Tutor Background Check Guidance

This tool is not legal advice

Consult an attorney to ensure program compliance with all federal, state, and local laws.

Why screen prospective tutors with a background check?

Tutors must be trustworthy. Because they will be working in positions of power and authority over minors, they must meet a high standard of conduct. Programs hiring tutors must do their due diligence to ensure that they are not putting students at risk. Neglecting this duty could cause significant harm to students that was both foreseeable and preventable at minimal expense, and can result in legal liability for the program. Further, sometimes a specific background check may be legally required by local, state or federal laws.

To ensure student safety, all tutors should be screened prior to working with any students. The precise forms of background checks required by law will vary, so consult an attorney and be sure to follow the law. This tool is not legal advice!

Types of Background Checks

The United States does not have a centralized database for criminal records and each state has different background check requirements. As a result, most programs must conduct 2-3 types of background checks. Check the legal requirements in your state. The most common ones that may be required are listed below:

  • FBI Background Check. This is the most comprehensive check, and reviews all fingerprint-based records. It surveys all federal criminal records and the majority of state-level criminal records databases. Low-level misdemeanors and citations are not included, however, so it is recommended to supplement an FBI background check with a state background check.
  • State of Operation Background Check. Each state has its own policies about who can access criminal records and for what purpose. The costs, process, and time required will vary. Typically, state criminal background checks cover offenses only in that state; they are not a replacement for federal-level background checks.
  • State of Residence Background Check. Particularly if your Delivery Mode for tutoring is Virtual, prospective tutors will sometimes apply from other states, not just the state where your program operates. Your program may need to complete a background check for their state of residence, not just the state where they will be tutoring.
  • U.S. Department of Justice Sex Offender Registry. Applicants can be searched in this national registry. Create a protocol for staff conducting this check to document, sign off on, and input the date reviewed for each applicant.
  • Child Abuser Registries. These state registries include complaints that did not result in arrest or prosecution and so will not be included in criminal records. Contact your local child welfare agency to see whether this information is accessible to you.

What about private vendors?

While there are several private vendors that purport to conduct background checks, they are not recommended. Their state and local datasets can be unreliable, and there is so much variation in their methods that their results are inconsistent.

What about international students?

If your Tutor Type includes College Students, you may encounter international students with no records in these systems. If so, consider requiring a background check from their country of origin. Check the legal requirements in your state!

Professional References

In addition to background checks, your selection process should include a reference check, such as professional reference, character reference, or letter of recommendation. Professional reference checks will provide you with a wealth of information about the applicant and (ideally) should explicitly address the applicant’s experience working with children.

Create a Formal Written Policy

Operating as an organization that works with minors requires you to create written and well-documented policies and develop consistent and systematic processes for screening applicants. Consistently review and update policies as regulations change, and oversee implementation to ensure that all employees follow policies as intended.

How should the formal written policy be created?

  • Outline the legal requirements based on federal, state, local, and institutional (e.g. AmeriCorps) regulations.
  • Stay up-to-date on the legal requirements in your state. Each state has different requirements, and laws will change over time. They are often (though not always) easily available via your state’s Attorney General’s Office.
  • Consult with an attorney (as well as your insurance company) on all policies.
  • Ensure regular review and compliance with policies.

What should the formal written policy include?

  • All the required components that a prospective tutor must complete.
  • Specific and consistent guidelines for disqualifying an applicant for the tutor role based on the screening results.
  • Methods for tracking the status of the screening process for all prospective tutors.
  • Information about who will pay for the background checks. Will it be the organization, or the prospective tutor?
  • Written communication to all prospective tutors to ensure that they understand the screening process at the outset.
    • Written release statement for tutors to sign agreeing to the background check.
      • Tutors should agree to abide by the result of the background check process.
  • Instructions for program staff on how to read and interpret the various background checks.
    • Description of legal requirements for reviewing background checks, including how to document findings and decisions.
    • Description of legal requirements for staff to ensure that all background checks are kept confidential and secure.