Saturday, November 19, 2011

Responding to the Penn State Horror

Last week, the horrific Penn State sexual abuse scandal dominated the U.S. news cycle. This week, a similar scandal broke on the Syracuse University campus. Who the hell knows what other scandals will come to light as additional victims, emboldened by these revelations, decide to come forward? Part of me fears that these scandals are not confined to these two institutions.

Shortly after graduating from college, I started volunteering as a coach for a children's athletic program. The program is a multi-sport endeavor, the kids participate in a variety of athletic activities. In all my years of involvement in the program, there hasn't been the faintest hint of any inappropriate behavior on the part of any of the coaches or administrators. That being said, the director of the program came around to all of the coaches and informed us that, because of the heinousness of the Penn State crimes, that we would be taking measures to minimize any chance that anything like it would happen with us. In a strictly CYA move, all of the coaches in the program would be subject to a background check. I've got no problem with this- hell, I had to submit to a background check last year, when I worked for the Census Bureau. Of course, a background check would only reveal a problem if an individual happened to be caught, but it's still something demanded in the interest of due diligence.

In all of my years coaching, I've always abided by the simple rule: "Don't be alone in a room with a kid, unless it's your kid." I'd add the corollary: "Don't allow anybody else to be in a room with a kid, unless it's their kid." In our particular system, the kids are grouped according to age, and each group is shepherded around by two or three counselors, high school kids- former participants who have come up "through the ranks" and garnered the job (the counselors are the only paid staff members) through good attendance and dedication over the years. Two of our current counselors have stayed with us while in college, and some of the counselors have passed into the ranks of the coaches over the years. If a kid needs to go to a locker room to get something, there's no need for an adult to accompany them- the counselors are there to act as chaperones. Kid needs to go to the bathroom? Have a counselor escort the kid to the pissoir. No need for an adult to be involved. Hell, I couldn't even begin to fathom why an adult with honorable intentions would seek to be alone with someone else's kid.

Nothing untoward has occurred in the course of our program, but we're still feeling ripples from the Penn State horror. We're going to take steps to minimize the chances of a similar occurrence occurring under our roof, but I'd be lying if I said that things haven't changed.


Glennis said...

It's horrible that suspicion comes to bear on even the most innocuous of situations, but in the long run, if it protects kids, it's okay.

I think the biggest problem with the Penn State situation is that Sandusky's "celebrity" made people who would otherwise be vigilant relax their concerns.

Thank you, BBBB for volunteering to help kids in the face of this heightened scrutiny.

Laura said...

We've been doing the background checks here in Canada for volunteer positions for quite sometime now. What makes me mad is that for each organization I volunteer at, I need a new background check.
I'm still waiting for one so that I can volunteer at my kids school again this year. (this is the first year that I've needed one for that and I've been there for about 10 years.)

I do agree that it's a good idea though. As we have now seen, we can't be too safe. However, as you say, it only protects against those that have been caught.

We, as parents have to be careful. I never just, drop my kids off and come back later. If it's a sports practice, which is mostly what my kids do, either me or my husband stay. And, it's not because I think someone is going to molest my kid. More because I'm interested in what they are doing and learning. If something happens and they get hurt, which has happened a few times, I'm there to take them to the hospital.

I'm not talking about being paranoid, thinking someone is out to hurt our children but.. we as parents have that responsibility to make sure they are safe. For the most part, we have to be present.
Younger children need their parents there. End of story as far as I'm concerned.

And I agree with Aunt Snow. Thank YOU for doing all that you do for kids. It takes a special person to do it. I think that you're one of the good guys. :)


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Hang in there, volunteers. We need the good folks!