Implementing an Abuse/Molestation Risk Management Program for Sports Organizations
(For administrators only) Video link
By John M. Sadler
This training content is directed towards directors, officers, and other administrators of sports organizations who are interested in implementing an effective abuse/molestation risk management program with the least amount of effort and expense.
Sexual abuse and molestation is a huge problem in both youth sports organizations and their General Liability insurance carriers. Almost every community has had instances where child sexual predators have been arrested and successfully prosecuted. The victims often file civil lawsuits against sports organizations and their directors and officers for failure to screen out staff with a past criminal background. Even worse, the administrators, such as directors and officers, may have personal liability, which means that their personal assets are on the chopping block.
Many of our insurance clients want to jump right in and start running criminal background checks on their staff. However, they don’t realize that they’re setting themselves up for potential lawsuits if they don’t first establish the administrative rules and procedures that they’re going to follow.
Many also make the mistake of thinking that running background checks is all they need to do to protect their youth. This is a fallacy because it’s thought that most child predators don’t have a criminal background in the first place. Therefore, you need to take additional steps to protect your youth against the predators who don’t have a criminal background.
Throughout the training we’ve provided links to all the sample forms, articles and instruction videos. You can find them all on the risk management page of our website.
The term staff refers either your employee or volunteer workers including coaches, managers, umpires, referees, concession workers, field maintenance workers, and so forth. Administrators refers to directors, officers, or other personnel who plan, manage, and supervise your overall operations.
5-Step Strategy for Dealing with Abuse/Molestation
- Set up administrative procedures and run background checks: The minimum level of due diligence required by case law and possibly your general liability insurance carrier is to set up your administrative procedures and run background checks on all staff with repeated access to youth.
- Provide awareness training for administrators and staff: Offer training for your administrators and staff on identifying the various types of abuse and molestation and the tactics that are used by child predators.
- Provide awareness training for parents/guardians: See our parent guide.
- Implement policies and procedures to make an incident less likely: For example, prohibit a single adult from being alone with a single, unrelated child.
- Respond to incidents and policy violations of your policies and rules.
Setting Up Administrative Procedures and Running Background Checks
Before running your first criminal background check you’ll need to develop your administrative procedures in order to avoid problems and potential liability. You’ll want to appoint a “conduct official” who will be responsible for all staff screening to help assure that confidentiality of information is maintained. Release of confidential information can result in a slander lawsuit.
You also need to make sure that you have written disqualification criteria. Our sample child abuse/molestation risk management program includes suggested disqualification criteria for your consideration. This is critical because it will protect against a disqualified staff member filing a lawsuit claiming that they were treated differently than another staff member with a criminal background who was not disqualified.
You’ll also need to have a volunteer application form where the applicant grants permission for the criminal background check to be run. Because the law is constantly changing with regard to the types of questions that are legal on application forms, we recommend that you use the form that has been approved by your criminal background check vendor.
It is also essential that your background check vendor assists you in interpreting the adverse results against your disqualification criteria and provides assistance in compliance with Fair Credit Reporting Act and First Offender Act and similar state laws protecting the rights of applicants.
In addition, you should have a written process to handle appeals. Our sample Child Abuse/Molestation Risk Management Program or a similar program may be used to document your administrative policies and procedures.
Case law in most states has established that sports organizations must run background checks on all staff who have access to youth and must disqualify those who may be unfit. The simplest and least expensive way to run a background check is by accessing your state’s sexual offender registry on the Internet. This should be supplemented by running a national sexual offender registry check through the National Sex Offender Public Website. The advantages to this approach are that access is free in most states, running the check does not require the permission of the staff member, the results are immediate, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act and related administrative burdens don’t apply. However, the disadvantages are that the registry only reveals sex crimes but not other criminal offenses, there is no social security number verification to detect the use of an alias, and the websites may not be frequently updated. We don’t recommend this approach as it is not thorough enough.
The better way to protect all parties is to run a criminal background check through a third party vendor. Unlike a sexual offender registry check, a criminal background check will reveal all crimes that a sports organization may want to take into account in the disqualification process.
