Ensuring safety at your kid's summer camp may require some extra legwork

Photo: Indrajit Das / (CC BY 4.0) via MGN Online

Do your kids play sports? Are they signed up for athletic camps this summer? If so, you may need to ask some tough questions about the coaches and volunteers they’ll be spending time with.

Research shows sex abuse happens in all sports at all levels, with young athletes pressured into keeping the abuse secret for the sake of protecting the team and winning at all costs.

Background checks are critical when it comes to protecting kids, but if the sport is not a school league, they’re not always done.

Troy Gerber, regional director with Verified Volunteers, helps organizations like as Big Brothers, Big Sisters and The Oregon State Hockey Association screen people who want to work with kids.

Gerber says parents should know the organization’s policy before their child’s first game or practice.

“If you can’t find anything online and they really don’t have anything to share, that should be a red flag to me,” said Gerber. “Many non-profits spend one fifty to three bucks and call it a ‘national criminal background check,’ and that’s just a farce in my opinion.”

In some cases, parents need to do the legwork. That means checking the Justice Department’s national sex offender registry and going to your county courthouse to look into someone’s criminal background.

Gerber says about 10 percent of Americans have a criminal record of some sort, so don’t be surprised if you uncover misdemeanors, including something as serious as a DUI charge.

“One and done, I’m not so concerned about. But career criminals scare me a little bit because they’re not learning and they’re not taking their efforts at rehabilitation very seriously,” he said.

Gerber warns that background checks weed out some people, but they’re not fool-proof, and that’s why parents need to get involved.

“You’d be surprised by how much opportunity is out there for us to serve in organizations, whether it’s 30 minutes at the snack bar or becoming a board member,” Gerber explained.

Parents should also always keep their eyes on interactions at games and practices. If something doesn’t feel right – say something. And make sure your kids know that any abuse, whether it’s verbal, emotional or physical, is not okay; and that some coaches might be in the game for the wrong reasons.

For more resources, check out Safe 4 Athletes.

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