Saturday, January 14, 2012

3 Recommendations for Running Coach and Volunteer Background Checks in Youth Sports

No child should ever have to suffer from sexual abuse, especially while participating in a sports organization that is supposed to be about having fun, making friends and learning new things. While it takes a continued and dedicated effort from sports organizations, coaches, parents, volunteers and the rest of the community at large to protect youth athletes from sexual abuse, volunteer background checks can stop a lot of would-be predators from ever entering a youth sports organization. Here are a few things to consider:

1. All adult volunteers must complete a background check prior to working with any youth sports organization, including criminal history and sex offender registry checks. This includes anyone that might work for the league such as a coach, official, groundskeeper and so forth. Anyone who might have any contact (or opportunity to interact) with the children should be required to complete a background check, no matter how unlikely it seems that they would be a predator. The youth league is ultimately responsible for who is allowed into the organization and it's much better to be extra strict on making sure everyone passes a background check than risk letting even one potential predator slip through the cracks.

2. It's important that the league determines what offenses that could appear during a background check would automatically disqualify a volunteer from being allowed to join the organization. While someone with a history of abuse or violence is easy to disqualify, should people with DUIs on their records be allowed to volunteer? The league needs to decide that. Look at things in black and white; when everyone knows where the line in the sand is it's much easier to create a safe environment for youth athletes. No one should be exempt from this "no go" list, no matter what their qualifications may be.

3. Fingerprint-based screening is often considered the "gold standard" of background checks; however it is not permitted in some states and can be too expensive for many sports organizations to implement even if they do have legal access to it. While the laws from state to state may vary, each organization should make use of the most comprehensive screening available. Keep in mind that different states may have different information on the same person. Someone volunteering in California might have a criminal past in Pennsylvania, but that information might show up in the California state check.

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