Implementing an Abuse/Molestation Risk Management Program for Sports Organizations

(For administrators only)

By John M. Sadler

Introduction

This training content is directed towards directors, officers, and other administrators of sports organizations who are interested in implementing an effective Risk management for sports organizationschild abuse abuse and other misconduct 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.

The Safe Sport Act, which became federal law in 2018 is a game changer as it requires more than the traditional response of just running criminal background checks.  The Safe Sport Act applies either directly or indirectly to every youth sports program and it ups the level of protection by addressing mandatory reporting requirements, written prevention policies, and awareness training for both adult staff and minor participants.

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.  And this is one of the driving factors behind the Safe Sport Act.  

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.

4-Step Strategy for Dealing with Abuse/Molestation

  1. 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.
  2. Provide awareness training for adult staff and minors: Offer training for your adult staff and minor participants on identifying and preventing the various types of child abuse and the tactics that are used by child predators.
  3. Implement policies and procedures to make an incident less likely: For example, prohibit a single adult from being alone with a single, unrelated child.  The key is preventing grooming behavior.
  4. Respond to suspicions 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 Criminal Background Check Vendorsdevelop 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 Safe Sport Child Abuse and Other Misconduct Risk Management Plan 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.  This application should include a question about past convictions and pending charges.

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 Safe Sport Child Abuse and Other Misconduct Risk Management Plan 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 best 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. BackgroundCheck1

The costs of a criminal background check can range from $5.00 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.  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:

Awareness Training for Adult Staff and Minors

You should provide awareness training to all adult staff and minor participants.  This training keys in on the various definitions of abuse and other misconduct , 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 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.

 

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 Coach abuseincluding 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 within 24 hours. 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 federal and state law to report suspicions of child abuse 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.

Conclusion

Our Safe Sport Child Abuse and Other Misconduct Risk Management Plan includes all the information you need to run criminal background checks and to comply with the Safe Sport Act.

Your youth are depending on you to make the right decisions to protect them.