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Background Checks Enhanced to Protect Kids | News

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Background Checks Enhanced to Protect Kids
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AMHERST, NY - You would think doing background checks on people who work with children would be a given in cities, towns, and villages.

But, a recent audit found problems in Amherst, which has been ranked as one of the safest places for children in the country.

From 2010 to 2012, the state took a look at youth programs that are run by towns or cities to find out which ones were doing background checks of employees and volunteers.

The screenings need to be done for anyone who works with kids, but this doesn't cover all youth programs that are offered, so sometimes mix-ups are found.

Amherst was the only local municipality that was reviewed. And the state found that over a two-year period, the town failed to check everyone who works with kids, noting that seasonal employees went unchecked. The state says that Amherst also didn't check people who were brought in from elsewhere to work with youth.

"We have a policy, it was not written, that is absolutely correct, but our policy is and had been since we've been working on this, that we do background checks of all our employees when no other background check is available," said Mary-Diana Pouli, the executive director of Amherst's Youth and Recreation Department.

On seasonal employees, officials say they've changed their policy and will now follow the state's recommendation. For contracted help, as the audit found, Amherst relies on those organizations to do their own checking. On this matter, town supervisor Barry Weinstein says that the state recommendation is, "a waste of time and money," and that, "we don't think there's a failure in this town, background checks are required by law, those that are not required by law that are discretionary, we've done some and we've made sure that the others are done by other people."

2 On Your Side took a look at some other local municipalities to find out what their policy is on background checks of our youth and found a mixed bag. For example, the Town of Tonawanda only checks most coaches, but not all employees. Town officials say they're looking to change this by including all employees. Orchard Park reviews all employees and volunteers. Cheektowaga doesn't check many young volunteers saying it's unnecessary, because these volunteers are not yet teens. 

The state adds that Amherst screening was done inconsistently and that dates and results were not kept by youth leaders.  

"That's something that we do need to change and we need to have a written response to all of our checks," said Pouli.

But, what the town won't budge on is checking on workers that are contracted from outside organizations.

In the end, the state says that everyone who's working with kids should have a background check.

Seven other municipalities were looked at across the state over that two-year span.

NOTE: For this story, we recorded video of a youth Amherst hockey league, which says it does do background checks for all coaches and volunteers.

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