Access to FBI Fingerprint Records

by Jody A. Gorran, Programs Director, National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

On October 9, 1998, President Clinton signed into law the Volunteers For Children Act as Public Law 105-251, which amends the National Child Protection Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 5119). For the first time, any business or organization, whether public, private, for-profit, not-for-profit or voluntary, that provides care, treatment, education, training, instruction, supervision, or recreation to children, the elderly, or individuals with disabilities, has the lawful right to request fingerprint-based national criminal history background checks of their volunteers and employees through the FBI. Access to the FBI would come through each state’s Criminal History Records Repository.

1993 National Child Protection Act

In 1993, Congress passed the National Child Protection Act, also known as the Oprah Winfrey Act. This Act was hailed as a major step forward in protecting children from sexual abuse. It provided for individual states to pass legislation which would require FBI national fingerprint criminal history record checks for volunteers and employees of youth serving organizations.

Implementation Problems

However, the 1993 Act had two major flaws. Unless a state passed legislation implementing this Act, organizations were not permitted to submit fingerprints of volunteers and employees for FBI background checks. Additionally, Congress did not mandate state legislation; instead, the National Child Protection Act only stipulated that states "may" enact fingerprint background check legislation. As a consequence, five years later only a small handful of states have passed any legislation even allowing selected organizations to have access to fingerprint-based national criminal background checks. Only the state of Tennessee appears to have enacted legislation allowing most organizations the ability to perform these checks.

Importance of Background Checks

Why did Congress bother to pass this Act in 1993 and why are fingerprint criminal background checks so important? According to the National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse (NFPCSA), recent retrospective studies of adults suggest that one of three girls and one of six boys will be subjected to some form of sexual abuse by age eighteen. These studies further indicate that 46 percent of child molesters are non-family members who are known to their victims.

The NFPCSA contends that sexual predators are generally unrecognizable to the community and parents of children. Child molesters who are known to their victims are frequently trusted adults in the community, like teachers, scoutmasters, coaches, day care workers, volunteers and employees of other youth serving organizations, clergy, friends of the family, and neighbors. These are the people with whom we entrust our children on a daily basis.

Whom to Trust?

Can every parent spend time to personally get to know every single adult that provides services for their children — every day and for every extra-curricular activity? Think about it. How many people would that be? And, if you did have the time to get to know all of them VERY well, would you know if that person had a criminal history of child molestation? And what if they came from another state. How would you know? Child predators are very cunning. They may spend up to a year "grooming" their victims; that may include becoming good friends with the intended victims’ parents.

The NFPCSA believes the odds are very good that there are volunteers and employees in your community sexually molesting children. Most child victims do not tell. Based on anonymous retrospective studies of adults, the 1994 nationwide total of child sexual abuse victims was probably closer to 750,000, than the confirmed 139,000 cases. This leaves a possibility of approximately 610,000 silent victims nationally in 1994.

Since child sexual abuse victims rarely tell, the NFPCSA believes that organizations and parents must have the ability to protect these children. The NFPCSA further believes that parents MUST have the right to know that any adult with a relevant criminal history will be prevented from being placed in a position where they can establish a trusting relationship with their children.

Protective Tool Now Available

Many responsible organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America want to be able to further protect the children in their care through the use of fingerprint-based, national criminal history record checks of their volunteers and employees but have been unable to do so because of the lack of appropriate legislation. By passing the Volunteers for Children Act and amending the National Child Protection Act of 1993, Congress has given them as well as tens of thousands of other responsible organizations this important protective tool. Now they must use it!

More Information

For information on how your organization can start doing fingerprint-based national criminal history background checks of your volunteers and employees, visit our Web site at


Originally published in the 2000 Winter issue of The CampLine.

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