We saw this article on About.com written by Robin McClure and thought it was highly relevant. The advice in the article is sound and can be applied to many things besides coaching. Recently there was a case reported in Easton, Connecticut regarding a teenage babysitter abusing the 2 girls he was watching. You might not be able to run a background check on a minor; however, other advice in the article below like stopping in unexpectedly and talking to your children can be helpful in protecting them. Unfortunately, sexual predators are highly skilled in fooling even the most suspicious parents. Could a sexual offender be coaching or working with your kid? It’s possible, and often parents don’t ask enough questions before signing their kid up to participation in sports or other activity whether background checks are done. Many adults blindly trust their child’s coach, adult leader, or community volunteer, somehow thinking that anyone who would volunteer their time to work with kids must be a “good guy.” Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. While more and more organizations are requiring a background check before an adult can coach/supervise a kid, that’s not always the case. The reason? Background checks cost money and require someone to administer the checks, and organizations may not have funds available. Some groups even require the individuals who are interested in coaching to pay for the background checks themselves, but when parent volunteers and coaches are sometimes hard to find, that can make finding people who agree to take on the task even more difficult.
What should parents do? Before signing your child up for any type of sports, adult-led activity or even being left in day camp (and yes, even church), ask whether the group conducts fingerprint-based criminal history or other type of background check. If they do, find out whether it is a state or national check, and what criteria is used. Ask questions like is the check for just the coach or for anyone in the organization who may have one-on-one access to a child? Ask for details surrounding any team travels or dressing or showering routines. Check whether parents always have access and ability to personal dress or room with their child. If a group you really wish to participate in doesn’t conduct background checks, ask why and see if you can help get it started. The Volunteers for Children Act, signed into law in 1988, helps keep persons with “relevant criminal records” from having access to minors. In addition, child experts recommend that parents not mix the role of a coach or leader with other family activities, such as using the individual as a babysitter, allowing one-on-one activities, or a child to develop a close relationship outside of practices/games or group activities. Be particularly wary of any adult authority who seems to single out your child as “special” or talented, and may even give gifts or other tokens of affection to particular children only. Also, if your child is old enough to participate in a group or team activity, then it is time to “have the talk” with your youngster about inappropriate touching or conversations, and that he/she is to come to you if there is a feeling that any lines have been crossed. If possible, volunteer to be a team mom or dad, assist with activities, or otherwise become actively involved yourself so you can be a first-hand participant. And, yes, that should mean that you yourself should have a background check conducted as well, so other parents feel equally comfortable with you!