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January 25, 2013

DiNapoli: Municipalities Should Ensure Background Checks For Youth Program Workers

Local governments could do more to conduct background checks on individuals working in municipal youth program services, according to an audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“Failing to perform background checks potentially jeopardizes the safety of children,” said DiNapoli. “It is essential that local officials take action to ensure they are consistently screening all persons who provide youth program services in their communities. Parents need to trust that all of the necessary steps have been taken to keep their children out of harm’s way.”

From Jan. 2010 through May 2012, auditors examined youth program activities in the cities of Binghamton, Middletown, New Rochelle and Utica; as well as the towns of Amherst, Clifton Park, Manlius and Seneca Falls. These municipalities offer activities to more than 409,000 residents.

The Comptroller’s audit found seven of the eight municipalities did not conduct background checks on all of the individuals who deliver their youth program services. Only one, the town of Clifton Park, annually screened all program personnel against the state’s sex offender registry and other resources.

Two municipalities, the town of Manlius and the city of New Rochelle, did not screen applicants at all, except for those personnel providing programs where state law mandates screening. The remaining five municipalities performed some screening, but did not do it consistently or did not document the date and results of the screening process.

Of the 1,994 individuals working in youth program services in these municipalities, the Comptroller’s audit did not identify any persons with sex offender or significant criminal histories.

The Comptroller’s audit findings also include:

  • Four of the five municipalities that used volunteers did not check volunteers’ criminal history;
  • Five municipalities that hired contracted workers to offer program services did not screen these workers for sexual offenses prior to delivering services; and
  • Six municipalities performed some variety of background checks for new employees.

Municipal youth programs can include pre-school or afterschool activities, arts and crafts, exercise and fitness, summer camps, seasonal or holiday special events, sports, employment and literacy programs, safety programs, swim programs and therapeutic programs. Background checks are currently required by state law or regulation only for individuals who have contact with children in camps, childcare programs and therapeutic programs.

DiNapoli recommended municipalities conduct background checks for all employees, volunteers and contractors involved in youth programs. Minimally, local officials should utilize the sex offender registry maintained by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. They can also perform various types of criminal history background checks and develop their own procedures to limit liability and ensure the safety of participating children.

Local officials generally agreed with the audit findings and the Comptroller’s recommendations. Their responses are included in the final audit report.

For a copy of the report visit:

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