Changes also made to effective date for new volunteers
Effective immediately, clarification changes have been made to the state’s new law regarding background clearances for employees and volunteers who have direct and routine contact with children, said Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks / 144th), author of the legislation.
The governor today signed HB1276 into law, bringing clarity to Act 153 of 2014, which requires additional and periodic background checks for both employees and volunteers who are directly involved with children.
“Having these clarification changes officially enacted into law will help thousands of organizations better determine who needs to have background clearance when working with children,” said Watson, who chairs the House Children and Youth Committee and helped spearheaded 23 new laws designed to further protect children from abuse.
Under the new law, volunteers must obtain the clearances if they have direct volunteer contact, meaning that they have care, supervision, guidance or control AND routine interaction with children. This is the standard that will apply to determining whether an adult volunteer must get the background checks. Also new is that all employees and adult volunteers subject to the background check clearances will be required to recertify all of those clearances every five years, instead of every three years.
“Our overall intent with the specific background clearance part of the child protection package was to help ensure that those who work or volunteer around our children do not have a history of abusing children,” Watson continued. “However, we fully recognize that we need to achieve a better balance between protecting children and not making the requirements for volunteers so onerous that the result is losing both volunteers and, consequently, programs beneficial to children. This legislation seeks to do just that.”
The measure signed into law today makes a number of clarifications with respect to the cost, portability and recertification of the two main clearances – the Department of Human Services child abuse clearance and the state police criminal background check. As lowered by the administration and by legislation, the two $10 fees are waived for volunteers and are reduced to $8 each for employees. Under the new law, though, the volunteer clearances cannot be used for employment.
Also at issue was the exemption status of employees at higher education institutions. Under the new law, they are exempt from the background checks, unless their students participate in dual enrollment programs. For co-op, work-study and internship programs, one adult supervisor of the program must be designated to obtain the required clearances and to be in the student’s immediate vicinity at regular intervals during the program.
Additionally, the deadline for new volunteers to obtain their clearances has been moved from today (July 1) to Aug. 25. All other deadlines remain the same: Dec. 31, 2015, for existing employees; and July 1, 2016, for existing volunteers. New prospective employees must obtain them before starting employment.
The Department of Human Services website lists additional information about Act 153 and the other new laws resulting from the child protection package and is available at www.KeepKidsSafe.pa.gov.
Watson noted that volunteers in many youth programs already have their own background check clearance policies in place. The new law sets the bar for what will be the minimum requirements, but nothing in the law or in this legislation prohibits organizations from establishing or continuing even more stringent internal policies regarding the clearance process.