Screening & Hiring Through a Child Abuse Prevention Lens at Camp

Your camp is responsible for caring for minors. Therefore, each of your staff members and volunteers must be vetted and screened through a child abuse prevention lens. This will ensure that there are multiple layers of protection in place to deter potential abusers from your camp.

Below we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions for screening and hiring staff and volunteers at camp. Review these questions, and then download our self-assessment tool above. This self-assessment will allow you to evaluate where your camp can improve in your screening and hiring policies and practices.

Once you have completed this self-assessment, randomly review five personnel files from your organization. Choose a mix of new, returning, year-round, seasonal, front-line, and auxiliary staff/volunteers. Then ask the following questions:

  • What is and isn’t working well in our current process?
  • Are our files as complete as we would expect?
  • What are the gaps, and how will we address them?

Note: As always, it is important to remember that specific laws and regulations are at the state and local level. Be sure to consult with a lawyer or HR expert who is familiar with employment law in your jurisdiction.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How should year-round vs. seasonal staff be treated differently in our hiring and screening policies?
All of your hiring and screening policies should include information about year-round as well as seasonal employees/volunteers. They should be equally vetted and evaluated. We recommend re-screening staff and volunteers after any break of employment or service of 90 days or more. This may include gathering a returning staff application to establish changes in contact information, updating essay questions, spot-checking references, or confirming recent employment history.

Should our volunteers be vetted differently than our paid staff?
The use of volunteers ranges at camp. Some may only use paid staff to operate their programs, while others may use a high volume of volunteers to fill the role of a camp counselor. We also see where some use alumni volunteers, who visit camp regularly each summer, to fill in gaps. Any volunteers that are a part of your program and have unsupervised access to minors, should be vetted in the same way as paid staff. For additional guidance on volunteers, visit our resource on policies and procedures for volunteers at camp.

How should we vet international staff or staff who are minors?
Not all staff or volunteers will have a readily accessible criminal background check. Your organization must follow its policy in these instances. If your policy indicates that every staff or volunteer needs a Criminal Background Check, then you need to have this on file. If your organization makes exceptions for minors or international staff, this should be noted in the policy. Work with international agencies to collect available information from the staff/volunteer’s home country. For minors that do not have a Criminal Background Check available, your screening process should have additional focus and documentation on verification of education, employment history, and references.

Why are “No Tolerance for Abuse” statements important?
Sexual predators will often search for organizations that provide access to children. Therefore, having a clear “No Tolerance” statement is one layer of protection that may deter an applicant from applying to your organization who has malicious intentions.

An example of this statement is below:

Our organization views protecting children and youth as an integral part of our mission. We have a zero-tolerance policy for abuse, mistreatment, or harassment of any kind in our organization. We employ many policies and practices to prioritize the safety of all in our organization.

Share this “No Tolerance” statement with potential applicants before they apply, not as part of the paperwork upon hire. This allows your organization to set clear expectations and demonstrate your values from the beginning. Some examples of where you can post this statement include:

  • On job postings
  • On applications
  • On your organization’s website (See example from The Mayhew Program at the bottom of their website.)
  • On job descriptions
  • Stated during an interview

Why should we include a family friend or relative as a reference check?
Family reference checks are a key layer of protection in preventing child sexual abuse when hiring staff or volunteers. Talking to a family member can give you deeper insights into an applicant’s background and may help to identify patterns in their behavior that aren’t evident through a Criminal Background Check and professional references alone. For more information, read our complete resource on why family reference checks are so critical to implement.

When running a Criminal Background Check, what should we do if it doesn’t come back clean?
One of the most common questions we receive is: “We have an applicant who we really want to hire, but they have _____ on their criminal background check. Can we still hire them?”

Our first response is always: “What does your policy say?”

Organizations must have a clear policy in place regarding the results of a Criminal Background Check. Some organizations will have a stricter policy where all Criminal Background Checks must be clean. Others will outline a list of “thresholds” or “barrier crimes” of what they will not accept. At a minimum, barrier crimes should include the following:

  • All crimes against children including child pornography/child sex abuse materials), child molestation, child abuse, child abandonment, child neglect, enticing a child into a motor vehicle, structure, or isolated area, endangering the welfare of a child, and the selling of controlled substances to a child or the use of a child to sell controlled substances
  • Crimes involving sexual assault, rape, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, or indecent exposure
  • Stalking and related offenses involving restraint, imprisonment, or criminal coercion
  • Crimes involving assault with a weapon or an assault that results in bodily harm
  • Terrorist threats
  • Cruelty to animals

Why is it so important that our organization is consistently documenting our hiring and screening practices?
One of the most common gaps we see in personnel files is a lack of consistency in following all policies and procedures between applicants. For example, we may see a lack of documented reference checks, or incomplete applications. When an incident occurs—regardless of the type of incident—your organization will be asked to provide the file of the staff member or volunteer involved in the incident. Therefore, it is important that your policies clearly state your required documentation, and that all files are complete according to that policy.

Additional Resources on this Topic