Volunteer screening programs–do we need them?

To celebrate National Volunteer Week (April 9-15), the Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau is writing a series of articles about volunteerism.
We feel it is important to take the opportunity during this special week to heighten awareness of the responsibilities organizations must take when using volunteers.
Imagine a day care centre hiring a child care worker without an interview. Or a bank hiring a cashier without doing a reference check. It just doesn’t make sense.
Yet many volunteers are put in positions of trust with no questions asked.
We all know how it happens: the organization was overburdened, no one could process the volunteer, or the volunteer was a friend of a parent–no need to go through the usual process.
The reasons for accepting a volunteer without any kind of screening are often rooted in the best of intentions. Yet, it is these same good intentions which open the door to harm.
Sadly, convicted pedophiles repeatedly state they sought out positions in voluntary sector organizations. They declare their amazement at how quickly and easily they were placed in volunteer positions with vulnerable clients.
No questions asked.
This spring, volunteer centres across the country are issuing a call to action to parents and guardians. The message being delivered is that parents and guardians have a responsibility to question to find out if the volunteers working with their children have been screened.
Asking parents and guardians to demand organizations be accountable certainly will disturb some people. Many organizations in the recreation, education, and faith communities rely upon parents or known volunteers. As a result, the general belief that “it won’t happen to us” pervades these communities.
The truth is that abuse of our society’s most vulnerable members is occurring at the hands of unscrupulous people hidden in the voluntary sector.
Gary Blair Walker, called Canada’s “worst-ever pedophile,” abused up to 150 boys and teens. He was a police officer, scoutmaster, bus driver, church leader, and school-board worker. He also coached judo, baseball, and hockey.
Volunteer screening is an effective tool we can use to protect children and other vulnerable people. It is not just an intake procedure, nor is it as simple as a police records check. Screening is a comprehensive process.
It begins with the evaluation and description of the volunteer position, continues with the assessment of the volunteer’s suitability, and carries through with monitoring and evaluation.
Volunteer Canada has laid the foundation for this public awareness National Education Campaign on Screening and created the needed volunteer screening resources.
The Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau has the following literature in its library that are available for any parent or organization–“The Screening Handbook” and “The Educational Dossier,” as well as the video, “The Duty of Care.”
We also just recently received from Volunteer Canada the workbooks “Screening in Faith” and “Taking Care: Screening for Community Support Organizations.”
These also are available to any parent, guardian, or organization.
Most volunteers are responsible, committed individuals who care about their community but screening must be an essential part of every organization that uses volunteers.
For more information on this screening process, contact the Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau at 274-9555.