State wants background checks on Delaware summer camp employees

Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families personnel, camp organizers and child-safety experts listen Saturday during a presentation on preventing child abuse. (Delaware State News photo by Matt Bittle)

Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families personnel, camp organizers and child-safety experts listen Saturday during a presentation on preventing child abuse. (Delaware State News photo by Matt Bittle)

MAGNOLIA — Officials in the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families (DSCYF) are working on legislation that would mandate background checks for all summer camps and standardize requirements across the board for organizations where workers are around children.

Background checks are currently not required for summer camp workers, something the department hopes to change in a few months.

To prepare camp organizers and others for the expected revisions, the department hosted a forum Saturday, with state administrators and experts providing information on the forthcoming bill.

The proposal, which has not yet been introduced in the General Assembly, comes out of recommendations developed last year by a task force of lawmakers, law enforcement personnel, school administrators and others.

Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families Secretary Jennifer Ranji explains at a forum Saturday why she thinks state government should require background investigations of employees at summer camps.

Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families Secretary Jennifer Ranji explains at a forum Saturday why she thinks state government should require background investigations of employees at summer camps.

As part of the suggestions, the department is seeking to streamline existing standards and require all camps to conduct background checks on potential hires. Private schools would have to either do checks or, if they opt not to, inform parents of that decision.

Under the recommendations included in the draft bill, a youth camp is defined as an educational, athletic, recreational or religious gathering taking place for up to 12 weeks at least three hours per day during part of the May to September time period. The guidelines further characterize camps as not including individuals contracted by parents for short-term training or employed by a group or company.

The background checks would include two facets: the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System, which maintains a record of Delawareans charged with crimes, and the DSCYF Child Protection Registry, which keeps track of those found, under a civil offense, to have neglected or mistreated a child.

They would also have the option to perform a State Bureau Of Identification fingerprint examination, which is more thorough but also more costly.

A fingerprint check costs $69, while the DELJIS analysis would be about 20 to $30, according to DSCYF Secretary Jennifer Ranji.

While most individuals who harm children do not already have a record, these checks would help catch some offenders, she said. The DELJIS check only has Delaware data, meaning it is less thorough compared to the SBI examination, which can also include a Federal Bureau of Investigation check.

“Vigilance is the key. It’s eyes on all the time,” said the department’s deputy attorney general, Janice Tigani.

The less-stringent requirements were created because of the lower cost. A $69 test that must be held on every possible hire would add up quickly, Ms. Ranji said.

Independent schools who want to test all potential employees would be able to use a DELJIS, private service or SBI check. Like camps, they are currently not required to conduct any investigation into workers’ backgrounds. Unlike camps, they could opt not to do so but would have to inform parents in writing.

Felons who have committed a physical or sexual assault against a child, elderly person or vulnerable adult would be barred from working around children for life. Those who committed such crimes against another adult would face a ban of 10 years, while all other felonies would carry a seven-year prohibition. Misdemeanors related to harming a child would also carry a temporary disqualification, and those resulting from other crimes, such as shoplifting, would not prevent a person from working with kids.

Those disqualification limits are part of the baseline standards, so camp operators could set stricter regulations if they wish, such as barring someone who has a conviction for theft.

Emergency regulation was passed last year mandating all camps test employees, and since the bill has not been passed yet, that will be instituted again, according to Ms. Ranji.

Out of approximately 1,000 checks in 2014, only seven people were disqualified — a sign that very few known offenders tried to sign up to work with children.

While that’s less than 1 percent, Ms. Ranji thinks it explains the importance of checking all workers who will be around kids.

“In order to be qualified, you need to have a pretty significant crime against a child and go into a job where you know you’ll be working with children, and trying to get that job, it is a little bit scary,” she said Thursday in an interview.

Officials stressed Saturday that developing a plan and being aware is key to help prevent child abuse.

Patricia Crilley, a contractor who plans programs and events year-round for the Delaware National Guard, said she found the forum very informative.

Due to National Guard regulations, workers were already required to get background checks for her camps.

“I’m really excited to hear that they’re trying to work in a more organized system between the State Bureau of (Identification), FBI, the DELJIS system and all those,” she said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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