PA Child Protective Services Law and its Impact on Scouting Volunteers
The Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law was amended effective July 1, 2015 (Act 15 of 2015). This law is applicable to all youth serving organizations in Pennsylvania. Council volunteers, registered and unregistered, may be affected in two ways: 1) more individuals are now mandated child abuse reporters; and 2) more persons are required to provide background check clearances. Please review this information and take the required action.
Mandated Reporter of Child Abuse
All BSA-registered volunteers, and all other persons over the age of 18 who are volunteering to assist a BSA unit or at a BSA function and who, while volunteering 1) provide care, supervision, training guidance or control of a youth member in lieu of parental control; and/or 2) have regular and repeated contact (referred to in the law as “routine interaction”) with youth members, are now mandated reporters of child abuse.
The law requires direct reporting from the individual suspecting or witnessing child abuse immediately. After reporting the suspected abuse to the state the individual shall contact the Scout executive. The Commonwealth has created a portal for reporting purposes: www.compass.state.pa.us/cwis or 800-932-0313.
Background Check Clearances
Who is required to comply with the new Pennsylvania law?
- Registered Leaders
At present, all registered direct contact leaders (Cubmasters, Assistant Cubmasters, Scoutmasters, Assistant Scoutmasters, Tiger, Den or Webelos Leaders, Assistant Tiger, Den or Webelos Leaders, Crew Advisors, Assistant Crew Advisors, Post Advisors, Assistant Post Advisors) are required to submit background check clearances and renew these clearances every 60 months.
All other unit volunteers, depending on the individual’s role in carrying out the responsibilities of the position with their unit, may or may not be required under Act 15 to submit all required clearances. At present, the council is strongly recommending that ALL registered unit-level volunteers should obtain and submit all required clearances. Although not yet adopted by Executive Board, there is a substantial likelihood the council will soon mandate that all registered volunteers do so.
- Non-Registered Volunteers
This category includes parents, relatives, friends, and community leaders who might help out units on occasion or who might volunteer at an event. The mere fact that such a person does not go through the formal BSA registration process does not mean that the law is not applicable to him/her. Rather, any person over the age of 18 who 1) provides care, supervision, training or control of a youth member in lieu of parental control; and/or 2) has regular and repeated contact with youth members that is integral to the volunteer activities (referred to in the law as “routine interaction”) is still required to submit the clearances.
Because of the potential breadth of persons this category could cover, defining who must submit clearances is more complex and remains somewhat unsettled. On July 1, 2015, representatives of the Council met with the Secretary of Human Services (DHS) and his top deputy responsible for implementation of the child protective laws. In response to inquiries relating to Scouting-specific scenarios, we received informal guidance as to how the DHS interprets the laws. To date, these views have not been reduced to writing or to regulations. In most of the categories discussed, the Council is in agreement with DHS guidance. In some situations, though, we believe that the informal guidance is not consistent with the actual law. We are continuing to work on this issue to further refine when non-registered adults will need the required clearances. Based on our discussions and the guidance provide, we believe that the following are clear:
- Venturers or Explorers between the ages of 18 and 20: Because these individuals are considered program participants (even if they are providing leadership to youth under 18 years of age), they are not considered volunteers and clearances are NOT required by them.
- Special Needs Scouts (ages 18+): Because these individuals are considered program participants, they are not considered volunteers and clearances are NOT required by them.
- Tiger Adult Partners: Because these individuals are participating in the BSA program as a parent, they are not considered volunteers and clearances are NOT required by them.
- Merit Badge Counselors: Clearances ARE REQUIRED for Merit Badge Counselors (with or without parents present).
- Eagle Boards of Review: – Clearances are NOT required for community volunteers serving on Eagle Boards of Review.
- Adults who stay occasionally at a meeting to help out: clearances are NOT required unless their participation becomes a weekly occurrence.
- Adults attending events where every Scout must participate with their parent(s): Clearances are NOT required of parents.
