Take note of a new law (H.B. 435) effective this year in Pennsylvania which requires a criminal history background check for volunteers seeking to serve with youth serving organizations.

Legislative History

H.B. 435 was introduced in the House of Representatives on February 11, 2013 and was referred to the Committee on Children and Youth. The bill was unanimously passed as amended by the House on June 24, 2013 by a vote of 197-0. In the state Senate, the bill was referred to the Committee on June 28, 2013.  H.B. 435  was reported out of the Committee on October 6, 2014, after the Committee made substantial amendments.  The bill was subsequently passed unanimously (50-0) on October 8, 2014. After the House concurred in the Senate-passed amendments (175-18), Governor Tom Corbett signed H.B. 435 into law as Act No. 153. The read the final act click here.

Summary of Act 153

Act 153 amends Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law, 23 Pa.C.S. § 6301 et seq., to expand background check and clearance requirements to include volunteers who will have contact with children (among other changes applicable only to adoptive and foster parents). Subsections 6344.2(a)-(b), as amended, requires “employers, administrators, supervisors or other persons responsible for selection of volunteers” who will be “responsible for the welfare of a child or having direct contact with children” to require volunteer applicants to submit documents which prove that they meet background clearance requirements before they begin volunteering. Specifically, a volunteer applicant for a position that will involve working with children is required to provide:

  1. A report of criminal history record information from the Pennsylvania State Police or a statement from the Pennsylvania State Police that the State Police central repository contains no such information relating to that person;
  2. A certification from the department of public welfare as to whether the applicant is named in the statewide database as the alleged perpetrator in a pending child abuse investigation or as the perpetrator of a “founded report or an indicated report” of child abuse; and
  3. A federal criminal history record report obtained by providing a full set of fingerprints to the Pennsylvania State Police to obtain an FBI records check.

23 Pa.C.S. § 6344(b)(1)-(3).

The third requirement, the FBI background check, is waived where the volunteer applicant has been a resident of Pennsylvania for the last ten (10) years, seeks to serve in an unpaid position, and swears or affirms, in writing, that he or she has not been convicted of one or more of the 20 disqualifying crimes listed in 23 Pa.C.S. § 6344(c)(2), which generally include homicide, assault, stalking, kidnapping, sexual offenses, prostitution or child endangerment (and similar crimes). 23 Pa.C.S. § 6344.2(b.1)(1).

Disqualification

A volunteer applicant is disqualified from working with children if they:

  • Have been named in the statewide database as the perpetrator of a founded report of child abuse within the last five years (23 Pa.C.S. § 6433(c)(1));
  • If they have been convicted of a felony offense under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, 35 P.S. § 780-101, et seq, within the last five years (23 Pa.C.S. § 6344(c)(3)); or
  • If they have ever committed one of the designated crimes listed in 23 Pa.C.S. § 6344(c)(2), which generally include homicide, assault, stalking, kidnapping, sexual offenses, prostitution or child endangerment (and similar crimes) (23 Pa.C.S. § 6344.2(b.1)(2)).

Recertification and Self-Reporting

Effective July 1, 2015, all volunteers having contact with children must obtain the required certifications required by Section 6344.2(b) every thirty-six (36) months. 23 Pa.C.S. § 6344.4 (2). Additionally, if a volunteer who works with children is arrested for or convicted of a disqualifying event, he or she must notify the administrator of the organization’s volunteer program within 72 hours. 23 Pa.C.S. § 6344.3(g)(1). If the administrator suspects that a volunteer who works with children has been arrested for or convicted of a disqualifying offense, they must require the volunteer to re-certify, the cost of which re-certification must be borne by the organization. 23 Pa.C.S. § 6344.3(g)(2).

Transferability and Provisional Clearance

A volunteer who has been cleared to work with children can transfer or provide services to another subsidiary or branch without recertification. 23 Pa.C.S. § 6344.3(f)(1). However, a volunteer must re-certify prior to volunteering to work with children for another organization, agency, or institution. 23 Pa.C.S. § 6344.3(f)(2). Volunteers who have not yet been cleared pursuant to the procedures described above may serve on a provisional basis for a single period not to exceed thirty (30) days if the volunteer is in compliance with the clearance requirements of the jurisdiction where the volunteer is domiciled. 23 Pa.C.S. § 6344.2(f).

Penalties for Noncompliance

It is extremely important that youth serving organizations ensure that they are in compliance with these new requirements, as the penalties for noncompliance are severe. Specifically, any employer, administrator, supervisor or other person responsible for the selection of volunteers who intentionally fails to comply with the law may be found guilty of a third degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine or up to a year in state prison or county jail.