The proper screening of staff members who have regular contact with children -- both employees and volunteers -- is a fundamental component of the Safe Environment Program.
All prospective staff must submit to a background check (see below for more information), and should fill out the Safe Environment Questionaire (which is also available in Spanish). This document calls for basic background information, such as prior employment, and character references. These references should be checked. The Questionaire also asks the person to affirm that they have no incidents in their background that would negatively affect their suitability to work with children in our programs.
Here are the answers to some common questions about background checks:
What is the purpose of the background check?
The purpose of the background check is to verify a person's identity and to determine if they have a criminal history relevant to their fitness to be in contact with children. It is part of the screening process that ensures the safety of our children, and is required by the Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
What information is obtained through the background check?
Background checks are limited to a search for the following:
- Verification of a person's identity,
- Existence of a prior criminal record, and
- Listing on state sex offender registries
How is the background check conducted?
We are prohibited by New York State law from fingerprinting prospective staff. So, we have contracted with a company to perform the checks (prior to 2010 we used a company named "ChoicePoint", but as of January 2010 the company we use is named "LexisNexis"). We ask everyone to complete an Authorization Form (which is also available in Spanish), which will provide us with some basic identification information: name, former names, current and former addresses, date of birth, and Social Security number. We send this information to LexisNexis, which verifies the person's identity, and searches their database of criminal records and sex offenders for any potential matches. They then send the results back to us.
Do I have to pay for my background check?
No. The Archdiocese will cover the cost.
Who's going to see the results of my background check?
To limit the sharing of sensitive information, the Archdiocese has limited the number of people who have access to the results of the background checks:
- Archdiocesan personnel - Director of the Safe Environment Program
- Catholic Charities personnel - Director of Personnel for Catholic Charities
Can the Archdiocese obtain financial information about me?
No. We are barred from any access to your financial information. In fact, if anyone accesses your credit report without your permission, that is a violation of law and you should notify the Federal Trade Commission immediately.
Will anything about the background check show up if I look at my credit report?
Under federal law, you can order a free credit report each year; to do so, go to the website set up by the Federal Trade Commission, www.annualcreditreport.com. It will note that the Archdiocese, ChoicePoint or LexisNexis has "obtained a copy" of your credit report. This usually is listed in a section that lists "Inquiries that display to companies" or "Other inquiries", and is frequently accompanied with the abbreviation "EMPL" (i.e., indicating that it is an "employment inquiry").
This does not mean that anyone obtained financial information about you. In fact, since our background check is considered an "employment inquiry", it will not affect your credit score. This entry simply means that LexisNexis accessed the part of your credit file that contains your name, Social Security Number, and address history -- not your financial information. They do this to ensure the accuracy of the information you gave on the Authorization & Disclosure form and to verify your identity. Even though financial information was not obtained, federal law requires that a notation be made on your credit report, so that you can know of every instance where the personal information in your credit file was obtained.
What does the Archdiocese do with the results of the background checks?
It depends on the results. If the check reveals no negative information, we simply file it away, and the person is cleared to work with children. The vast majority of checks that we have submitted have produced no negative information.
On the other hand, if there is a negative result, it is sent to only two people: the Director of the Safe Environment Office and the applicant. Nobody else receives them. We take every report with negative information very seriously. As a result, we examine the report carefully, and obtain any back-up information we need from public records, in order to determine whether the information applies to the applicant and whether the criminal record itself is serious enough to warrant action. No action is taken -- indeed, nobody outside of the Safe Environment Office is even notified -- until we are satisfied that the report is accurate and that the person's record suggests that there may be a risk to children.
Please note that we do not send letters out with the results of every background check because of the sheer volume of them -- we process over a hundred checks each week, and even more at the beginning of the school year.
What if there was inaccurate information on my background check?
If you believe that there is inaccurate information on your background check results, you should contact LexisNexis directly to make the necessary corrections (LexisNexis, P.O. Box 105108, Atlanta, Georgia 30302, 800-845-6004). Our Background Check Information Sheet (which is also available in Spanish) has detailed information about your rights and how to protect them. If you ever have a question about the results of a background check, please call our Office.
Why do I have to provide my Social Security Number?
Because New York State law forbids us from fingerprinting new staff members, we must perform a background check that relies on other identifying information. As a result, we ask for a person's full name, date of birth, address, and Social Security number.
What if I don't want to have a background check or provide my Social Security Number?
Failure to submit to a background check, which includes a refusal to supply a valid Social Security number, constitutes grounds for termination of employment or volunteer service, and the person will be barred from any contact with minors in any program or activity of the Archdiocese.
What if a person doesn't have a valid Social Security number?
Even if a person does not have a valid Social Security Number (e.g., they do not have legal immigration status), they still have to have a background check so we can verify their identity and check their background. In this case only, the person must complete the background check authorization form, leaving the line for Social Security number blank. Their supervisor -- pastor, principal or DRE -- should verify their identity with some form of photo identification (e.g., a driver's license, a passport, an employer-issued ID card, etc.). The pastor, principal or DRE should then send our Office the authorization form, along with a copy of the identification document, or with a notation that they have verified the person's identity.
This special accomodation is not available to those who have a valid Social Security Number but just do not want to provide it. Please be assured that in any event, a person’s immigration status shall not be the basis for any adverse action by the Safe Environment Office.