Posts Tagged ‘Volunteer Management’

Cheer Coach Arrest Again Illustrates Limitations of Criminal Background Checks

Written by PC News on . Posted in Coaches, Molestation, Volunteer Management, Volunteer Screening

A Dallas area cheer and dance coach was arrested while attempting to board a flight for France on charges of molesting three of his students. (Full Story Here).  A variety of stories are posted on the internet that detail various aspects of the case.  These articles paint a picture that is far too familiar.  Moreover, the articles and the comments of the police highlight a growing myth in risk management that frankly is reaching the point of creating as much or more risk to the participants than it prevents.  The issue again, is the over-reliance on background checks, and the myth that conducting a background check somehow absolves the association of the need to do anything further.

Let’s be clear.  Criminal background checks are a good thing.  They serve a purpose as one part of a risk management plan.  However, they are simply that.  One part.  Let’s remember that criminal background checks have very clear limitations:

  • They only detect people who have previous criminal convictions.  Since a NIMH study reported that the average child molester begins molesting by age 15, engages in a variety of deviant behavior, and molests an average of 117 youngsters, most of whom do not report the offense, it is clear that much abuse takes place well before the initial arrest or conviction of an offender.  Those people will not be caught by a criminal background check.
  • There is no national database for criminal background checks available to private parties.
  • Each state has different standards for what offenses are reported to their state database.
  • Many background checks screen by how recent and how serious the offenses are.  Older, minor offenses may not cause a background screen to return with a red flag.
  • Most background checks will not detect civil actions such as lawsuits or restraining orders.

Yet despite these known shortcomings of background checks, the police in this case still made the extraordinary statement that “”[t]he gym did the background checks. They did everything they needed to do to ensure to themselves and to the parents and the children that it was a safe environment to be.”  But the reports received to date suggest that there were many red flags that a good risk management program would address.  Let’s look at some of the reported facts:

  • The coach had worked for three gyms in a short period of time.
  • The coach was fired from one gym for inappropriate communication.
  • The coach had pictures of himself shirtless with young girls in bikini type clothing on his publicly viewable social media page.
  • The coach was known to offer private lessons to some girls.
  • At least one gymnast reported that he was “creepy” and made her feel “uncomfortable.”

Even setting aside the subjective feelings of a young gymnast, how many issues are identified that a good risk management program addresses?  The private lessons are extra-organizational contact, time with students away from the supervised environment of the gym.  Why was this permitted by the gym?  Did the screening include looking at his social media pages, which showed him shirtless with young girls in non-gym settings?  What type of reference checking was done between the three gyms he worked at, or was he considered a “prize catch” who might bring new students/customers with him, so checking with a competitor was not considered?  Who did the gym that fired him for inappropriate communication report that to?  Child protection?  Police?  A sanctioning body?  Or did they just let him go on his way?  The inappropriate communication was via text message.  Were there no policies prohibiting the coaching staff from texting minor children?

And I have one simple question: Other than running a criminal background check, what was your risk management plan?  Far too often, the answer is nothing.  So, finally, can we please stop pretending that running a criminal background check is “doing everything”  that can be done.  It is doing one small part; but it is not addressing the far greater risks that are out there.  And that is the danger of the criminal background check.  People see it as a cure-all or a get out of jail free card.  What it ought to be seen as is one piece of a jigsaw puzzle.  And if you only place the one piece, not only are you not finished, you have barely started.

Volunteer Management: AAU Sued Over Coach Molestation Claims

Written by PC News on . Posted in Coaches, Molestation, Volunteer Management, Volunteer Screening

A local AAU association, along with the national organization, has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by victims of a coach who is currently serving a life sentence for child molestation.  (Read Full Story Here).  The suit alleges that the coach engaged in “open and notorious” sexualized grooming of his young male players, and that nobody associated with the AAU did anything to stop it.  In addition to suing the AAU groups, the suit has named the coach’s ex-wife, a school district alleged to be affiliated with the AAU team, and the principal of the high school the players attended.  Among the allegations in the suit are claims that while in the coach’s home, the coach “would grab the plaintiff’s genitals and make inappropriate sexual comments about the plaintiff.”

This suit, of course, touches on many of the issues of volunteer management.  Clearly, there is extra-organizational contact if the player is in the coach’s home.  The suit alleges open and notorious conduct that was not acted on.  (There are no details of whether any allegations were brought to the attention of either AAU organization.)  In the underlying criminal trial, allegations were made that the abuse began on an out of town trip.  This raises questions of whether travel policies existed or were enforced.  The coach was also a volunteer youth football, baseball and soccer coach.  At that time, the youth organizations noted that the coach had passed the background checks.  This again affirms the importance of a volunteer management program that relies on more than background checks to monitor volunteers in contact positions with players.

It is sadly telling that so many stories of arrests of youth coaches are followed by what seems to be a standard response that the coach passed a background check.  Background checks are of extremely limited utility in preventing child abuse.  First, background checks are not full or complete — there is no national criminal database that non-governmental organizations have access to.  A background check relies on public records databases.  How complete and up to date these databases are varies by jurisdiction.  Second, background checks will generally only flag people with convictions within the severity and time period of the search parameter.  Predators who have never been charged will not fail a background check.

Background checks serve a limited role.  They should be, at most, a component of a broader screening and management process.  At Placek Consulting we work with local youth clubs to craft customized screening and management policies oriented toward player safety.  If we can assist you in making sure your youth protection policies include both effective volunteer screening and management policies, contact us via our website or at 512-879-1655.

Extra-organizational Contact: Coach Had Daily Sex with Player at His House

Written by PC News on . Posted in Coaches, Molestation, Volunteer Management

A Utah soccer coach has been arrested and charged with rape of a child, sodomy upon a child, aggravated sexual abuse of a child, rape, sodomy and forcible sexual abuse.  (Read full story).  The allegations suggest that the coach was a friend of the player’s family, and that the player would visit the coach in his home.  The sexual contact allegedly began at age 13 and continued until age 17.  The girl finally confided in a relative, leading to the arrest of the coach.  Police were unable to determine if the suspect was still coaching because he refused to be interviewed by investigators and requested an attorney.  He is pictured wearing an AC Milan jersey in his mugshot.  Police are not sure if there are other victims and are actively investigating.

The circumstances described in this story highlight again the need for soccer clubs to craft clear guidelines regarding acceptable contact between coaches and players in setting outside of club activities.  Drafting an extra-organizational contact policy is a careful process that must account for incidental contact, pre-existing relationships between families, and the overriding concern of child protection.  In addition, a policy on extra-organizational contact must be coupled with a clear line for reporting and investigating violations.

It seems unlikely that a four year pattern of visits to the house of a coach would be unknown to anyone other than the participants.  However, if nobody knew of a prohibition or a way to report their suspicions, knowledge that could have prevented or minimized the extent of the abuse could have gone to waste.  Creating extra-organizational contact policies are as important as two adult policies and social media/e-communications policies.  At Placek Consulting, we can design a policy customized to the structure of your organization.  Contact us through the website or at 512-879-1655 for assistance.