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On Parenting
Posted at 03:11 PM ET, 05/17/2012

Lessons for parents in the case of FBI fugitive Eric Toth

Today’s Post story recounting the alleged acts of Eric Toth, a former teacher at the District’s exclusive Beauvoir elementary school, is hard for any parent to read.

Before the evidence of his child pornography collection and possible abuse surfaced and Toth escaped, becoming one of the FBI’s Most Wanted fugitives, he “worked where he had access to kids, ingratiated himself with families and got extended alone time with their children, sometimes as a tutor. Then he allegedly exploited children and took pictures of them for gratification,” Allison Klein reported.
Eric Toth’s picture on a billboard in Times Square. (FBI)

It’s an especially haunting story for parents now, given that many of us are poised to send children to summer camps and programs with unfamiliar staffs.

It reminds me of the old adage “Trust but verify.”

Last month, LexisNexis released a report on the screenings the company had conducted for nonprofit organizations since 2007. It revealed that a significant proportion of potential employees and volunteers, 22 percent, were found to have serious criminal convictions.

Remember, those employees were already self-selected. They presumably applied for jobs with the understanding that their backgrounds would be searched.

The report found that among those with convictions, the vast majority (91,607) had convictions related to drug offenses.

Still, more than 10,000 potential employees had been convicted of sex-related offenses. More than 1,000 were on a sex-offender registry. And more than 600 had kidnapping convictions. There were even murder convictions, more than a thousand of them.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that these backgrounds were revealed.

But a screening procedure has to be in place before any offense is found. Employee and volunteer screening at schools, camps and day-care centers are, if not foolproof (Toth’s record appeared clean when he joined Beauvoir), essential.

How can a parent make sure a program is checking employee and volunteer backgrounds?

“Start by meeting with the program director and asking simple, direct and specific questions,” Theresa Preg, a senior director at LexisNexis Screening Solutions, told me when I posed the question.

Preg said the simple act of asking program staff might trigger officials to create a system of checks if there isn’t one.

Here is her checklist of questions:

●Do you perform background checks on all volunteers and employees? If not, who is excluded?

●What types of checks do you perform?

●What types of discrepancies or offenses are acceptable, and what type of information disqualifies an individual from volunteering or working here?

●When do you perform the background checks? Before or after the individual begins work with your organization?

●After the initial check, do you ever go back to check for new offenses?

I assumed both of the summer camps my girls will attend follow standard screening procedures. But after reading today’s story, I’m done assuming.

Does your child’s school, camp or program check the background of employees and volunteers? Have you asked?

Related content:

A birthday party nightmare: Balancing safety and freedom

Not just the Penn State coaches: Most of us look away from abuse

Penn State: What if the victims had been girls?

By  |  03:11 PM ET, 05/17/2012

Tags:  Safety

 
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