With the arrest of Chaska’s World Learner’s School substitute teacher Matthew VanHecke in December, 2013 and his subsequent admission to “touching three juvenile girls” at the school where he worked in 2012 and 2013, it is imperative that lessons be learned from these horrific events.
Schools and other institutions that provide services to children must understand that conducting a background check on a potential employee does not relieve them of their responsibilities associated with ensuring the safety of children under their care. According to officials from two of his employers, District 112 and the World Learner School, VanHecke had nothing in his background that raised red flags at the time he was hired. Despite his clean record, VanHecke admitted to police after his arrest that he had always had “thoughts” about “little kids” in his head. Clearly background checks are a vital part of the hiring process; however as was unfortunately illustrated here, they don’t end the process required to keep kids safe.
Children are trusting by nature. Most have thankfully not encountered the kinds of betrayals that would cause them to lose that trust. Therefore children are far less capable of identifying an adult in a position of authority who may pose a threat to them. Thus it’s the obligation of the schools, districts and institutions catering to the care and education of children to continually and diligently monitor for potential risks to students. True this may require significant effort on the part of the institution, but it is a necessary effort given the particular vulnerability of children and families who depend on them to create a safe and nurturing environment free from sexual abuse and exploitation.
As Matthew VanHecke and the World Learner’s School show us, background checks are just one part of an ongoing process of child protection.