There are some areas where we feel uncertainty remains. Here are several categories where DHS believes that clearances are required, but we believe are not yet settled.
- Drivers to camps or events: If a parent asks another parent (parent to parent) to drive their son to an event or camp then clearances are NOT required. If however a carpool is organized or drivers are recruited by the unit’s leaders, DHS has advised that clearances will then be REQUIRED for drivers.
- Parents helping with fundraisers (Show and Sell and/or store front sales): If the parent will be or could be responsible for a child other than their own son (or daughter) DHS has advised that clearances are then REQUIRED.
- Parents attending events with their son(s) where other youth members are attending without their own parents: DHS has advised that clearances are then REQUIRED for ALL parents, as parents may be acting in lieu of another boy’s parent and will have routine interaction and direct contact with youth.
For additional discussion as to why we believe that DHS’s informal guidance should be revisited in order to obtain greater clarity on these three specific areas, please visit Scout Executive Ron Gardner’s blog post on this topic.
- Whose responsibility is it to ensure background check clearances are obtained?
It is the responsibility of the unit committee chair and chartered organization representative to ensure that compliance is handled before the volunteer service begins. At the district level it is the responsibility of the district chair and district executive. At the council level it is the responsibility of the council president and the Scout executive. Moreover, a new volunteer will not be registered until the council has evidence of compliance.
What Clearances Must Be Submitted and What is the Process for Doing So?
- Volunteers must provide the following clearances
- Report of Criminal History from the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), cost – free after 7/25/15, 10-15 minutes: state.pa.us/Home.jsp
- Child Abuse History Clearance from the Department of Human Services, cost – free after 7/25/15, 20-30 minutes: compass.state.pa.us/cwis/public/home
- Fingerprint based FBI criminal history clearance submitted through the Department of Human Services, cost – $25.75, 5-10 minutes online and 10-15 minutes at the fingerprinting location: pa.cogentid.com/index_dpwNew.htm
- Volunteers who have resided in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the past 10 years can submit a Disclosure Statement Application for Volunteers in lieu of the Fingerprint based FBI Clearance:
- What is the cost for the clearances?
- There is no cost for two of the volunteer clearances (PSP Criminal History and PA DHS Child Abuse).
- The FBI criminal history clearance (for volunteers who have not been residents of Pennsylvania for the past 10 years or residents of other states) is required only once upon establishing residency and when first applying for volunteer service. The cost of the FBI criminal history clearance through DHS is $25.75.
- How long does it take the Commonwealth to process the clearances?
Some of the clearances come back within a few minutes, however, some may take as long as several weeks.
- Timeline to provide the clearances
- All new volunteers who begin their volunteer service on or after August 25, 2015 must comply prior to the volunteer participating in any activity where he or she will provide care, supervision, guidance or control of children, or routine interaction with children.
- All current Scouting volunteers (those who began their volunteer service prior to August 25, 2015) must comply by July 1, 2016.
- Volunteer clearances (PSP Criminal History and DHS Child Abuse) are valid for 60 months.
- PA volunteer clearances may be applied for, at no cost to the volunteer every 57 months.
- How to Submit Clearances to the New Birth of Freedom Council
Volunteers must upload copies of their required documents to the Background Clearances System. In order to ensure that your files are properly received and recorded, please secure all your documentation before visiting this link and upload all of your files at the same time. Clearances obtained for other volunteer or employment organizations may be submitted if they are current and meet the guidelines.
Upload your clearances here: http://tinyurl.com/qc6fhfm
Resources for Additional Information
- Pennsylvania Website on Child Protection: keepkidssafe.pa.gov
- Pennsylvania Volunteer FAQ: pa.gov/cs/groups/webcontent/documents/document/c_135249.pdf
- Pennsylvania Mandated Reporter FAQ: pa.gov/cs/groups/webcontent/documents/document/c_137646.pdf