Thursday, May 22, 2008

Background checks for camp workers

Bill would require camps to run background checks

COLUMBUS — Testimony began Wednesday on a new bill that would require camps to run background checks on their counselors.

Camp safety is now under intense scrutiny after what occurred last year at a central Ohio camp.

Timothy Keil, a camp volunteer, was caught sexually molesting a child inside a cabin at a Perry County youth camp. His crime revealed a loophole that legislators are working to close. The state requires background checks at summer day camps but no checks for residential or overnight camps.

Senate Bill 321 calls for criminal background checks for all camp staffers, FBI checks if the person has not lived in Ohio for the past five years and requires Social Security number background checks on camp volunteers.

If the bill is passed, it probably won't go into law before camps kick off in June.

The state is now teaming with health inspectors to notify camp directors that criminal records are now required."I promised you that last year and we're doing it this year," said Helen Jones-Kelley, the director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

According to Jones-Kelley, the department is working to protect children despite the loophole.

"We're just kind of taking on a more positive, proactive kind of role so that we can get out of there and make sure children are safe," Jones-Kelley said.

Carl Morgan, the business manager for the Scioto Youth Camp, Inc., where Keil volunteered, said that he received a letter from the Perry County Health Department through the ODJFS. According to the letter, all workers including volunteers need to be fingerprinted if they have contact with children.

Anyone from the dish washer to the evangelist will have the fingerprint background check. According to Morgan, Keil would not have been caught that way but he said that the checks are worthwhile.

Camp operators and directors are also being cautious. Central Ohio's YMCA calls its policies more stringent than state requirements. There is fingerprinting on camp counselors and reference checks, including a Social Security number background check, on paid staff and volunteers.

"Once a counselor is hired and gone through the background checks, they are required to go through pretty impressive and stringent child prevention and care training and we do that, actually, the first week on the job," said John Bickley, the YMCA's chief executive officer.

10TV checked on other camps, including the Boy Scouts. Thousands of campers will spend part of the summer at all Boy Scout sites in central Ohio.

A Social Security background check and youth protection training are required to become a registered volunteer."There's no one-on-one interaction between any youth and any adult that's not in public view," said Don Sheppard, the development director for the Boy Scouts of America's Simon Kenton Council. "We can make sure that's adhered to and that all of our staff and volunteers understand that policy and several others aimed at protecting kids."

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