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Screening Out Offenders

Sexual predators target organizations serving youth and vulnerable populations.  Failure to discover a known offender seeking access into your organization can affect those in your care and destroy an organization’s reputation, financial stability and trust within the community.  So, how can you keep sexual predators out of your organization?  Your first line of defense is to implement a thorough, consistent screening process designed to discover would-be offenders and discourage them from targeting your organization.

A thorough, consistent screening process ensures all individuals joining your organization in either an employee or volunteer capacity are screened before getting started. Your screening process should include several elements, such as applications, interviews, reference checks, and criminal background checks.

Based on our experience, we recommend the following best practices within screening and selection procedures:

All applicants should be required to complete an employment or volunteer application before being considered for the position. The application should be carefully reviewed for incomplete information or information that is inconsistent with what is known about the applicant.  If the application is not fully complete the organization may screen out the applicant, ask the applicant to complete the application, or obtain the missing information during an interview. Your organization should not move forward with an applicant until the application is 100% complete.

Interviews should be conducted with all potential employees and volunteers.  Conducting formal interviews with applicants who are under the age of 18, where traditional criminal background screening yields limited results, can be a particularly useful tool.  The purpose of an interview is to utilize behavioral based questions to solicit examples of the applicant’s previous actions to ensure the applicant possesses the skills needed to fill the role and to see if the applicant demonstrates characteristics of someone who should be working with youth or vulnerable populations.  When possible, Praesidium recommends including that at least two members of your organization in the interviewing process.

Reference Checks:
Conduct a minimum of three references before offering a position to an applicant. Two professional references and one personal reference will help you obtain information from a variety of viewpoints. References are to be conducted over the telephone unless otherwise specified by state licensing or accreditation entities.  Organizations should follow consistent reference questions, write detailed notes with responses, and ensure that those notes are shared with the hiring committee so that potential red flags do not go unnoticed.  Reference checks are vital to screening minors that are applying for a role within your organization.  You might need to modify questions to include coaches, teachers, and clergy rather than supervisors and co-workers, but the added effort will yield a more complete picture of your applicant.

Background Checks:
In determining the types of checks to utilize, organizations should follow all state, federal, and licensing regulations and consider an individual’s level of access. Level of access may be influenced by:

  • Frequency: How frequently does the individual work around or interact with minors? Is it a one-time event or every day?
  • Duration: What is the duration of the individual’s interactions? Is it during short stints of time or during long periods of time?
  • Level of Supervision: Are the individual’s interactions always supervised by another adult or are they potentially one-on-one with minors?
  • Nature of the Relationship: What is the nature of the relationship between the individual and the minors in the program? Does the individual merely supervise an area during an event that has minors, or are they getting to know individual minors and families while advising or tutoring?

At a minimum, all applicants should undergo a criminal check and a national sex offender check.  Based on the factors above, the following may be needed:  deeper criminal checks, specialty searches like credit checks or driving record checks, or broader searches like education verification, professional license verification or even drug screening.

By completing all of these steps and looking at the results of the background check in concert with issues raised in other parts of the screening and selection process, you will be able to make a decision based on the totality of the applicant.  A consistent and transparent screening and selection process will also encourage potentially problematic individuals to self-select out of your organization.


Our Praesidium experts recommend starting the new year by rescreening your current employees in order to continue your ongoing commitment to creating a culture of safety. For more information contact us at 800-743-6354.