Child abuse prevention in youth sports is a topic that we address in every National Alliance for Youth Sports training for parents, coaches and volunteer administrators. In the Academy for Youth Sports Administrators we use a simple theme when we discuss child abuse prevention with professional administrators: the more we do to protect young athletes, the thicker the shield that protects the athletes and participants.
A story has come out about a Salvation Army youth basketball coach in Minnesota who has been accused of sexual child abuse. We hear about these types of stories far too often these days – and there were a few things that resonated with me about this particular case.
First, I commend the Salvation Army for taking swift action once the case was brought to their attention as they looped in law enforcement immediately to investigate (including the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children).
Second, they are applauded for having policies in place to screen all volunteers and staff, as well as providing child abuse prevention trainings.
So, how does something like this happen in an organization that has obviously taken many steps to create a thick shield?
Unfortunately, it can happen anywhere, at any time. The individual accused in this particular case had no criminal history. He had been a part of various local youth sports organizations for more than a decade. He had gained the trust and respect of many young athletes and their families. Cases like this often don’t come to light until after a victim steps forward.
So what does that mean for the rest of us?
Organizations must take a pro-active approach to the prevention of child abuse. This includes setting policies that mandate training, screening, evaluation and accountability.
It also means we need to talk about this issue. Parents and coaches should be aware of the signs of abuse to help ensure that abusive and inappropriate behaviors have no place in the program. National Youth Sports Coaches Association members and Parents Association for Youth Sports members have access to these types of resources in their member areas. Sexual abuse prevention is covered, as well as the topics of physical, emotional and verbal abuse.
Our children need to be equipped with information about what interactions are appropriate and what are not. Kids need to be empowered to tell us if something is happening to them. While this is not an easy task, it is an essential part of creating that thick shield.
Finally, we have to react swiftly and immediately in the event of an incident. It’s our obligation to protect the children in our programs!
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.
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