Employee and volunteer screening

Learn why it’s important to screen youth program applicants and make informed candidate selections.

Volunteers handing out clothes.

The screening of employed and volunteer staff is a critical process in an effective youth protection program. All employees and any volunteers working with youth should be thoroughly screened using the strategies listed below. The entire screening process should be thoroughly documented in the staff member’s personnel file.


A written application form should include at least the following:

  • Name, address, and contact information
  • Work history, volunteer experience, and education
  • Any criminal conviction information
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) compliant release
  • Youth protection policy and screen statement
  • References (at least three)
  • Signature

Screening employee candidates

Review all statements made in an employment application. Pay attention to gaps in time, irregular employment patterns, or unexplained absences. Review these gaps with employers listed and in a subsequent interview.

Employment practice law does protect applicants. However, unlike employees, applicants have no loyalty or familiarity with your organization. Therefore, you must be extremely clear and notify the applicant of your hiring process. For instance, don’t just say that employee screening is part of the process. Instead, define that screening includes criminal backgrounds, motor vehicle records, credit, personal references, etc.

All procedures and guidelines regarding background checks should be regularly reviewed with your attorney. Laws, regulations, rights, and duties are always changing.

Screening volunteer candidates

Volunteers are not covered under your Workers’ Compensation policy. This is one reason all volunteers should undergo safety and procedure training. In addition to training, a volunteer waiver could also be used to:

  • Reinforce job expectations and risks
  • Reinforce that Workers’ Compensation does not cover volunteers
  • Help volunteers gain a sense of ownership for their actions while working for you

Background checks

Background screening is an important strategy that can be utilized to assist in the screening of potential staff. Many jurisdictions require state background screening for licensed (or regulated) programs such as child care and camps. Organizations should include additional checks in their screening process to ensure that all staff is properly screened. State checks are usually not sufficient because they generally do not review information from outside the state and often do not return information in a timely manner.

All employed and volunteer staff should have the following background checks performed in addition to any required checks:

  • A Social Security number verification, including address trace
  • Electronic background check provided by a reputable vendor
  • Web search that includes at least two sites such as a search engine (Google, Yahoo) and a social networking site (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Web search of national sexual predator website


Personal interviews by at least two representatives of the organization are an effective strategy in the screening of prospective employed and volunteer staff members. Interview questions should be open-ended to allow candidates to provide input. Questions should be consistent for all candidates and documented with response notes on a form identified by the organization.

Interview practices should also include:

  • Review of youth protection code of conduct
  • Review of position description
  • Additional group interviews and program observation when appropriate


Conducting reference checks and verification for application information is another critical strategy in the screening process. Each applicant should have a minimum of three references verified in writing by the organization. Current best practices for youth-serving organizations suggest that at least one of these references should be a family member. Reference verification should be documented in a consistent manner through the use of a form that includes all pertinent information and listing of questions to be asked.

Reference checking should include the following practices:

  • Verification for any youth-related experience listed on application or identified during interview
  • Verification by organization of any written references through a confirmation call
  • Signature of person performing check on behalf of the organization (include date)

The screening process is a critical component of a comprehensive youth protection program for organizations. This program should include a written (board adopted) youth protection policy, thorough screening practices, training, supervision, and communication.

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