Effectively screening volunteer mentors

Mentor screening is a crucial component of a quality mentoring program. What are the best practices?

Without exception, every mentoring program needs to conduct comprehensive screening of volunteers who choose to give their time as a mentor. It doesn’t matter if all your volunteers go to church or if staff will be supervising the interactions: experience has proven the importance of consistent screening of each mentor as it helps keep youth, volunteers and the program safe.

What is screening? Screening is the process of looking into a person’s background through reference and background checks, as well as a personal interview. It also involves ensuring the volunteer is a good fit for the position. MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership has a helpful infographic illustrating this process.

This same process is utilized by Michigan State University (MSU) Extension with all volunteers who work with youth or vulnerable adults. If you are looking to create a comprehensive screening process for your organization, here are some tips to assist you:

  1. Share a job description with the potential volunteer and make sure he/she is willing to meet program requirements related to frequency of visits and duration of the match.
  2. Explain the screening process and why it is important. Screening is a best practice and is required by most funders. When volunteers think about having their child or a child they care about spending time with a volunteer, many volunteers will recognize the need for screening.
  3. Gain written consent to conduct background checks with the volunteer application.
  4. MSU Extension recommends conducting a state criminal history check, sex offender registry check and a central registry check. The process to obtain a criminal history check and central registry clearance vary by state. If funds are available, an FBI fingerprint check is one of the most comprehensive checks available.
  5. Use the face-to-face interview to learn about the potential volunteer and to address any red flags that arise during background and reference checks. Ask questions that will assist in the matching process.

By implementing these processes, potential volunteers who wish to inflict harm are likely to look elsewhere for a program that provides easier access to children. While screening can take time, the process also saves a great deal of time by helping identify volunteers who are likely to be successful and ensuring program participants are healthy and safe.

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