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Education Reporter

Five-Year-Old Federal Law Discourages Volunteers

DENVER, CO - In 1993, Congress passed H.R. 1237, the National Child Protection Act, which mandates that any citizen wishing to perform volunteer work for an organization involving children be fingerprinted, undergo a criminal background check, and agree to have his or her personal history put into a national data bank.

The chief sponsor of H.R. 1237 was then Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-CO). First Lady Hillary Clinton and the Children's Defense Fund were the bill's principal backers. H.R. 1237 was put on a "fast track" and quickly passed both Houses of Congress. The states received timetables for compliance from the Department of Justice, with the prospect of cutbacks in federal funding as a consequence of failure to meet the deadlines.

Colorado Eagle Forum President Jayne Schindler, a longtime volunteer teacher of ceramics for her local 4-H Club, was shocked at the new requirements. "For 15 years, the 4-H leaders have been begging me to teach ceramics," Mrs. Schindler says. "Volunteers are hard to get and even harder to keep. Now, we are told we are not trustworthy without a background check by the FBI."

Mrs. Schindler was informed that in order to comply with new federal regulations, she would have to attend an "orientation and respect for diversity" training class. Because she gave the ceramics lessons in her own garage, her husband was also required to attend, even though he would not be taking part in the classes. The Schindlers had to fill out forms with personal information that included dates of birth, social security and driver's license numbers, the names of organizations to which they belonged, the names and addresses of three personal references, and signed releases to allow all this information to be put into the national data bank.

During the class, the Schindlers were trained to turn in parents or caregivers for "suspected child abuse," and advised that they would face misdemeanor charges if they failed to do so. They were informed as to who is required to report child abuse (Colorado state law specifically names school officials and employees), and given a list of do's and don't's for responding to children who disclose that they may have been abused.

After taking the class, Mrs. Schindler was outraged at the manner in which her privacy had been invaded and the extent of the paperwork required to teach ceramics to 4-H Club members in her own garage. She decided to find out what was happening with other non-profit organizations. Among her discoveries:

  • Boy Scouts of America members must all be taught the three "R's" of youth protection: Recognize situations that place a child at risk of being molested, learn how child molesters operate, and know that anyone can be a molester; Resist - most molesters will withdraw if a child resists; and, Report any attempts or actual molestations. In addition, the Boy Scouts have published a Child's Bill of Rights that, according to Mrs. Schindler, "could have come right out of the 'U.N. Rights of the Child' materials."

  • Churches must also comply with the law, as they have volunteers who work with youth in their Sunday School programs. An attorney told one church administrator: "Have two certified and trained teachers in every class at all times if you want to afford liability insurance."

Parents wishing to volunteer in their children's schools also face the prospect of undergoing child abuse clearance and criminal records checks. In Bucktown, PA, the Owen J. Roberts School District has adopted a policy that requires parent volunteers to undergo background checks, and to pay $20 for the privilege, according to school district officials. In Colorado, the fees for volunteer background checks vary from $20 to $50.

Jayne Schindler's research shows that the end result of the National Child Protection Act is already evident in some states as people refuse to put up with the hassle of the new regulations. "Volunteers are in shorter supply than ever," she says, "which will only lead to more after-school programs with tax-funded staff, more FBI agents to perform background checks, more social workers to handle child abuse reports, and of course, two teachers for every classroom. Mothers will only be incubators for the state's children as Hillary's village is put into motion."

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