4 Reasons Why Background Checks Get More Credit Than They Deserve

If I had a nickel for every time I was told, very proudly and boldy, “We do background checks” when I signed up my kids for a sports team, summer camp or afterschool program…

Well, I’d have a whole lot of nickels.

You see, background checks get a lot more credit than they deserve.

Why, you ask? I have 4 good answers, but the most important one is: 

A background check reveals only when a person has been convicted of a crime. Not arrested for a crime and not when there is a plea bargain. (BTW, plea bargains happen quite a lot in child sexual abuse cases to prevent the child from having to testify in front of their abuser.)

Think for just a minute how many child predators actually get caught. Then think about how often there is enough evidence to arrest a person; and charge them; and then convict them.

Additionally, an individual could be arrested multiple times, but if they are never convicted, their background check comes back squeaky clean.

Reasons #2, #3, and #4 that background checks are too heavily relied upon: Background checks are not created equally. For example, does the background check…

flag felonies and misdemeanors? Or just felonies?

search a national data base? Or just state or county records?

flag convictions other than crimes against children? Domestic violence? Indecent exposure?

So, do I think background checks are useless?  Absolutely not. They are a very important part of the hiring process. They just shouldn’t be the entire hiring process. 

Youth serving organizations need to research and be very intentional about what level of background check they are using with their candidates, and parents need to be informed what exactly is searched and what is not.

Background checks are a very important data point, but they are most effective as one data point in a comprehensive hiring process.

Next time you sign up your child for an activity, be sure to ask about their child protection policies and when they proudly and boldly answer, “We do background checks!” you can now ask them what kind.

 And your child will be safer for it.

Power Structure of Child Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports

Jerry Sandusky (American Football). Larry Nassar (Gymnastics). Andy King (Swimming). Graham James (Hockey). Greg Stephen (Basketball). Conrad Avondale Mainwaring (Track & Field). And then, of course the more than 80 British Football coaches convicted in 2016.

Their victims were boys and girls, recreational and elite athletes, young children and college students.

My point? My point is…There is not one single sports team in the world that has the luxury of claiming child sexual abuse isn’t a real risk in their organization.  Not one.

Which means, there is not one single sports team in the world that shouldn’t have Athlete Protection Policies & Procedures and Child Sexual Abuse Prevention & Response Training that are research-informed and based on best-practices.  Not one. And because I tend to repeat myself in 3s (just ask my kids), I’ll say it again…Not one.

Here is what we know:

» 1 in 10 children are sexually abused by their 18th birthday, and

» 90 percent of those kids are abused by someone they KNOW, LOVE, TRUST.

Here is what we also know:

The vast majority of youth sports coaches are good and decent people who are coaching our kids for all the right reasons.  But sadly, we also know that not all are.

ACCESS

Coaches have unique access to their young athletes outside of competition.

Think of all the ways coaches build rapport and camaraderie within a team that could avail them private and uninterruptible access to the youth. Sleepovers? Camping trips?

Think about how many working parents need the coach to help drive their kiddo to/from practice, giving them private and uninterruptible access to the youth.

Think about the overnight travel games and tournaments that parents can’t attend, where private and uninterruptible access to the youth is pretty easy to create.

You get the idea.

TRICKERY

It is not uncommon for coaches to abuse their athletes under the guise of coaching or treatment, so many young athletes may feel very uncomfortable with certain coaching techniques or treatments, but they may not realize until much later that it is, in fact, abuse.

POWER

But what keeps the youth athlete from stopping or telling someone about the abuse? In addition to all the reasons we outlined in my last blog on why children don’t disclose abuse, a coach with ill-intent can naturally develop a power structure with an athlete that easily allows for ongoing abuse.

Kids learn in their pee-wee leagues to ‘listen to their Coach’ and ‘do what your Coach asks you to do.’  Right?

Who determines how much playing time an athlete gets? Yup…Coach.

As young athletes progress into elite athletes, who is most integral to college recruiting and college scholarships?  Yup…Coach.

You get the idea.

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

Let’s actually start with what this does not mean. It does not mean we stop trusting every coach working with our kids.  It does not mean you pull your kids from youth sports programs.  And, it does not mean you have to hire a security guard to observe all your coaches’ interactions with your athletes.

As an Amateur Youth Sports Organization, this means that you consider all this as you hire, onboard and train your coaches; develop your organization’s policies & procedures; and build your organization’s culture.

As the Parent of an athlete, this means you ask the sports organizations that your kids are a involved with:

  1. What are their hiring practices?
  2. What are their athlete protection policies & procedures?  
  3. What kind of child sexual abuse prevention & response training do they provide their coaches? And,
  4. Is that training research-informed and mandatory?

Look…you (youth sports administrators and parents) talk about this stuff as it relates to concussions. Why is this any different?

It’s not.

We need to move past our discomfort and get this right.

Please let me know if I can help your organization develop Athlete Protection Policies & Procedures and provide Child Sexual Abuse Prevention & Response Training that are research-informed, based on best-practices, and most importantly…can minimize the risk of abuse within your organization.