A mentor is an older, more experienced person who provides guidance, advice and knowledge to a younger, less experienced person. When it comes to youth mentoring, the mentors themselves are adults who volunteer to spend time with young people. The relationship is always relationship-based, and meant to be supportive, helpful and educational for the person being mentored. But what happens when it isn’t?
According to Ginna Holmes, executive director of the Michigan Community Service Commision, the agency doesn’t currently have the authority to do background checks on the people volunteering to be mentors here in Michigan. However, they do recommend doing background checks as part of effective practice, to all other agencies and organizations who take on adult volunteers to work with kids.
Which places don’t perform background checks on people working with kids?
Michigan schools are required to perform background checks on all employees and volunteers. Volunteers includes people helping at the school itself, and volunteers who go with kids on field trips off school property. In most cases, these are parents. However, outside of the school district, very few other agencies run background checks on the people working with their kids.
However, Michigan schools are alone in this requirement. Pretty much every other agency in the state, where volunteers and mentors work with kids, does not have a policy in place requiring background checks. The result is that each agency determines their own level of inspection and investigation when allowing an adult to work one-on-one with a child – a practice that some say can lead to abusive situations.
What changes are being instigated, and why?
The Michigan Community Service Commission is encouraging mentoring agencies throughout Michigan to adopt nationally recognized best practices. That includes numerous safety protocols, and specifically background checks, as part of the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring. The goal? To “ensure that mentoring programs offered their services in a ‘responsible’ way, one that met the needs of both youth and volunteers while also ensuring participant safety and positive outcomes for young people and communities.”
According to Holmes, children are vulnerable, and when placed in an unsupervised situation with certain adults who have only their own interests in mind, the situation can become dangerous. By requiring background checks, vulnerable children can be protected from abuse, and mentoring programs can successfully reach the goals they set out to achieve.