The costs of a criminal background check can range from $2.00 to $30.00 or even higher depending on the quality of the background check and the services offered by the vendor. Criminal background checks usually include a social security or similar verification to protect against the use of an alias and can cover databases in all states. The more thorough ones include single county courthouse checks by a researcher who visits the courthouse. The disadvantages are that permission must be obtained from the staff member prior to running the check and there can be administrative burdens such as complying with the Fair Credit Reporting Act before an adverse action is taken against a staff member. Even though running criminal background checks through third party vendors can create liability if not administered properly, the liability for failure to run criminal background checks is far greater.
We have the following excellent resources in our risk management library that can help in the selection of a criminal background check vendor:
- Types of Criminal Background Checks
- Criminal Background Check Vendors
- Does Your Criminal Background Check Provider Measure Up?
Awareness Training for Administrators/Staff and Parents
You should provide awareness training to all administrators and staff. We provide Child AbuseMolestation Awareness Training for Sports Organizations. This training keys in on the various definitions of abuse and molestation, the warning signs, common grooming tactics of sexual predators, policies and procedures that can make an incident less likely to occur, such as a buddy system and prohibiting overnight sleepovers, as well as how to respond to a suspected incident . Once your administrators and staff are aware of the strategies, it’s much easier for them to identify those who are engaging in questionable behavior and to create a hostile environment that will run the predators out of your program.
You should also provide awareness training for parents by requiring them to view the Parents’ Guide To Child Abuse/Molestation Risk Management Program. This training explains the definitions and examples of abuse/molestation, policies and procedures that can make an incident less likely to occur, what to do in the event of an allegation, and the importance of background checks. Parental vigilance is of critical importance in the entire process. The training content on this web page can be customized on a separate document to meet the needs of a particular sports organization.
Policies And Procedures to Make an Incident Less Likely to Occur
- Adopt a statement that all forms of physical, mental, verbal, and sexual abuse of any sports program participant are prohibited.
- A staff member should never be alone with a single, unrelated child where they can’t be observed by others.
- A buddy system should be used where two adults are required to be present at all activities.
- Staff should avoid inappropriate touch of a child. Touches should be limited to head and shoulders when appropriate unless otherwise required to supervise or demonstrate a sport specific technique or training exercise.
- Staff should avoid socialization with participants outside of official activities.
- Communications involving profanity, vulgarity, or sexual content should be prohibited.
- Specific start and end times for practice should be communicated along with a no tolerance policy for late pick-ups by parents.
- The distribution of personal information should be limited so that predators will be denied the vital information that would assist in tracking the location of a child or in starting a conversation. Examples of personal information, in addition to the name of the child, would be address, phone, and email. You should limit the distribution of this personal information to those in the organization on a need-to-know basis. You should also limit the distribution of rosters and avoid posting this information on websites that are not password protected. Many organizations also prohibit the printing of athlete names on uniforms.
- Prohibit athlete-on-athlete hazing and initiation rituals.
- All administrators and staff should be required to report all suspected cases of abuse or molestation to law enforcement.
Dealing With Incidents And Policy Violations
Instruct all administrators, staff and parents to report all concerns, complaints, allegations, and policy violations to the conduct official. If the conduct official is the alleged abuser, the report should be made to the organization’s president. The conduct official should immediately perform an investigation with the results brought to the attention of the board of directors. The investigation should include a gathering of all pertinent facts in a fair, respectful, and confidential manner including an interview with both the accuser and accused.
After the investigation, the conduct official should determine if the alleged acts were appropriate but unappreciated; inappropriate but not illegal, or illegal. If the conduct official has reasonable cause to believe that abuse has occurred, law enforcement must be notified immediately. At that point, the conduct official must immediately cease investigation and let law enforcement do its job. The suspected staff member should be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. The conduct official and other staff members may be required by state law to report suspected cases of child abuse/molestation and may have criminal and civil liability for failure to do so. All persons reporting suspected cases will be given immunity from civil lawsuits if acting in good faith.
Short of an illegal act, the board must decide the appropriate action and can perform additional follow-up investigation. Depending on the nature of the act, the board may decide to give an oral or written reprimand, suspend, or terminate the staff member. It’s important to note that employees have more rights than volunteers under the law and you should consult with your attorney before taking action against an employee.
Our website provides all of the tools that you need to get started and to complete the project including a sample abuse/molestation risk management program, an awareness training program, articles on the pros and cons of the different types of background checks, and suggested background check vendors.
Your youth are depending on you to make the right decisions to protect them.