It is every parent's nightmare that their child will be the victim of a sexual predator while participating in youth sports. This has become a very high profile issue in sports as well as in other segments of society. Unfortunately, sexual abuse of young players occurs in team sports as well as in individual sports, girls and, as the Penn State scandal highlighted, boys as well.
Background Checks: A Powerful Tool
All adults involved in youth sports over the age of seventeen, including volunteers and paid employees, should pass an annual background check, with no "grandfathering" or exceptions.
So how can you as a coach, parent, or league administrator ensure that the background checks are being administered the correct way?
Background checks are effective in the sense that most sexual predators are not willing to have their backgrounds checked. The hope is that the adults who should be around kids will not apply and thus they will be able to weed out potentially harmful people.
The problem with some background checks is that they don't screen for criminal convictions outside of the individuals state of residence. There have been some startling reports that disclose that nearly half of the more than 6,880 criminal convictions found among more than 57,000 background screens were for individuals applying outside the state where they lived. It is therefore important that the service your league uses undertakes a comprehensive national search utilizing multiple criminal record sources, including:
- fugitive files
- state and county criminal record repositories; and
- prison, parole and release files from state departments of Corrections, Administrative Office of Courts, and other state agencies.
Another potential problem with background screening is that many non-profit organizations do not compensate boards and directors, and very few grounds crew, coaches and other adult members earn a salary or a stipend, which technically exempts those adults from background checks. When requiring background checks, the use of the word "volunteer" may be unintentionally providing some individuals a loophole to avoid being screened. The most comprehensive way to conduct background checks is to require them for everyone over the age of 17 working with or in the vicinity of children.
As a parent it is appropriate to ask administrators of your sports league if they have done background checks on all adults involved in their program. If the answer is yes, and they are able to point to the system and who is in charge of the system utilized, then you know the foundation for safety has been established and the league understands the importance of the issue.
If the answer is no, then you may want to help the administration find a company to perform this important service for the league. One such service is the National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI).
Another avenue for you to explore is whether your town or city is working with the local police department to provide fingerprinting and background checks of all individuals working with children. It is in the best interest of all municipalities to conduct extensive checks on the people who are using their facilities (parks, rinks, courts, pools, etc)-including the recreational staff.
What do you think of the company that provides background checks for your organization? Are they good, bad, or only so-so? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org so I can post a list of recommended providers or ones to avoid.
Brooke de Lench is Executive Director of the non-profit MomsTEAM Youth Sports Safety Institute, Founder and Publisher of MomsTeam.com, and the author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins), now available for the Kindle at Amazon.com.