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For Organizations Serving Children and Youth, Broad and Thorough Background Checks of Staff and Ongoing Monitoring are Essential

The New York Times told us this week about a tragic situation involving foster parents in New York City who were involved in sex trafficking their own foster children.  "Authorities said the couple, Kareem Mitchell, 38, and Sharice Mitchell, 51, ran a sex trafficking operation that pushed at least eight women into prostitution, including at least two who were Ms. Mitchell’s foster children."  Mr. Mitchell was himself a registered sex offender.  So how on earth was he allowed to foster?

Unfortunately, Mr. Mitchell slipped through a crack we see too often among child-serving organizations.  In 2019, only Ms. Mitchell applied to be a foster provider for New York City through the nonprofit Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York.  She told staff performing her home study that no other adults lived in the home and that she hadn't seen her "estranged" husband in over a year.

Had the agency done a more thorough check, it would have discovered that Mr. Mitchell was not only still in the picture, but also that he is a registered sex offender with a history of transporting minors across state lines.  

The agency might have done a better job of monitoring the home as well, according to Karen Freedman, the executive director of Lawyers for Children, a nonprofit that represents children in legal matters.  The case “demonstrates the high stakes involved when foster home placements are not carefully vetted before children are placed, and what can go wrong when foster homes are not closely and consistently monitored after children are placed," she told the Times.

As my Daddy always said, you're known by the company you keep.  It's critical when hiring staff or taking on volunteers that you check not only their backgrounds but also the backgrounds of spouses, boyfriends, and those with whom they're closely associated.

At Taylor English, our attorneys representing youth-serving organizations can help prevent such tragedies by reviewing your background check and monitoring policies and practices to ensure they meet best practices.  Protecting children requires a team effort, and we are here to help you.


youth serving organizations, youth services law, rawlings_tom, insights