Youth at UW

Working with children and youth is a unique privilege – It’s an opportunity to positively impact the life of a young person at a key point in their development.

It is unfortunate that there are also others who seek out opportunities to abuse children or youth through working or volunteering in this field. Ultimately, we need to be intentional in selecting and screening prospective volunteers and employees to minimize access to youth for those who would harm them.

  1. What principles should guide your selection of staff or volunteers?
  2. What screening practices will allow you to assess a prospective volunteer or employee’s motivations, attitudes and approach to working with youth?
  3. Who needs to complete a background check?
  4. What does it mean to have unsupervised access to youth?
  5. What is the UW’s recommended process for carrying out background checks on individuals who may interact with youth?

1. What principles should guide your selection of staff or volunteers?

Your screening process should enable you to assess the following three characteristics:

  • Motivation – why does this person want to engage with youth?

    Look for: genuine interest in working with youth that aligns with personal goals, education or career aspirations

    Screen out: candidates who aren’t interested in working with youth, and be wary of candidates who don’t have any hobbies or volunteer activities besides those involving youth

  • Attitudes – what does this person think and feel about youth?

    Look for: statements about youth that align with values of your program – a belief that youth have potential to be successful in your program.

    Screen out: people who indicate a judgmental, overly strict or otherwise negative attitude towards young people

  • Approach – what skills will this person bring to their work with youth?

    Look for: prior education, training and experience in child/youth development, especially when hiring staff. For volunteers you may not be able to expect prior experience or training; instead look for a flexible, equitable approach to dealing with people of varied backgrounds and temperaments.

    Screen out: candidates who give you concern that they would not keep the professional boundaries you set in your program.


2. What screening practices will allow you to assess a prospective volunteer or employee’s motivations, attitudes and approach to working with youth?

It is important to take the time to judge the fit of a prospective volunteer or staff who will be working with youth. Red flags that come up in a screening process may indicate that a person should not be put in a position of power or influence over a young person, because they may take advantage of that position. The screening process is also a way to surface risky behavior traits that can’t be caught through a criminal background check.

Screening tools

Below are common types of screening tools, including samples and suggestions to guide your own creation:

  1. Applications including a section to write a personal statement
  2. Interviews
  3. Reference checks

Click here for examples and guidance on applications, interview questions, and reference checks from the publication Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Within Youth-Serving Organizations.

Here you can also find an article written by the American Camp Association with specific examples based on a behavioral interviewing approach that helps you identify answers that may indicate an unsafe approach to working with youth.

We welcome examples from the UW community! Do you have an example you would like to share? send to cshelton@uw.edu.


3. Who needs to complete a background check?

Anyone in a position deemed a ‘security/safety sensitive’ position will require a background check. This applies to both volunteer and paid staff positions. See descriptions of the types of access that would fit this criteria here.


4. What does it mean to have unsupervised access to youth?

“Unsupervised access” means to be alone with an individual or group of youth without other program personnel supervising your interactions. Employees and volunteers who have unsupervised access to youth are required to pass a criminal background check prior to working with youth.

Many involved in a youth program will have unsupervised access to youth.  Other supervising adults can be present some of the time, but not all of the time. Parents or guardians may be present but not always supervising their own children. There are also unplanned circumstances that need to be accounted for when determining who could potentially be left alone with children or youth.

Typical roles that have unsupervised access to youth include:

  • Program directors, coaches, trainers, principle investigators, or other lead or supervisory staff.
  • Instructors, educators, TA’s, mentors, counselors, researchers, or program assistants who interact with youth regularly.
  • Tour guides who provide tours in the absence of authorized adults.
  • Anyone who may be charged with helping a lost child during an event, e.g., ushers or wayfinding volunteers.
  • Anyone who, though they are not designated as a supervisor of youth, may potentially be left alone with youth. 
  • Anyone who has electronic interactions with youth (via text, social media or e-mail communication, etc.)

For additional questions about whether a certain program role should receive a background screening, contact HR Operations at uwhires@uw.edu or 206-543-2544.


See the guidelines for carrying out background checks for staff and volunteers from UW HR.

Additionally, you may do a quick search of registered sex offenders using the national sex offender database.

Keep in mind, not all registered sex offenders are searchable, only those considered by law enforcement to pose the highest risk to the general public.

For additional questions about proper background check procedures, contact HR Operations at uwhires@uw.edu or 206-543-2544.