Screening Youth IN, Not Out

Youth are an integral part of the volunteering and civic engagement landscape. The 2018 General Survey on Giving, Volunteering, and Participating showed that approximately 52% of Gen Z (those born 1996 and up) participated in a formal volunteering activity 1. While these stats came before the major society changing event that was the pandemic, Volunteer Alberta saw through its Youth Engagement programming that young Albertans are still just as passionate about engaging with their communities now as when those numbers were published.

Youth often want to explore a wide range of opportunities, and just like with any volunteer role, there is the all-important question of: how do we balance risk management with volunteer engagement? Many organizations turn to Criminal Record Checks (CRCs), Police Information Checks (PICs), and Vulnerable Sector Checks (VSCs) among other tools to help mitigate risk. In fact, some organizations are required to obtain these checks as they are mandated either through legislation, their insurance, or their own bylaws/internal policies.

Volunteer Alberta has heard from our community that the process to obtain checks for youth to volunteer in your organization may have changed for some municipalities since 2022. Here is the information we have so far:

What is the process to obtain a Youth Criminal Record Check?

The short answer is: it depends on where you live. In Alberta, there is currently no standard process for completing youth CRCs and VSCs, which means different municipalities follow different internal guidelines. The Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police (AACP) is currently working towards creating a standardized procedure for all municipalities, however from our conversations with Police Services across Alberta in Fall 2022 they have alluded to how this may take some time.

If you live in one of the municipalities that contracts out the RCMP for municipal police services (Ex. Grande Prairie, St. Albert, Airdrie, etc), they recently updated their guidelines in 2021 to better align with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. As such, Youth may only request a CRC if they are working or volunteering for a government agency (federal, provincial, or municipal). Some municipal police detachments, like Edmonton and Lacombe, have decided to follow these guidelines for PICs in the interim while a standard procedure for all municipalities is being developed.  

Ultimately, if you currently require your youth volunteers to obtain a CRC/PIC, you should first assess whether it is truly necessary for the position they will be holding. If their role is required to have one completed, either by your own risk assessment or by legislature that guides your policies, then its best to contact your local police detachment to learn what the full process is for Youth looking to obtain a CRC/PIC. This way you can better inform your volunteers before they start and warn ahead of time of any requirements they might need, such as parental consent or which ID’s are acceptable to use.

Unfortunately, this does mean that organizations that are required to have CRCs completed for the work they do, as governed by legislature like the Protection of Persons in Care Act, it will mean based on the community you are in you may not be able to have Youth volunteer in these capacities. This does not mean you have to cancel your Youth Volunteer programs, but it may require some creativity to find new areas that Youth can support your work in meaningful ways.

What about Youth Vulnerable Sector Checks?

RCMP detachments, and those municipal detachments following their guidelines, will not conduct youth vulnerable sector checks (VSCs) under any circumstances. There are some municipal police services that will process Youth VSCs, but we would suggest that based on the information VSCs search for, this may be an unnecessary step. To explain further, a VSC is an additional search combined with a PIC/CRC. PICs/CRCs verify whether an individual has a criminal record, and VSCs expand the search to include any potential record suspensions (formerly known as pardons) for sexual offenses. Youth (defined as individuals who are 12 years of age or older, but under the age of 18) are ineligible for record suspensions as they can only occur 10 years after the offense date. As the youngest a person can be charged is 12 years old, a VSC would come back with no records, the same result as a PIC without a VSC.

It is also important to note that some youth information is protected from disclosure by the Youth Criminal Justice Act, meaning it will not be released in the results of a PIC or CRC, further highlighting the need for additional relationship-based screening methods to be used in your screening process with youth (and all volunteers!). Relationship-based screening methods can be seen as the parts of the volunteer screening process that aren’t focused on the more formal document collection and are focused instead on getting to know the volunteer on a personal level so you can understand their motivation for volunteering.

How can your organization address this?

Again, this will depend on the organization’s situation. The needs of the organization, as well as the policies and the legislation that guide it, will impact the screening process for Youth Volunteers just like it will for any other volunteer. If certain roles require a PIC and a VSC, just know that a youth may be unable to access either, depending on where they live. We suggest the following possible steps to consider:

  1. You should always assess the level of risk associated with your volunteer positions. Ask: What are the potential risks to your program users and the volunteers? What level of screening is required for this risk? Does this mean a PIC or VSC is necessary?
  2. Make use of reference checks if able! While depending on the age of the volunteer you may be able to contact an employer, other excellent references can be teachers, coaches, or other previous volunteer organizations
  3. Use other more relationship-based methods of screening to replace the supplemental use of PICS/VSCs, if it does not contradict any legislation or policies your organization is governed by
    • Introduce youth volunteers to low-risk volunteer positions that don’t require PICs or VSCs. Make a point to build a relationship with your youth volunteers to get to know them better and establish trust. When the organization and the youth have established a trusting relationship and feel ready, you could move them to progressively higher-risk positions, as appropriate.
  4. Modify the volunteer role responsibilities for youth volunteers to limit the level of trust and authority they may have over vulnerable populations
    • For example: If a youth is volunteering as a mentor for other youth or younger children, consider requiring that they always meet in a public space or require any plans to meet be reviewed by a supervisor so they are aware of where, when, and what the youth will be doing.
  5. If modifying the responsibilities is not feasible for the volunteer role, and a high degree of trust and authority is inherent in the position, have a supervisor with the youth during their shift and avoid giving them unsupervised access to vulnerable populations. This not only helps to mitigate risks, but also provides learning and growth opportunities for the youth from a knowledgeable mentor.

Ultimately, it is recommended that organizations regularly review their risk assessments and screening policies. If a CRC, PIC, and/or a VSC is required for a role, organizations should regularly assess if this is a necessary step and why, how may this be a barrier, and if there are other screening tools that could be used in its place.  Solely relying on only these types of screening methods is not an effective risk management process as they have been shown to fail in predicting future behaviour2 and fail to tell if a volunteer upholds the values of the organization or has the appropriate skills for the volunteer position. What they can do unfortunately is place barriers on populations unfairly targeted by the justice system 3.

We encourage you to check out Volunteer Alberta’s Resource Page for additional tools, guides, and templates that may help you develop your volunteer screening and engagement policies and procedures. As always, feel free to reach out to the Volunteer Screening Program (VSP) team at if you have any additional questions!

Recommended VSP Resources:

Other Recommended Reading:

1Statistics Canada (2018) General Social Survey, Giving Volunteering, and Participating

2 Canadian Civil Liberties Association (2014) False Promises, Hidden Costs

3 Ten Oaks Project (2017) Recruitment, Support & Retention: BIPOC Volunteers