By Brad Whitehouse
Associate News Editor
When Kate Jarencio applied for a police check in July, she was told it would take eight to 10 weeks. But now, at the beginning of October, there’s still no sign of it. And her work placement, which requires a police screening, is supposed to begin in less than two weeks.
“I sent it express, and I still haven’t heard anything,” the first-year Ryerson-George Brown early childhood education (ECE) student said.
A four-month long backlog on background checks from the Toronto Police has left students in programs like ECE and nursing stranded. Vulnerable sector verifications, which screen applicants for past criminal offences and pardoned sexual offence convictions, are required by health and childcare agencies for placements, and students need to complete enough hours in the field in order to be able to pass their courses.
“It takes way too long,” said Zubida Mohamed, a second-year nursing student. “If you miss your placement for two weeks in three weeks then you’re out. Your semester is wasted.”
According to Const. Tonyo Vella from Toronto Police Services, the hold up is caused by a new RCMP process implemented four months ago.
Previously, the criminal database was only checked for a close match to the surname and date of birth of applicants. If this doesn’t bring up a hit, the new system now checks for matches to the sex and birthdate of the applicant only. If there’s a match, finger prints have to be sent to the RCMP.
“The reason behind that is because some provinces don’t link previous criminal records to a name change,” said Marc LaPorte, a spokesperson for RCMP Ontario. “It’s a more rigorous check.”
But students are worried the longer process could affect their ability to get a placement.
“I’m just really relying on the school and trusting they’re going to find a plan for us,” said first-year ECE student Zyrelle Endozo.
Vella said the wait time is now down to about seven weeks, but could take longer if fingerprints are required. He said Toronto Police Services is working to move the process ahead faster, emailing electronic fingerprints instead of sending them by mail.
According to Patricia Reto, field education coordinator at the school of ECE, courses that involve placements require students to be on location about eight hours a day for 22 days.
“We don’t have allowances for make-up days,” she said. If a student misses a day at their placement, they have to make it up on their own time.
Barb Pimento, first-year ECE coordinator for Ryerson-George Brown students, said the school only became aware of the problem in September and is working to make accommodations.
The school sent out a letter to childcare agencies asking them to accept students’ proof of application for a police check along with a police declaration signed by the students stating they don’t have a criminal record.
“They’re not left alone with children,” she added. “It’s not like we’re putting children and families at risk.”
Some students are worried that they won’t be able to complete their course requirements on time and will have to stay in school longer.
Pimento said the backlog mostly affects first-year students. Most other students have police checks from the year before which the agencies will generally except, even if they are expired.
At least one upper-year student had to postpone their placement until the spring.
Photo: Lauren Strapagiel