including the link. They also send out reminders on volunteer sign up sheets and emails on a regular basis. Maybe the PTO (or Canadian equivilent) needs to focus on recruiting the borderline parents and get their committed involvement. If it's just once a year then just go do it before the school year starts. Make it part of the "back to school" process. As for the odds of a parent or grandparent showing up to help out with the kids having a criminal background - well if you are a pedophile then you will be where the kids are. That is what abusers do - go where they can find their victims.

Lynn
Lynn

Our school is really paranoid about having parents come in to help out. They are allowed to come in during school time to help with reading, etc, but absolutely no parents are allowed to help with after-school activities like clubs and sports, and we aren't allowed to help supervise the yard at break times either. If police checks would make everyone more comfortable with parents coming into the school, then that's okay with me. On the other hand, I used to work at my daughter's co-op preschool where every parent had to have a police check to do mandatory duty days. We were reviewing our police check policies while I was there and someone told me that the whole police check thing is quite bogus. They apparently just look you up in a certain database to see if you have been flagged as a certain kind of offender - but the reach of this database is quite limited (I'm not sure it is even Canada-wide) and there are so many other potential concerns that it does not touch on. I came away feeling like it was just a token piece of paper that means very little...I guess maybe the fact that a parent is willing to get it says enough about their innocence? Meh.

Kim Reynolds
Kim Reynolds

Such a mess isn't it? Imagine a child harmed and it found that they were with a volunteer with a history of abuse and no one bothered to check. Yet what are the odds of that person being the average mom who comes into to read or supervise a trip to the science and tech. Probably not very likely at all. But time and again a horror story comes out. One horrible incident amongs thousands of volunteers across the country. But when we know better we're supposed to do better. How can we do less. It's a sad shift. A very sad shift. But we owe it to every child to do the best we can, even though it feels like too much and unnecessary.

Heather
Heather

I have called (or read their online policies) of all the Public & Catholic school boards in Ontario (french boards not included) The results were 62 school boards ask for criminal checks, and only 8 school boards do NOT. It seems Ottawa has two of those 8. Moosonee and Moose Factory Island school board does criminal checks. Those statistics aside, I was amazed at the pride in the voices of the staff who could say that their school had criminal checks in place and many found it hard to believe that this was not the case here in Ottawa. As for volunteers at the 62 boards, it seemed the checks caused the reverse effect, many parents who had checks done felt more involved in the school, more needed, and seemed to take a greater ownership. I can see this with Hockey Canada as well and those to participate. The volunteers not only have criminal checks but are taught their importance and role as a volunteer. I see a publicly funded organisation, such as school boards, where it is mandatory to attend should be taking greater care of child safety, or at least be equal to paid organisation such as Hockey Canada. The same people who volunteer for 2- 3 hours, are also the same people who will fill out a single form and take it to the police station. Often it is these same people who volunteer at other places and are more than familiar with the practice. Likely, if you wouldn't fill out a form you wouldn't volunteer. Just because you don't volunteer, you still have the right to have a say in who is involved with your child. Just because you don't volunteer that doesn't mean you can't expect a criminal check of those who do - it is your child after all.

Carly
Carly

At work (I'm in recreation), we require all our volunteers and staff to get Police Record Checks, however most volunteers and staff are with children in programs when their parents are not present. Certainly if a parent is going to be working one on one with a child or children, then I do believe they should have one. I can remember doing a cooperative education program in High School where I volunteered at an Elementary School. I was often alone with one or two children, reviewing their reading skills, etc. and in hindsight and now looking at it from the perspective of being a parent myself now, I'm a little appalled that was permitted to happen. I don't think that parents who are accompanying kids on field trips, or who are helping out in the classroom really need one. In all honestly, I often question the policy we have at work as well because . . . Our staff and volunteers, once they've been "hired" are not required to get another one done as long as they remain on our payroll/continue to volunteer. Only when there is a break in their service do they need a new one. But getting one done yearly is ineffective. Theoretically, someone could clear a PRC on Monday and commit a crime on Friday. You wouldn't know until a year later when they applied again. Personally I think their use is more to cover the collective butts of organizations/school boards and somehow parents are reassured when they find out their child's coach/leader/instructor has one. But should they be? Not in my opinion . . .

