Parents with children in Baltimore County Recreation and Parks programs may have been caught by surprise by the news that the County Council is considering a proposal to require background checks of rec volunteers and coaches. Many might have assumed that checks were being done all along. But not only do rec volunteers go unscreened, Baltimore County is the only county in the region that doesn't screen.
This has prompted a debate that we welcome. It may be time to put some kind of screening protocol in place to keep activities under rec council supervision as safe as possible, but this is not a yes or no issue. It brings many questions.
For instance, who should be screened? Of the 30,000 rec volunteers in the county, some have positions that involve direct supervision of children or handling money, but many offer only casual assistance and some do not work with children at all.
For those who undergo checks, what should they be checked for?
Of course, sex offenses come first to mind. Add to that gun crimes and felony assault. But if decades have passed since a drunken driving or drug possession conviction, perhaps forbearance should be shown.
Who should do the checking? Some counties in Maryland use in-house staff, others use a contractor.
Finally, what are we willing to pay?
The administration of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has questioned the fiscal impact and ordered a study of the costs. A model protocol developed by the Cal Ripken Foundation would cost $12.95 per person. In Anne Arundel County, applicants for volunteer positions pay $7 to help cover screening costs.
The cost could be as much as $20 per background check.
The liability issue is also no small consideration. If a case of a child abused by a rec volunteer ever arises, the county does not want to be on the wrong end of a lawsuit accused of negligence.
Kamenetz has asked county Recreation and Parks Director Barry Williams to study the issue and deliver a report by the end of the summer. We hope that report proposes a background check model that makes sense, given the concerns raised above.
And, money should not be the issue. If other counties have figured out a way to do this, so can we. Life comes with no guarantees, but the thousands of parents, children and others who participate in rec council activities deserve to know the county did all it could to ensure their safety.