Screening mentors is obviously important at the beginning of a volunteer’s involvement; and ongoing supervision and monitoring provides some assurances over the duration of the relationship. But would it be a good idea for programs to periodically conduct a formal background check/interview/reference check of current mentors ? Is it worth the expense? Would mentors feel slighted by the request? Would it actually provide a level of safety that would warrant the effort? I’ve heard arguments both directions on this, so I thought I’d ask a few leaders in the mentoring field to weigh in:
Re-screening volunteers is recommended for programs, though they make take different steps to get there. For programs with mentors who return each year to be matched with new youth, re-screening steps can reveal any new information that may be found to be out of line with the services provided or prevent the applicant from eligibility. Steps may be modified or shortened to cover only information that may have changed since the first application process. For example, if the program hasn’t significantly changed, there is little reason for the returning mentor to attend either an orientation or pre-match training. However, if the returning mentor will be working with new staff, a brief interview to renew the relationship and learn more about recent life events would be recommended. Internet searches can also reveal more detailed information about a returning mentor.
In terms of background checks, agencies are advised to research their state’s ability to provide subsequent criminal history records without re-submitting fingerprints, as it is recommended to review any recent criminal history on an annual basis if the volunteer will be continuing with the mentee formally or is being matched with a new mentee.
But by far the most important part of rescreening comes from program staff who have been monitoring and supporting the match, to be able to identify any red flags, especially in terms of effectiveness, and any potential challenges to a new match.
Karen Shaver – Vice-President, Agency Services, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada
If you agree, as a basic assumption, that people and their circumstances change over time then it makes sense to re-assess. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada’s National Standards require partial re-screening of mentors under certain circumstances throughout their involvement with our agencies’ programs. Re-screening is conducted for two primary reasons: an additional assessment and assurance of suitability and safety and an opportunity to determine whether the mentor is still participating in the most appropriate mentoring program. Although all mentoring relationships are supported and monitored on a regular basis, volunteer mentors are informed, at the beginning of their involvement, that additional re-screening will be required under certain circumstances. If the time comes, mentors understand the need for and the importance of these extra checks; most respond positively and express confidence in the attention given to the safety of children and to quality programming.
Of note, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada’s National Standards also require a re-assessment of the mentee under certain circumstances to ensure that the young person is being served in the right mentoring program.
We all know that in order to ensure maximum protection for youth, mentors, and non-profits, all volunteers must be screened before they begin working with youth. This policy is embedded in the Elements as well as the policies and procedures of most non-profits today.
You use the word “periodically” in posing the question. Should agencies insist on re-screening volunteers on a regular basis after they become involved in a program and if so, how often? To this point, I have not yet found any risk-management organizations or nonprofit management groups that make specific recommendations for updating a volunteer’s screening. I think that when SafetyNet was in operation, they notified an agency in the years after the initial screening if they noticed an updated “red flag.” I do believe that would be a great way to go in the future with any and all criminal background check “products” on the market.
With that said, would mentors mind if their lives were interrupted once again with repeat checks? Life is very different in 2012 than a decade ago. Given recent scandals with churches, schools, and prominent football coaches, I think all volunteers in our field would understand perfectly.
Is it realistic that ongoing monitoring and supervision of volunteers and matches is sufficient? I do not think that is enough. Program staff can vary in their monitoring and it can lead to disaster. Bottom line: the backgrounds and suitability of those working with youth need to be reassessed constantly.
So what do you think? Would re-screening be feasible for your mentoring program? Can you afford the cost? Are other risk management methods sufficient to keep mentees safe over time? I’m curious as to whether there is more consensus around this issue than I first thought. Share your thoughts in the comments below!