May 31 6:30pm by Julie Montanaro
School will be out soon and parents will be busy shuttling their children to summer camps.
Now every camp employee and volunteer who works with children in Florida must undergo a criminal background check.
Welcome to the costume room at Young Actors Theatre. The theatre's popular summer camps draw nearly 300 children ages 3 to 16.
Now every one of its summer camp counselors and volunteers must be fingerprinted and screened to be sure they are not criminals or sex offenders in disguise.
"As long as you are clean on the background check you should be able to work with kids and I feel like it's just a safety precaution so that the kids are safe. I feel like that's fine," said counselor Andie Gilroy.
"We actually work with them very closely. We're with them throughout the entire day and I think it's important for parents to understand that their counselors are going to take good care of them," counselor Natalie Futrell said.
The state of Florida mandated the change in August 2010 and it requires any summer camp employees or volunteers who work with children to get what's called a level two background check which checks criminal records across the country.
This is the first year that summer camps have had to plan for the checks and budget for them.
"The screenings cost about $40 per person and we have approximately 10 counselors this summer, so we're looking at four to five hundred dollars," said YAT Administrative Director Valerie Smith.
"We see this as just another layer of protection for our kids, their families and our employees," Smith said.
According to the DCF web site, the law applies to day camps and 24 hour camps, but not to Vacation Bible Schools.
Tallahassee, Florida - May 31, 2011 - Julie Montanaro
School will be out for the summer very soon and that means thousands of parents will be sending their kids to summer camps.
Eyewitness News Reporter Julie Montanaro was live at the Young Actor's Theater in Tallahassee with information about new background checks being required in Florida.
Florida now requires all summer camp counselors and volunteers who work with children to undergo a criminal background check.
That means that even teens working summer jobs will have to be fingerprinted and undergo what they call a Level 2 background check to make sure they are not felons or sex offenders.
At the Young Actor's Theatre, they are expecting 300 kids this summer, and all ten summer camp counselors must be screened by the time it starts in two weeks.
The new screening requirements went into effect in August 2010. This is the first season that most camps are having to shell out money to have employees screened.
According to the Department of Children and Families, the background checks are not required for summer camp employees or volunteers at Vacation Bible Schools.
Martha Wright, who is chief of FDLE's User Services Bureau, says if fingerprints are submitted digitally, the background check will cost $27.25 and is usually ready within three business days. If applicants submit prints on paper, the cost is $38.25 and may take up to six weeks to complete.
A DCF spokesman says this is the last year that potential summer camp employees can submit prints on paper, next year it will require the live scan prints.