Every child deserves to grow up feeling loved, and safe from those who may harm them. Unfortunately some children are mistreated and abused, too often by those they know and trust. In reality, the typical abuser is often found to be a teacher, neighbour, priest, counsellor, etc, that have known the child for years. They go unnoticed by society and this helps them to get away with what they do for so long. This guide will provide information on how you as a parent or service provider can keep your children safe from these abusers by examining the process of screening. It will provide information on the process of screening as well as giving tips on how you can ensure that you are doing everything possible to protect your child or your young clients, as it offers tips on effective screening measures.

What Is Screening?

Screening is a process that helps to identify any activity of an individual that could bring harm to youth, children or vulnerable members of society. It is applied to individuals looking to work/volunteer with an organization or institution to prevent those who would harm children from being in a position of trust/authority over them. Screening can also be done by parents before allowing a person to babysit or coach their child as well. Normally, screening involves a background and reference check, the processes of which will be described shortly.

Why Is Screening Necessary?

Screening is necessary to prevent those who have previously shown to pose a danger to children from being in a position of trust over them. It helps to prevent abuse from happening by denying abusers access to children and the chance to offend. Pedophiles will do anything to gain access to children, as they look for positions to justify the amount of time they spend around them, seeking employment in jobs such as teaching or coaching. With the rise of double income families, children are more and more often trusted with other adults for longer periods of time. Therefore it’s important that you look at the people you’re leaving your children with, and screen them to ensure that your children are being placed in safe, capable hands.

Tendencies of Pedophiles

There is a well documented tendency for pedophiles to move to new communities where they can reoffend, if they are caught or suspected in another community. They reapply for positions involving trust/authority that give them access to children and can obtain these positions as they are in an area where their abuse patterns are not known to employers. This anonymity or “fresh start” is what allows them to continue their cycle of abuse. Pedophiles have a troubling recidivism rate and when placed in high risk situations they often reoffend, particularly when they come into contact with a child of their targeted age and gender. To stop potential abuse from happening, it is important to thoroughly screen anyone wishing to work with children and to deny access to those who may want to harm children.

Responsibility for Organizations to Screen

Organizations that hire employees/volunteers are responsible for their actions and must ensure, as best they can, that the individuals representing them can be trusted with their clients. Agencies should be educated on the risk of failing to conduct screening checks of potential volunteers/employees, as they may be held legally (and morally) accountable through vicarious liability.

Vicarious liability makes an organization responsible for the conduct of volunteers/employees under certain conditions. It runs on the assumption the organization has aggravated the risk that harm would occur. It ensures that organizations take all reasonable measures to reduce the risk of harm by using methods such as screening. If they fail to take reasonable measures to reduce the risk of harm to their clients, an organization (such as a school, daycare, summer camp, etc) can be held accountable for the actions of their employees/volunteers and be forced to pay damages to victims.

Who Should Be Screened

Any individual applying to work (either paid or volunteer) in a position of trust with children should be screened. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Child Care Workers
  • Staff in Children’s Social Services
  • Teachers
  • Foster Parent Applications
  • Adoptive Parent Applications
  • Religious Groups
  • Tutors
  • Instructors
  • Camp Leaders
  • Baby Sitters
  • Paediatricians
  • Any/All Individuals Involved in Children’s Sports and Recreation Leadership Programs

Screening should be conducted any time an agency that provides care, education or recreation to children/teenagers is hiring employees/volunteers.

