The Children and Youth Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to narrow the scope of a Pennsylvania law requiring background checks for volunteers who have “direct contact” with children.

Specifically, amendments to the Child Protective Services Law require that employees and volunteers who have direct contact with minors submit to Pennsylvania child abuse clearance, Pennsylvania State Police criminal background check, and under certain circumstances, an FBI background check prior to the commencement of employment or service.­ The law took effect for employees on December 31, 2014, and is scheduled to take effect for volunteers on July 1, 2015.

Educational institutions, youth groups, and other organizations that rely on the help of volunteers challenged the amendments, arguing that they were ambiguous regarding the scope of how much contact a volunteer must have with a child in order to trigger the requirement for background checks. The Committee’s proposal seeks to clarify that standard and make the burden less onerous on volunteers.

The proposed bill amends the definition of “direct contact” to refer to “an individual who provides care, supervision, guidance or control of children; and has routine interaction with children.” It also includes a definition of “routine interaction.” As proposed, the term means “regular, repeated and continued contact that is integral to a persons’ employment or a volunteers’ responsibilities.” In addition, the proposed bill seeks to reduce the burden on volunteers who have resided in Pennsylvania for less than 10 years by requiring them to obtain the FBI clearance only once upon establishing residency rather than every three years. The bill is slated for discussion in the House for Monday, June 15.

Following the Committee’s vote, Governor Wolf announced an additional measure to reduce the cost of background checks for volunteers and employees. The Commonwealth will waive the $10 fee for a Pennsylvania child abuse clearance and the $10 fee for a Pennsylvania State Police criminal background check for volunteers. In addition, the cost for an employee’s Pennsylvania child abuse clearance and Pennsylvania State Police background check both will be reduced from $10 to $8. The $27.50 fee for an FBI background check will remain as that check is administered by the federal government.

Navigating Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law can be complicated, particularly in light of recent changes to the law and potentially more changes on the horizon. We invite educational institutions, child care providers, nonprofit and religious organizations, and any entity that works with minors to join us on July 9, 2015, for our program What Organizations Need to Know about Pennsylvania’s Amendments to the Child Protective Services Law. We will discuss and interpret these background check requirements, as well as changes to the mandatory reporting sections of the law.

Attorneys in Ballard Spahr’s Higher Education Group have experience conducting investigations, providing compliance advice and training, and auditing policies and procedures when Title IX issues arise on campus. The Group regularly advises educational institutions on compliance with federal, state, and local laws. Please contact Dee Spagnuolo at 215.864.8312 or spagnuolod@ballardspahr.com, Carolyn A. Pellegrini at 215.864.8314 or pellegrinic@ballardspahr.com, or Ashley L. Wilson at 215.864.8364 or wilsona@ballardspahr.com with any questions.


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