By Lisa Lacey
I write to offer a different view from Mr. Hanke’s opinion (and his agreement with Mr. Torre's opinion) regarding the rules requiring fingerprinting and background checks for volunteers working with children. Honestly, as someone who has lived in other states and volunteered in other schools, it’s as common as field trip permission slips were when I was a kid. And, as a parent of two young children and as an adult who has seen the ravages of abuse perpetrated at the hands of trusted adults who volunteered to work with children in the 1970s and 1980s, the inconvenience and insult of being asked to complete a background check is a very small and minor “offense” compared to the life sentence that a victim of child sexual abuse endures.
Mr. Hanke and those similarly offended by this overreaction, please do a search and find organizations that you trust – you will find that one in 10 children in America are abused by someone they know before age 18, and most of these victims are younger than 8. A vastly underreported crime (conservative estimates are that 38 percent of victims report the crime – many not until they are adults), the actual statistics are likely higher. The risk is likely not much greater than when you were a child – except that when you were a child I am guessing criminals who prey on children could not sell and trade the visual evidence of their crime on the internet, where the child is revictimized over and over again.
I understand that you may think parents today are overly concerned with safety – and I agree – in some areas. Our kids desperately need independence, to be able to try and fail, to do things without supervision even if they are unsafe. What they don’t need is to be put at risk in a way that will potentially change their lives forever: Victims of child sexual abuse are much more likely to drop out of school, abuse drugs and alcohol and commit suicide. We can yearn for the good old days when we thought we could trust each other without question, or we can agree that, for some, the good old days weren't very good at all, and do something to make today better.
In the face of the very real – not hallucinatory – consequences, it’s odd that you find a request for a background check silly overprotectiveness. Yes, the likelihood that any one of us who is fingerprinted is someone who would abuse children is very small and hopefully nonexistent. And, unfortunately, fingerprinting and background checks may well be ineffective for rooting out potential abusers. But if requiring these checks deters even one person from volunteering who has motives that are other than yours of simply wanting to help out, then it is worth every inconvenience. The fee will be $30, and in Waitsfield where my kids are in school, my understanding is that the PTA will pay this fee. Anyone who cares so little about children that he or she would be deterred by having fingerprints taken and a background check completed is honestly not someone I want working with my children or their friends anyway.
The seriousness of the consequences – not the likelihood of the occurrence – is what should drive the decision to require background checks and fingerprinting for all who work with our children.
Lisa Lacey lives in Warren.