Prince George has been able to brag about being the volunteer capital in BC. It's a wonderful attribute and one that our volunteers and organizations can be proud of. However, volunteering with an organization serving our vulnerable populations now almost universally require a criminal records check, or CRC, and some say it discourages volunteerism.
The universal groan at being given the CRC paperwork from potential volunteers is usually followed by a resigned "It doesn't actually protect kids, it just protects the organization, but I will do it." In answer, I usually pipe up "You are right, but it serves to discourage potential predators as well."
Are we discouraging "good" volunteers with the CRC requirement? Do we simply accept this infringement on our civil liberties by rationalizing the invasion of privacy as worthwhile to protect organizations? Do we accept the fact that we are requiring a reverse-onus; forcing our potential volunteers to prove they have no prior conviction? We know that predators make up a very small percentage of our population, so is it effective to screen everyone to avoid "hiring" someone with a conviction?
However, a clean CRC does not guarantee good character, it only states the person has not been convicted. Since child abuse, or any abuse conviction for that matter, is hard to prove in court, there are more guilty than convicted, is there any point to the CRC?
I believe there is, simply for the deterrence factor. Most predators don't want to be bothered with the paperwork or waiting period, so in that way, the CRC acts as a bit of a gatekeeper.
But I am very aware of the need for more thorough volunteer screening. Other than the preliminary CRC screening, there are a number of other tools at our disposal, which may help to reduce the risk of exposing our children, youth and other vulnerable people from predators not convicted. Screening interviews by trained personnel who conduct background checks with former spouses, references and employers. Checking out social media accounts can offer clues and hints for the type of questions to ask. There are many local sources for advice, so if you are in an organization that serves the vulnerable check them out.
SOS: Surpassing Our Survival and the Ministry of Children and Family Development are two local groups that provided me with good advice. Two Christian groups - GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) and the Christian Reformed Church - have both done a significant amount of research and work with excellent online resources.
There may be a more streamlined, easier way to administer the CRC, to make it more efficient. Following this thought, it would be interesting to see if there has been any change in abuse statistics in organizations since widespread CRC requirements were implemented. However, until we find a better way of conducting preliminary screening to ensure we are not placing convicted predators with our vulnerable, children, youth or elders, the CRC is likely here to stay.
If you have a better idea, please share it.