Alison
Alison

I agree with all your points. People are busy, and forms getting filled out usually aren't a priority. Doesn't mean kids aren't. One of the other downsides I see is the difficulties for those new to an area, let alone new to Canada. I'm not sure what's required for a police check, but I know doing a security check for someone at work that has lived outside Canada is a huge hassle. Kristin, it's interesting to hear your perspective as the checks are required. I'm interested in how it plays out? Do you need to show it everytime you go to the school or do they have it on file? Will you ever need to get it renewed? At our church, the volunteer activities are ranked as low, medium or high sensitivity. Those involved in medium or high sensitive require police checks. Those activities are ones that involve one-on-one involvement, children, the elderly or financial dealings.

Kristin @ Peace, Love and Muesli
Kristin @ Peace, Love and Muesli

I've needed a police check to volunteer in school since my 7 yo started at school. I don't need to have it redone yearly. In my community a police check is required for any activity where children are not with their parents. So brownies, churches, sports teams, ballet class... I don't think it impacts volunteer involvement at all, both our schools have lots of volunteers, there's certainly not a shortage. There's 2 separate checks, 1 is the standard police and the other is the vulnerable screeening. We need both. As a parent, I would be very concerned if there was someone in school or Brownies not providing a police check, I would right away think "What are you hiding?" Though in truth the ladies in the school offices know and they are great enforcers.

Amy
Amy

I was watching the conversation this morning. I don't think parents volunteering at schools should be forced to have police checks, but at the same time I know when Joe coaches hockey he has to have one done, and I think that makes sense. It just seems like there's a difference between school - where kids have to be - and an activity you sign them up for of your own free will. I really don't know.

Karen
Karen

I'm with you. I don't agree with this, but the motivation behind the "necessity" leaves me with a TON of questions. Far more questions than answers. Until I get satisfactory answers, I can't support this. I just don't see why parents should be treated as suspicious when they want to help at their kids' schools.

Lara
Lara

oh see, now that makes more sense to me. If for some reason I'm volunteering one on one with kids in a room by myself (tutoring or something) then I could see it being way more important.

Kristin @ Peace, Love and Muesli
Kristin @ Peace, Love and Muesli

The school keeps in on file, I submit it every year, they copy it and give me back the original. Those office ladies have minds like a steel trap, they know everyone.

Lara
Lara

So my issue really isn't with getting a police check, I'm happy to have people check into my history. I think people getting around to having them done is the difference. Also, they're wanting to have them done yearly (the petition is, I believe, and that's what my kids' schools are asking for), not just a one off for the entire time your kids are in school. I think I'd be more inclined to just get it done then, but then I also don't quite see the point in that either.

Karen
Karen

I think a huge difference is that Joe is working with kids that aren't his own in a community program that has to cover itself for liability. Yes, that argument can be made to an extent about other parents, but how many parents would do something to a child in the presence of their child? I'm not opposed to non-parent/guardian volunteers being checked before going into a school, but I think it's unreasonable to ask parents to submit.

Lara
Lara

I see a difference between helping out with a school activity and being in charge of a group of kids for an out of school activity (coaches, girl guides, etc).

Lara
Lara

We have to sign in before going into the school, they know who we are, who are kids are, etc. This to me seems like overkill.

Alison
Alison

The soccer league that I volunteered with did not require police checks for volunteers at the youngest age groups, as parents were required to be at the field for the practice/game. At the age groups where kids were dropped off, police checks are mandatory.

Kristin @ Peace, Love and Muesli
Kristin @ Peace, Love and Muesli

Yearly seems a bit intense. Apparently ours are valid as long as we have a child in school in the region. Which I am not sure about- that's a lot of years to get into trouble. I heard that there might be a yearly affidavit coming, to sign that you've not committed any crimes or whatever. Some folks won't bother, others want to volunteer and be involved in the school community and will make the effort. I don't hear any complaints, well other than parents waiting too to get them and then missing out on a field trip.

Joe
Joe

Don't have the time to give this the thought it needs for a really coherent reply but just quickly, everyone who has an official role with a minor hockey team has to have a police check, whether or not they have kids in the program.

Karen
Karen

That's the way it was when I was in school too.

Lara
Lara

It may not be a huge deal to some people, I'm positive there will be a lot of parents who are happy to do it, I just think it's imposing barriers for some that means they will have less of a pool to draw from. It's the less than enthusiastic volunteers (like moi) who they will lose. The ones who would have done it because they felt they should not because they were super duper into the idea ;)

Don
Don

Non-permanent teachers (including supply teachers), new teachers, even student teachers in teachers' college need to get annual police checks, no exceptions. And, they pay for them out of their own pockets. Generally, anyone who works with a vulnerable sector requires a police check. This applies to hospital volunteers as well.

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