Quite frankly, sexual predators are more cunning than most of the rest of us – not necessarily smarter, but more capable of exploiting protocols, convincing others that their reasons for wanting to work at the YMCA are appropriate, and looking like an ideal staff member. While we can’t stop them from their sinister addiction to children, we can make the YMCA a difficult place for them to work or play. They do not want to be caught, so building aggressive, highly visible policies to protect your children will cause predators to seek employment or access elsewhere. Keeping them away helps to keep the children in your care safe from those who desire to harm them, at least while they are with you.
The following paragraphs provide an overview of what can be done to proactively address the risk sexual predators pose to your operation. A primal fear of most YMCA executives is that a child might be abused in their program – to first learn from a front page news article or TV news flash that one of their staff has been arrested for abusing a child or children, or that a predator has gained access to children through his or her facility would be especially devastating. Please refer to the various sources cited herein, your Redwoods’ risk manager, and other child abuse prevention experts for further information that can aid in keeping children safe.
Vigorous hiring protocols and staff training are the first line of defense against a sexual predator working for or accessing a YMCA. Reference checks of prior employers and a criminal background check are insufficient to keep your kids safe. Consider also your employment and volunteer applications. Do they make it clear that you take child abuse prevention seriously? Consider augmenting your applications by including a zero tolerance statement regarding child abuse. Have applicants sign a statement that avows they are not and have never been a child abuser. An individual who is seeking to gain access to children will not want to work at a place that puts those policies front and center on the job application. See RMT- Protect Children Through Hiring Practices for more detailed information on this topic.
Managing your environment – Guaranteeing an absolutely safe space is impossible – there are too many variables, of which people are the most erratic and unpredictable. However, to the extent possible you should:
News media coverage has recently exposed several individuals who have been arrested for using computers and the internet to do harm to children. In the majority of cases the individual was found to have child pornography on his personal computer; some had porn on the work computers as well. Your YMCA should establish a policy and practice where the internet history of each YMCA computer is periodically checked. The deletion of that history record is a red flag requiring further investigation. You have the right to stipulate sites that may not be visited using YMCA hardware. Implementing an aggressive computer monitoring program may identify staff members who have visited inappropriate sites, but more importantly, it shows that you are very serious about preventing any behavior that may lead to or indicate potential abuse of children.
Remember to reinforce your no contact outside of YMCA programs rule as it relates to texting and social media websites. For more information on computer, telephone, and social media policies please see RMA–Electronic Communication Policy and RMA–Social Media Guidelines.
Review your abuse prevention code of conduct with staff regularly.
Educate both kids and parents of kids in your programs with the rules your staff are expected to follow. Include someone to contact (name, phone number, and email – preferably one of each gender) if their child ever tells them about something that violates a YMCA rule. Share the documents that are provided to the kids’ parents with your staff so they will understand what information the kids and parents have received about required staff behavior. Child abuse usually takes place away from the program – make sure staff and parents clearly understand your babysitting and outside contact policies. You should also encourage them to view the Darkness to Light abuse prevention training for everyone in the community. See also RMA – Abuse Prevention Information for Parents and Y Child Safe Environment brochure.
We all learned years ago from Smokey the Bear that “only you can prevent forest fires.” Take that same attitude with your YMCA – only you can prevent child abuse. Build vigorous policies, monitor behavior, and enlist everyone’s help. Be alert and stop inappropriate behavior when it is first observed. Soon you will make your YMCA a scary place for a pedophile to work or visit and you will have created a safe haven for the kids you serve.
Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about YMCA risk management issues.