Effective Screening Tips for Organizations

Volunteer Canada has compiled a Safe Steps Screening Program that organizations can use to help ensure the safety of children. They include the following:

  1. Determine the Risk
  2. Write a Clear Position Description
  3. Establish a Formal Recruitment Process
  4. Use an Application Form
  5. Conduct Interviews
  6. Follow Up on References
  7. Request a Police Records check
  8. Conduct Orientation and Training Sessions
  9. Supervise and Evaluate
  10. Follow up With Program Participants

For more information about these steps, please feel free to visit the Volunteer Canada website at:

Hesitation of Organizations to Screen

One of the main objections that individuals have when asked to submit to a screening process is that screening unjustly discriminates against them, preventing them from obtaining a job or volunteer position based solely on their previous history, especially if a criminal history appears. This objection has some credibility to it, as legally organizations can’t discriminate based on prohibited grounds (criminal records). This means that they are not allowed to deny a job opportunity to an applicant just because they have a criminal record. However, there is an exception that has been made regarding this issue. The exception is that if an organization can demonstrate a good, legitimate requirement that an employee cannot have a criminal record, then they are allowed to deny them a job. In hiring employees to work in positions of trust over children, employers can therefore deny an individual a job based on their criminal record, as long as they can prove that they are looking out for the safety and wellbeing of the children. Ultimately, a person who legitimately wants to work with children should not be deterred by having a simple criminal record check completed.

Record Checks

Police Record Checks
A Police Records Check is one of the main ways organizations can chose to screen. The process can involve running a criminal records check and/or a vulnerable sectors check.
Criminal Records Checks
A Criminal Records Check is an examination of a person’s criminal history. If a person has been convicted of a crime that information will show up during this check, however if a person has been pardoned for a crime it will not show up. To complete a criminal records check an individual needs to provide photo ID, their fingerprints and other relevant information to the police.
Vulnerable Sectors Check
A Vulnerable Sectors Check can be run along with a criminal records check as it is usually performed when a person is seeking to work with children or vulnerable people. It is more extensive than a criminal records check as it provides information on offences in which a person has been pardoned. This is done through a search of the CPIC Investigative Databank, Intelligence Databank and local police records where the person resides.
Cost of Records Checks
The cost for records checks can vary from province to province. In the Ottawa-Carleton region a Police Records Check for Service with the Vulnerable Sector costs around $15(free for volunteers that have a volunteer letter) and a Criminal Records Check costs $43. There is an additional $25 charge if it is necessary to send fingerprints away to the RCMP.

Pardons and Screening

A pardon allows for individuals who were convicted of an offence to have their criminal record sealed, which means when a pardon is granted an agency that has a record of their conviction must not disclose it to anyone, unless they receive approval from the Solicitor General of Canada. In terms of screening, this means that when the police run a criminal records check on an individual, their criminal history and issuance of a pardon for an offence will not appear. This might sound unsafe, especially when screening those working with children because then any history they may have of previous abuse would not show up. However, exceptions are made when it comes to disclosing pardons to employers when the position they are hiring for involves placing an individual in a position of trust over children/vulnerable members, or when the applicant has consented in writing to the release of information. This helps to make the screening process more effective and helps reduce the risk of putting children under the care of those who have previously abused a position of authority. It denies the offender the chance to hide behind a pardon as their criminal history is made fully accessible.

The Process of Screening through Records Checks

The process of screening through records checks by using CPIC will vary from region to region but the first step organizations can take is to check in with the local police. From there, they will either:

  • Ask the potential volunteer/employee to go in, get a records check administered and then have them give the organization the results of the check
  • Request a records check on behalf of the potential volunteer/employee with their consent (Freedom of Information and Protection of Private Police Act requires their consent for the release of information to the agency without any screening process)

Along with getting consent from the individuals organizations should also:

  • Guarantee the information will be used only for the purpose intended and won’t be given out to other persons or organizations
  • Understand that a police agency doesn’t provide all the details concerning an individual. In every case only accredited police agencies can directly access CPIC. This allows for the security of the police investigations and guards against an invasion of privacy.

When an individual goes directly to the police for their records check there are a few advantages:

  • Through direct face to face contact the applicant can be asked to provide evidence of an application to an organization, allowing a police agency to know the range of information that needs to be provided
  • The person’s identification can be checked directly through the provision of two items of identification, usually containing photographs. The police agency can see the person standing in front of them and this direct contact can help to verify that they are who they say they are.

