Washington, DC - June 14, 2016 - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today launched a campaign to pass his bipartisan legislation that would close the gaping hole in the federal law that prevents summer camps and other not-for-profit organizations that work with children from gaining access to federal sex offender background checks on new employees and volunteers.
Schumer explained that, under current law, many children’s summer camps, day cares, charity organizations and more only have access to New York State’s criminal database. Because this is the only resource most local groups have access to, and because they cannot access FBI sex offender databases, they often lack records of criminal activity committed out of state.
Because the FBI databases are widely considered the most accurate and complete criminal databases, Schumer said it is critical these summer camps and other organizations put in charge of caring for children have access to these records when hiring employees. Schumer is therefore urging his colleagues in Congress to pass bi-partisan legislation, Child Protection Improvements and Electronic Life and Safety Security Systems Act of 2015, which would grant youth-serving organizations access to FBI background checks for volunteers and new employees.
“Right now, there is a serious gap in federal law that is making it harder for Long Island summer camps, day cares and other child-serving organizations to fully screen their paid and volunteer applicants. These groups, tasked with ensuring the safety of children day in and day out, should never have any difficulty when it comes to accessing the FBI background checks they need to ensure dangerous predators are allowed nowhere near our kids,” said Schumer.
“That’s why I’m putting on the full court press and urging my colleagues to pass this commonsense, bi-partisan legislation. As a parent, I know there is nothing more important than keeping our children safe from harm. Parents deserve the peace of mind knowing that their children are in good hands when they drop them off at camp and other afterschool programs.”
"Our organization is committed to ensuring the safety of all children. American Camp Association Accredited camps perform background checks, however, there is more that can be done," says Susie Lupert, Executive Director of the American Camp Association, NY and NJ. "The well-being of children is the number one concern for all who work with children and youth development. It should be a top priority for congress to pass legislation that will give these organizations access to federal background check databases. The nation's children deserve to be protected."
Laura Ahearn, Executive Director of the Crime Victims Center (Parents for Megan’s Law) applauded Senator Schumer for his ongoing commitment to providing organizations with the essential tools they need to protect our most vulnerable. “Many parents would be surprised to find out that there are many loopholes in New York laws, and in laws across the nation, which would allow an individual who has been convicted of sex crimes against children to go completely unnoticed in our communities, and into positions of trust working closely and volunteering with our most vulnerable,” said Ahearn
Many organizations and programs rely heavily on volunteers and employees to provide services and care to children. These individuals coach soccer games, mentor young people, run youth camps, and are involved with children in many other ways. It’s estimated that over 15 million adults nationwide volunteer for education or youth program groups. Therefore, Schumer said the organizations that are tasked with taking care of our children must have access to the most updated and comprehensive sex offender records.
However, according to Schumer, the current system of obtaining a background check for child-serving groups is not nearly as accessible as it should be, particularly when it comes to out-of-state records. Just about one-third of states allow a range of youth-serving organizations to access FBI searches, but New York is not one of them. And, even when those searches are available, they can be cost-prohibitive and time-consuming for summer camps and organizations on a budget.
Schumer said this could discourage many groups from obtaining the background checks. Under current law, an organization must apply for a background check through its state, and for each employee. Only a handful of states allow access to FBI checks through this process.
In New York State, there are two ways to get access to background checks. An individual can get access to his own criminal history records by requesting them from the state and paying a fee. In addition, a mentoring organization, like summer camp, can register with the state to get access to state fingerprint checks. Notably, though, this will only involve an individual’s New York records.
As of 2010, over 40 percent of the individuals with criminal records had committed an offense in a state other than where they were applying to volunteer, meaning that a state-only search would not have found relevant criminal records. Schumer noted that an applicant to be a camp counselor, for example, could have been convicted of an assault in Ohio, or committed a sex crime in Florida, but there may be no record of it in New York’s database.
Schumer pointed to the 2013 case of a Schuyler County man named Daryl Vonneida, who served as a Boy Scout leader, church counselor and soccer and baseball coach, and was convicted and found guilty on 14 criminal counts after sexually abusing children for more than 40 years. A quick, thorough national background check might have turned up Vonneida’s past convictions and prevented his hire at any youth-serving organization or not-for-profit. Many of the hold ups with Vonneida’s case came from old record keeping and difficulty accessing information, but a federal background check would have found his 1989 first degree sexual abuse conviction. Schumer argued that even though it can’t be known whether this bill would have stopped Vonneida, it could help stop the next predator before that person can work with kids.
Tragic cases like this continue to pop up throughout communities in the New York-Metro area. For instance, a Queens Little League coach now faces prison time for repeatedly molesting three boys, ages 13 and 14, in 2012. The coach was found guilty in 1989 of two sex crimes involving a minor. In 2009, a Long Island man filed a lawsuit regarding repeated abuse at his upstate sleepaway camp, Camp Chipinaw in Swan Lake, when he was a camper between the years of 1998-2000. The man also sued the camp for forgoing a background check on the counselor.
The Child Protection Improvements and Electronic Life and Safety Security Systems Act of 2015 would create a nationally accessible background check solution for youth-serving organizations, and ensure access to federal FBI fingerprint background checks. Specifically, this legislation would do the following:
- Facilitate widespread access to nationwide background searches, by requiring the Attorney General to designate a team to process state and federal background checks on prospective employees and volunteers for youth-serving organizations and for employees in the electronic life safety and security systems industry.
- Provide participating organizations with reliable and accurate information as to whether an individual’s criminal record bears upon his fitness to work or volunteer with children. After a check is run, an employer will be notified if an applicant has a conviction or open arrest for any offenses like crimes of violence, crimes against children, and sex offenses, among others. The employer can then make the determination of whether to go ahead with the hiring.