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Volunteer Background Checks: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Posted By Brian Mazoff, Eastern Canada Regional Director of Sales for SterlingBackcheck, December 3, 2015
Updated: December 2, 2015

 Estimated reading time: 4 minutes


While it’s true that background checks are only a part of what volunteer-driven organizations need to do to ensure they're providing a safe environment for their members, they also play a critical role in the screening process for certain positions.

If a volunteer position involves working alone with vulnerable people, or involves some activity that may be related to a record of offences (such as driving or handling money), a background check can help identify potential problems before they start. This is where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, possibly preventing an abusive or risky individual from working or volunteering with vulnerable populations. 

Volunteer Toronto’s partnership with SterlingBackcheck’s service offers affordable background screening services to their subscribers with easy online access. Applicants are guided through the simple step-by-step process and administrators save time by facilitating ordering and managing records all online. Results are delivered directly to the requesting organization.  With SterlingBackcheck’s stringent privacy policy restricting access to data, background screening results are stored only on secure sites, never transmitted by unsecured means and are stored in a secure Canadian facility.

For positions serving children or vulnerable adults, the Enhanced Police Information Check is recommended.  This not only covers the RCMP’s National Repository of Criminal Records, but goes beyond to search databases of locally-held police information on a national scale.  This ensures that the current two-year backlog of the CPIC database is covered, while also identifying any recent negative police contact, such as charges which haven’t yet resulted in convictions.  Highly sensitive and irrelevant information, such as mental health records, are not disclosed in accordance with guidance from privacy regulators.

Occasionally, organizations rely on ‘waivers of declaration’, in which prospective volunteers or employees will sign a document acknowledging that they have no record.  That’s the extent of the process and no actual background check is performed. While I sympathize with tight budgets--a common conundrum among not-for-profit organizations--this is a risky practice. If a position is deemed to require a background check, it’s better to go ahead with the process than risk having applicants who don’t disclose the truth.

There are many other practices, such as requiring that two adults be present at all times when dealing with a vulnerable individual, that go a long way to reduce incidents of abuse.  However, the most essential method of prevention remains a thorough vetting of your volunteer members with appropriate screening methods. Knowing who you’re trusting to work with your most vulnerable populations reduces risks of abuse, liability and reputational damage, all of which are possible death knells to any volunteer organization.

As with any collection of personal information—especially sensitive information regarding police contact and criminal history—be sure to document your practices and your justification for them in a background check policy. Additionally, your policy should be vetted by legal counsel to ensure your program is consistent and compliant with any applicable privacy and human rights law. You can also learn more about how to make sure that you use information from background checks responsibly through Volunteer Toronto’s training on Police Checks and the Ontario Human Rights Code.



Brian Mazoff has been working with SterlingBackcheck – Canada’s leading provider of employment and volunteer screening – since 2008. As Regional Director of Sales for Eastern Canada, Brian consults with hundreds of organizations to help implement compliant screening processes. Active in volunteer organizations from a young age and having worked with children’s organizations for nearly ten years, Brian is familiar with many of the challenges facing today’s non-profit and youth groups.

Tags:  Background Screening for volunteers  Police Records Checks  Police screening  Volunteer Police Records Checks 

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