Whatever method is chosen the application is processed and a records check is conducted. If the check does not show the person has committed any criminal offence it will be returned to the agency indicating a negative record (not confirmed by fingerprints). If something does come up in the records check, resulting in a possible hit, the applicant will need to be fingerprinted for confirmation. They will receive a letter from the police requesting they go to the station for fingerprinting and then they will be responsible for sending the application to the RCMP. Documentation is then sent to the organization indicating the results are being sent to the individual. It is then up to the individual to give the results to the organization. (He or she may choose to forfeit their application instead of making the organization aware of their criminal history.)

In Canada another way of checking the background of individuals looking to work with children can be seen through examining the National Sex Offender Registry. This registry mandates sexual offenders to register with them through the use of a court order. Accredited police agencies everywhere can then access this database through their provincial/ territorial sex offender registry.

The Canadian Police Information Center (CPIC)

The Canadian Police Information Center (CPIC) is the information service (run by the RCMP) that provides all Canadian law enforcement agencies with information on crime and criminals including the criminal history of all individuals. To ensure the individual’s privacy only accredited law enforcement agencies can access the system.

Two databanks that can be used through CPIC to examine the criminal history of an individual are the identification databank and the investigative databank.

The identification databank is made up of three components:

  • Offender’s criminal history
  • Summary of offender’s biographical and offence information
  • Indexed summary of offender’s names for rapid search

The investigative databank:

  • Holds information that is entered by police services about offenders
  • Allows for information to be accessed by other agencies
  • Enables sharing between agencies on offenders

When combined both of these databases provide a considerable amount of information such as:

  • Data on convicted sex offenders for summary(less serious) and indictable(more serious) offences
  • Warrants that are outstanding
  • Reports not resulting in charges
  • Charges where an individual was acquitted
  • Charges that were stayed
  • Peace bonds found under sections 810 and 810.1 of the Criminal Code
  • Prohibition orders under section 161 of the Criminal Code (prohibitions from attending places where children are likely to be present, from seeking employment around children and from using a computer to communicate with a child under the age of 16)
  • Information on age and sex of the victim in child sex offences
  • Fingerprint information on those who have committed a sexual offences

While these measures are useful in assisting organizations to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring within their organization relying on CPIC checks alone is not sufficient. Organizations need to reduce the risk even further by creating and implementing their own strict recruiting, screening, training and supervising measures for employees/volunteers. There are limitations to relying solely on one method alone to screen and other alternative methods should be taken to ensure everything is being done to create a safe environment for your children.

Limitations of CPIC as a Screening Tool

Despite the advantages of screening for potential child abusers through CPIC there are limitations to using this method:

  • A police records check doesn’t mean a police clearance. A person may have committed a crime and was never apprehended so just because they passed the records check it doesn’t mean they aren’t a threat. The records check only confirms they haven’t been caught and convicted of an offence.
  • If a person has legally changed their name, any criminal record they had under their previous name will not show up on records
  • If a person falsely obtains fake identification of another person no record may show up for the person whose name/birth date appear on the stolen identification
  • If someone has moved from another country local records might not have information about that person
  • A police check is only current up to the date/time of the records check. If an individual commits a crime after the check has been completed it will not show up on the report
  • The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is restrictive in providing information on youth between the ages of 12-17 that have committed an offence. The information on youth is restricted to protect the youth from being stigmatized and labelled as the goal of the YCJA is to restrict judicial measures with young persons and keep them away from the courts.
  • It is only through fingerprinting that the police can be sure the individual has no criminal convictions. Fingerprinting is only required if something unusual appears on the person’s criminal records check
  • A records check may come up clean for an individual but it doesn’t tell how the person will act in the future
  • Police may investigate a person on sexual abuse charges but in court it can be plea bargained down so that the sexual abuse is not included in a database

In using any information system for screening purposes limitations should be acknowledge so that caution can be taken. Screening through records checks is only one tool that can be used to prevent future cases of sexual abuse against children. It cannot prevent everyone abusing children from doing so (no system will ever guarantee 100% protection). Many pedophiles can go years without being charged as some studies show that a career pedophile has as much as 20-75 victims while other pedophiles have confessed to having as much as 500 victims. This is why there is a need to use a number of screening measures as they can help to decrease the chance of children being sexually abused.

