Background check changes in place for Penn State summer programs

For the CDTMay 9, 2013 

— Penn State’s summer youth programs are integrating new, comprehensive policies for background checks and child-abuse recognition training into the clearance process for program employees and volunteers.

More than 50 summer programs and hundreds of workers are affected by the university-wide policies, which were developed over the past year in response to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Many of the summer programs for years conducted additional checks and training beyond the scope of official policies. Those previous measures were combined and revised into one new administrative policy and into updated rules governing the oversight of minors involved in university-sponsored programs.

The revised administrative policy specifically will cover unpaid positions, as well as third parties working on the school’s behalf, according to the university. The language also covers updated Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines on background checks.

The rules for overseeing minors now require annual reporter training for authorized adults. Reporter training teaches staff how to recognize and report signs of child sexual abuse, according to a university release.

The Eberly College of Science, which conducts more than a dozen Science-U camps throughout the summer, always has required staff to have clearances, said director Michael Zeman.

“At the university level, the policy was rewritten,” Zeman said. “We need to be more cognizant of everyone playing a role in and around our youth programs.”

All employees of Science-U camps have to attend mandated online reporter training, which has been in place since March 2012, he said.

Zeman estimated that the Science-U program manages more than 400 students and faculty during the academic year, while the summer camp staff for the different programs numbers more than 50.

Non-employees, such as volunteers, have to go through the vetting process each year, while university employees who do not break employment for at least six months have to complete only one, Zeman said.

“The numbers are initially high, but we hope they will be lowered as people already get clearance,” Zeman said.

While the number of people requiring background checks remains high, the College of Science is looking to cover the cost of the vetting process, he added. Current standard background checks cost about $40 each, on average, according to university spokesperson Jill Shockey.

Penn State Outreach offers five academic summer youth programs, ranging from architecture to weather camps. According to Pamela Driftmier, director of Penn State Conferences, Outreach has to conduct about 95 to 100 background checks annually.

Driftmier said those vetted are mainly from three groups: youth program directors and instructors, who have the primary responsibility for the minors; staff and registration clerks; and counselors, who are usually undergraduate or graduate students.

She added that additional vetting is done by each college in selecting the academic camp faculty directors and by the directors in selecting their counselors.

“In addition to the mandated reporter training, all counselors also participate in a video training at the time of hire and an on-site training prior to the arrival of campers,” Driftmier said.

Driftmier said that while the rules for overseeing minors have been updated throughout the years, the background check requirement has been in effect since 2006.

Penn State Conferences, a part of Outreach, has complied since then, she said.

Since Outreach has been providing more training than required by the university- wide policy, the impact of the latest revisions has been minimal, she said.

In addition, Outreach has a few contracted programs that provide their own authorized adults. Outreach contracts with them require that they meet all university requirements related to youth programs.

Penn State’s athletic department has 34 summer and day camps. Mary Beahm, senior director of recruitment and compensation in the Office of Human Resources, which conducts the background checks, said these camps comply with the new policies and have been doing background checks on employees and volunteers working with minors.

Beahm said that since her office does not ask that sports camp employees and volunteers be identified separate from other athletic department background checks, she can’t provide the number of checks completed for the summer camps.

Science-U director Zeman said he hopes the new policies will make the university an “exemplar” of the process.

“Other universities have already been reaching out to us to see what we’re doing,” Zeman said. “For us it was never any type of challenge.”

Stephen Shiflett is a Penn State journalism student.

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