Late last year, the Washington, D.C.-based Citizenship Through Sports Alliance, a national coalition of professional and amateur sports organizations, concluded in its inaugural National Youth Sports Report Card that youth sports programs generally have "failed to provide sufficient background checks, training and evaluations for coaches." It was a blunt but fair assessment, says Fred Engh, founder and chief executive officer of the West Palm Beach, Fla.-based National Alliance For Youth Sports.
"It's not really a surprise to hear that many volunteer organizations are having a hard time implementing background checks," Engh says. "Both time and resources are scarce. But we have to remember that children's safety and well-being are at stake, and a balance must be struck to ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect the kids."
Before the CTSA's final report was issued, NAYS had already begun drafting guidelines to help youth sports organizations meet the challenge of implementing background checks. Culling reports from experts with experience in youth sports, background screening and law enforcement, NAYS officials and a group of recreation administrators developed a nine-step process:
1. Have a written screening policy. It should be included in any organization's policies and procedures, and communicated to everyone.
2. Provide job descriptions for every position. Doing so creates boundaries for volunteers, who should be required to read, sign and date the written descriptions.
3. Obtain completed application forms for all positions. Required information should include name, address, references and employers. Insist that every potential volunteer complete a form, regardless of how desperate the organization is for "warm bodies."
4. Obtain a signed and dated consent form. This informs volunteers of investigations into their backgrounds and protects an organization against potential invasion-of-privacy claims by having volunteers authorize the checks.
5. Review references and employer information. This helps determine whether the volunteer possesses the basic necessities for a given position.
6. Interview the applicant. Develop a standard routine to save time and allow for consistency. Don't be afraid to ask tough questions.
7. Conduct a criminal background check. If resources are scarce, ask local lawmakers and law-enforcement officials for help. Also consider fundraising to help pay for background checks.
8. Review procedures and provide continuous oversight of volunteers. Evaluate screening results and determine what makes a particular volunteer undesirable. Document decisions, and periodically evaluate a volunteer's performance.
9. Provide training for all volunteers and hold them accountable. Make volunteers pledge to uphold a code of ethics, and hold them accountable for all actions for as long as they are a part of the organization.
For more details, plus links to state-by-state sexual offender databases, a searchable directory of state legislators, the National Sex Offender Public Registry and an approved list of national background screening companies, visit nays.org.
Facility of the Week
Ithaca College Athletics and Events Center