Administrators developing background check system for summer camp workers to comply with state law

News Reporter

Texas State officials are creating a new certification program to perform background checks on summer camp workers.

The new certification was created in an effort to protect the youth participating in on-campus programs and to remain in compliance with state law. In 2012, the Texas legislature mandated that institutions of higher education conduct training, testing and background checks for employees of certain programs for minors held on their campuses, said Ronald Brown, assistant vice president of Academic Services.  

Texas State met these requirements for the past two years by contracting with a third party background screening company. However, university officials decided to develop their own program when the company stopped providing the service, Brown said.

“We have to be approved by the state,” said Joanne Smith, vice president of Student Affairs. “We’ve been working with the university system to develop a plan similar to theirs and we’re getting ready to submit the application for approval.”

The program is modeled after the youth safety policies, which were adopted by Texas A&M University and Southwestern University, and focuses mainly on child sexual assault and misconduct prevention, Smith said.

The background checks will be conducted through the Texas Department of Public Safety, said John McBride, director of Human Resources.

Running the checks through the DPS is much faster and more cost effective than the national vendor the university used, which could take several weeks to return and cost $39 per background check, McBride said.  

“(The national vendor) is much more thorough, goes back many years, covers in some cases nationally and at a minimum regionally,” McBride said. “The DPS check is almost instant and it only costs a dollar, which is why the decision was made to use the DPS for the camp employees.”

The third-party company used by the school for the past two years included criminal records both in Texas and outside the state and charged $5 for each of their background checks, Smith said.  

“Potentially, things like drug use or theft might not be picked up if it happened in another state,” Brown said. “But all sex offenders who live here are registered through the state of Texas, so that will definitely show up.”

Any kind of sex offense would result in a denial of the applicant, Smith said. The director of hiring for each particular program would evaluate any adverse report on an individual basis.

Independent associations whose camps are hosted by Texas State have the option of using the background check program of their choice to approve their workers, Smith said.

To complete their certification, applicants would be required to undergo training on the definition and effects of sexual assault, patterns of behavior that put children at risk, and rules and procedures for reporting abuse and neglect, Smith said.

Applicants have to pass a test covering the training materials. They would be asked to identify potentially dangerous situations to minors, among other things, Brown said.

“The certification is mandatory for anyone who would be staying on campus overnight, or working with minors in small groups,” Brown said. “And that includes all on-site counselors and residence life employees.”

Returning workers must undergo a background check on an annual basis, although the certificate of completion they receive for passing the training is valid for two years before it requires renewal, Brown said.  

The university expects the program to receive approval from the Department of State Health Services in time to begin hiring workers for the camps that begin in May, Brown said.