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Safety First Where Kids Are Involved - Thanks to Sterling Volunteers!

07.26.2021

We recently sat down with Troy Gerber, Sports Sales Leader and trusted advisor with Sterling Volunteers, a PCA trusted resource and background screening provider, to discuss the mission of their organization and the importance of background checks among youth sports organizations.

Troy shared, “Sterling Volunteers is a company that has dedicated all its resources to specifically serve nonprofits. It was started to service and close a critical gap we found in the background screening industry where nonprofits were being severely underserved and the safety of kids, and all vulnerable populations, was at risk.”

Volunteers are often heavily relied upon to help fulfill nonprofit missions, and it’s no different within the youth sports sector where sports organizations lean on parents to fill volunteer coaching positions.  It is important for parents to proactively investigate whether or not the organization their kids are participating with is conducting quality, compliant background checks on their volunteers.

Since we know safety is clearly paramount and a top concern among parents, performing background checks - even when you believe there are no issues - is a way to help mitigate risk and provide peace of mind in protecting everyone involved with your organization.  As a representative of your youth sports organization, ensuring that quality background checks are part of your safety program is a good place to start.  It will give your club or organization more credibility within your community and show your commitment to maintaining safe environments.

Here are some insightful tips from our Q&A with Sterling Volunteers:

Q: Who should be screened?

A: Sterling Volunteers follows the best practice of screening everyone – volunteers, staff and even board members. This can include volunteers taking tickets at events, handling money, coaching positions, locker room attendants, officials, etc. Not screening everyone means you are risking your organization’s assets, reputation, people and overall safety.

Q: How often should background checks be completed?

A: Another industry best practice Sterling Volunteers follows and recommends is to screen all volunteers, coaches, and officials on an annual basis. Organizations looking to minimize risk across all facets of their operations include running background checks each year on new and repeat coaches. As an added safety measure, Sterling Volunteers automatically runs monthly validated Nationwide and Sex Offender checks at no additional cost. This helps organizations identify new criminal records that may occur after the initial check is run and the volunteer coach starts serving and interacting with the kids.

Q: What happens if something comes up on a background check?

A: From an administrator standpoint, there are federal and state laws you need to be aware of that govern how to handle this situation. It also depends on the steps outlined in your organizations’ internal background screening policy, and the severity of the infraction/crime.

Equally important, when your organization uses a third-party Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) for conducting criminal background checks, such as Sterling Volunteers, and if something disparaging is found in the background check report - enough to deny the candidate from a volunteer position or deny employment - your organization must follow the 3-step “Adverse Action” process under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This starts prior to making a final onboarding decision (as an FYI, the FCRA was established in 1970 to provide consumer privacy rights and protect employee applicants and volunteers. This protection is important to point out due to federal and state court record keeping systems not being 100% accurate).

Lastly, Adverse Action notifications need to be sent to the candidate to alert them when the organization has determined they are not eligible for hire or to volunteer for a specific position based on what was found in their background check. The candidate also receives a copy of their background check report giving them the opportunity to address inaccuracies to confirm and/or contest the information in the report.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who has something on a background check in a “grey area”, for example a DUI?

A: Defining “grey area” is at the discretion of your organization, but it starts when best practices are set in place and outlined within a comprehensive background screening policy (and posting it publicly for awareness). Also, it is recommended to always consult your legal counsel for advice, as it is the sole responsibility of your organization to make the determination of what constitutes “grey area.”

In addition, it’s helpful to include within your policy clear definitions of what is and what is not acceptable behavior for your organization. Ask yourself questions such as, “Is there a pattern to this individual’s behavior? Did the person seek rehabilitation? Is it a one-time offense?” Bottom line, all records need and should be individually reviewed and assessed.

Q: When thinking about identity of coaches and background checks – those are two different things – so how can you go about verifying the identity of the coach?

A: It’s a common misperception that criminal records are housed by Social Security Number (SSN), and therefore when running a background check, an SSN is needed, however, criminal records are stored based on name and date of birth (DOB). Running a name-based check, along with checking their government-issued ID (i.e. valid driver’s license) ensures their application and ID names match, and they are in fact who they say they are.

Q: Some people feel that their organization has never had an issue, so why would they need to start doing background checks? What would you say to this person?

A: Background checks are essential to help mitigate risk. By not running high-quality, compliant background checks on coaches who are working with kids open your organization up to much greater risk and vulnerability to potential civil lawsuits should something go wrong. Remember, it only takes one individual to wreak havoc on your organization and family, and unfortunately, sometimes it’s someone we know.

Q: If I get a background check from one high school, but then switch high schools can I use that same background check? Should I accept someone’s background check from a different organization?

A: Promoting transparency among your organization is key, and coaches should have access to their own background checks. As long as the check meets the screening criteria outlined by the receiving organization, it should be accepted. Keep in mind, not all background checks are created equal – they vary widely in-depth, quality, compliance and price, so when submitting to other organizations, make sure you are sharing a current, compliant background check.

Q: What is the best way to address the team if a coach is asked to leave due to a failed background check?

A: All criminal records for adults over the age of 18 will eventually become a public record, but each organization will need to determine the most effective way to communicate to both parents and kids why a coach has departed the organization. Since honesty is the best policy, it is recommended to first alert the parents without going into too much detail of the criminal record. One idea is to call a parent meeting and have a candid conversation with the parents so you can collectively work together to come up with the best plan on how to deliver the news to the kids.

Q: If we don’t have a background check policy in place today, where do you begin?

A: If you are part of a national organization or association, like PCA, start there first.  They are always a great resource.  Ask if they are partnered with a background screening provider or if they can offer any recommendations.  Many times, national organizations have already gone through the vetting process in selecting one or several screening companies, and have also received legal and board approvals, so you don’t have to do the work.  Additionally, as a PCA trusted resource, Sterling Volunteers provides many complimentary resources, including a sample of what a Background Check Policy should entail.

There is no downside to running quality and compliant background checks to keep kids and all those involved with your sports organization safe. As Troy pointed out, not all checks or crimes are created equal. Through his many years in the sports business and becoming a subject matter expert, he has gained great insight and holds compassion for those who may have done something wrong in the past. People can rehabilitate themselves and make changes for the better. There are certainly outstanding coaches in every community who perhaps made a bad decision earlier in life but are now positively impacting youth - oftentimes being a positive role model by learning from their own mistakes and working to improve others.

If you are interested in learning more about background checks for your organization or if you are a coach who needs to provide a background check, please visit https://www.sterlingvolunteers.com/resources/pca/ to connect directly with Troy.

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