The setting of a countywide policy requiring volunteers and coaches to be subject to background checks, effective on the first of this month, may prove to be an inconvenience, and it may result in increases in rec program fees, but it is something that should have been in place years ago.
It's an unfortunate and harsh reality that people who prey on children are apt to seek out opportunities where they can be in close proximity to children other than their own without it seeming odd. If backgrounds aren't being checked, the danger to participating children is increased. It's kind of like not locking car doors. Maybe nothing would end up being taken, but the time it takes to lock up makes breaking into a car a good deal more difficult. Similarly, the charge for rudimentary background checks will act as a deterrent.
Just as locking car doors doesn't guarantee a car won't be broken into, so requiring adult volunteers to have background checks isn't a fail safe in protecting children from predators. It will remain incumbent on parents and the responsible adult volunteers who give their time to continue being vigilant.
But requiring the background checks provides a level of protection. More important, the policy has been implemented not as a reaction to some particular horrific event involving a Harford County rec program, but rather as a precautionary measure.
Too many other youth organizations – many with long traditions of doing a lot of good – and other respected institutions have had their reputations deeply affected by incidents involving child predators who could have been stopped had responsible adults been paying close attention. In some cases, those who should have done something actually turned blind eyes to situations that have proven to be life-altering for young victims.
Hopefully, over the long haul, the result of the new parks and rec policy will be that nothing ever comes of it, and background checks just become part of the background of a safe and vibrant youth organization.
It will, however, take a bit more than just background checks. The vigilance of responsible adults will continue to be vital. It's just that it won't be the only line of defense with background checks in place.