Almost all mentoring programs require a background check. As noted earlier, these typically rely on the contents of a formal application to mentor, along with personal and professional references that prospective mentors (or their places of employment) provide. If your program requires a criminal background check, don’t worry, most programs in the U.S. do. Here’s what you need to know.

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They will soon be free.

Efforts are under way in the U.S. Congress to restore SafetyNET programming through the Senate’s passage of The Child Protection Improvements Act (CPIA). This will enable all programs to access affordable FBI fingerprint checks.

They are necessary.

Although the vast majority of volunteers are well intended, harmful adults sometimes slip through. Most programs have taken steps to conduct background checks but, for the most part, these efforts have been inconsistent. Only about half of U.S. States provide youth-serving organizations access to national FBI fingerprint, and two-thirds allow only a statewide background check. This makes it easy for a convicted perpetrator to pass undetected from one state to another. Indeed, in a screening program called SafteyNET (which MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership championed), over 6 percent of the 100,000 potential volunteer mentors who underwent FBI background checks had records of concern, including charges of rape, murder and extreme animal abuse. That’s 6,000 potentially inappropriate volunteers who could have been paired with children. Additionally, 41 percent of those crimes were committed in a state different from the potential volunteer’s location, meaning a statewide background check would not have revealed the crimes.

They vary.

Some criminal background checks are cursory (asking you to list charges filed and explain their disposition); others are quite comprehensive. A comprehensive criminal background check includes a fingerprint check, with the best ones using a national fingerprint-based FBI criminal background check system.