Alternatives to Police Records Checks

BackCheck (toll free 1-877-308-4663 or is a screening measure that can be custom tailored to meet the screening needs of an agency or individual. This agency is equipped to look beyond a person’s criminal records check as they also conduct identity cross checks, previous employment verification, education verification, credit checks and reference checks. It’s an extensive background check that allows for a greater piece of mind when organizations hire employees/volunteers. It is also much faster than methods used by police services as with BackCheck criminal records checks take 24 hours and the whole package takes a maximum of 72 hours to complete and return. Fees for BackCheck range on how comprehensive of a check is requested, with the Complete BackCheck costing around $198.
Winning Kids: Plan to Protect
A similar approach can be seen through the Winning Kids Organization, formed by a group of individuals who are dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse. This organization has developed a specific plan called the Plan to Protect that provides information to organizations hiring employees/volunteers to work with children. Plan to Protect is a comprehensive two hundred and fifty page protection plan that includes policies on things such as: recruitment and screening, implementation and training, children and youth program procedures and reporting/responding to suspicions and allegations of child sexual abuse. There is also a list of appendixes that include templates of forms, signs, policies, checklists and more. It can be used to establish strong abuse prevention policies and programs for a variety of organizations that work with children. The cost for the Plan to Protect ranges from $90-$120.

Parent’s Responsibility

When it comes to ensuring the safety of your children, you as parents can also help in making sure your children are safe from those who would abuse them by looking at the organizations you are placing them with.

Commit to Kids: Parents Guide
The Canadian Center for Child Protection runs a program called Commit to Kids, which assists organizations and parents alike in creating safe environments for children by providing them with strategies and policies to prevent/protect children from sexual abuse. Specifically, Commit to Kids has developed a Parent’s guide that provides information to help parents understand the issue of child sexual abuse, assess your knowledge on child sexual abuse, protect your children from sexual and abuse, and how to choose safe organizations. They recognize that you as parents play a role in keeping your children safe and their guide will provide you with the tools to be able to protect them. It can be accessed through the following website:

Questions to Ask Organizations

Another step that you can take to ensure the safety of your children is to ask organizations you are leaving your children with a few of the following questions:

  • Does the organization have a code of conduct that addresses how employees/volunteers interact with children in regard to verbal contact, physical contact and appropriate behaviour?
  • Does the organization have formal sexual abuse policies and procedures that specifically outline how employees/volunteers must behave towards children?
  • Does the organization have training/awareness programs regarding child sexual abuse for employees, management, volunteers, children and parents?
  • Does the organization have hiring and screening policies/procedures that address an employee/volunteer’s history at the time of hiring to determine their suitability to work with children?
  • Does the organization have policies in place that help employees/volunteers understand what they must do if a child indicates they’ve been sexually abused by someone inside or outside of the organization?
  • Does the organization have policies dealing with inappropriate boundaries between employees/volunteers and children, sexualized behaviours or touching that others feel uncomfortable with?
  • Does the organization have policies around programs, services and activities they provide?

These are just a few of the questions out there that you as parents can ask organizations in helping to ensure your children are being placed in good hands and to make sure that organizations have proper policies set in place when it comes to protecting your children from harm.


Children deserve to grow up happy, healthy and free from abuse. It is up to us as a society to take preventative measures to help in making this a reality and we can start to accomplish that through the process of screening.. This guide was aimed at informing you as parents on the process of screening, in order to help you recognize how important the role of screening is in protecting your children from abusers. It is only when we recognize the importance of screening in the prevention of child abuse that we can begin to protect our children.

Feedback about our Child Protection Materials is greatly appreciated.
Please vofv(at)victimsofviolence(dot) if you have any comments, or to report errors or omissions.

Last modified: October 21, 2015