Analyzing CACREP-Accredited Programs' Utilization of Criminal Background Checks

By Jorgensen, Maribeth F.; Brown-Rice, Kathleen | The Professional Counselor, July 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Analyzing CACREP-Accredited Programs' Utilization of Criminal Background Checks


Jorgensen, Maribeth F., Brown-Rice, Kathleen, The Professional Counselor


Counselor educators and supervisors are ethically bound to not endorse any counselor-in-training (CIT) for certification, licensure, employment or completion of an academic program when they believe a CIT is not qualified for the endorsement (American Counseling Association [ACA], 2014). In particular, educators are required to screen all counseling program applicants prior to admission and to continually and thoroughly evaluate and appraise students during their progression through the program (Erwin & Toomey, 2005). It has been suggested that utilizing criminal background checks (CBCs) with students should be part of the gatekeeping process in behavioral health programs (Brodersen, Swick, & Richman, 2009; Cowburn & Nelson, 2008; Erwin & Toomey, 2005). In fact, government agencies and private and public employers are increasing their use of CBCs as a screening mechanism (Sheets & Kappel, 2007). CBCs may be conducted to determine if an individual is a potential threat to clients, vulnerable populations or fellow employees. According to Sheets and Kappel (2007), "Because most consumers are not in the position to run CBCs . . . they depend on professional licensing boards to conduct appropriate screening of applicants" (p. 64). This could be a concern, however, because CITs work with clients while they are in their training program. Counseling programs that do not have access to CBC data may be left without critical information to help best protect vulnerable populations. Therefore, the responsibility of having CBC results might more appropriately fall on counselor educators (ACA, 2014).

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands require a CBC for school counselors (American Counseling Association, Office of Public Policy and Legislation, 2011). According to ACA (2010), as of 2010 six states (i.e., Arizona, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee) required a CBC as part of the licensure application process. North Carolina requires applicants to sign a statement authorizing the licensing board to conduct a full criminal record search, including state and federal records (North Carolina Board of Licensed Professional Counselors 2013). The state of Washington requires applicants to submit fingerprints as a means to perform a professional criminal background check. Given that passing a CBC is a criterion for certification or licensure for professional counselors in some jurisdictions, it seems important to examine if counselor education programs are utilizing CBCs as part of the admission process, student evaluation for CITs, and ultimately as a tool for gatekeeping.

Gatekeeping in the Field

According to Kerl and Eichler (2005), "In the field of counselor education, gatekeepers are the professionals whose responsibility it is to open or close the gates on the path toward becoming a counselor" (p. 74). The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) requires counseling programs to start the gatekeeping process at the onset of screening applicants for admission. Unfortunately, there is ambiguity about specific ways to gatekeep during the admission process, which may prompt inconsistencies between those operating as gatekeepers. Several studies have examined barriers to effective gatekeeping (Brear & Dorrian, 2010; Brodersen et al., 2009; Brown-Rice & Furr, 2014). Some of the barriers include a need to meet desired enrollment, inconsistent screening procedures, likability effect, inadequate training on how to be a gatekeeper, social loafing, the leniency effect, and the empathy veil effect (Brear & Dorrian, 2010; Brown-Rice & Furr, 2014). The previous findings support the need to examine the current use of objective measures that may diminish some of these described obstacles.

Swank and Smith-Adcock (2014) examined the screening and gatekeeping methods used by 79 master's- and doctoral-level CACREP-accredited counseling programs. …

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