An article in this week's Baltimore Sun says Baltimore County is the only jurisdiction in the region that does not require background checks for coaches and other adults who volunteer for youth sports. Since I live in Baltimore County, have a son who plays baseball here, and I now work for a background investigations firm… I have to ask… what gives?
More than a decade ago, a volunteer was convicted of abusing a 12-year –old boy he met through one of the area’s recreation centers. It turns out, the man had been charged with abuse 8 years before, but no one was the wiser since he was allowed to walk out on that field without anyone looking into his history.
Ever since Jerry Sandusky made headlines for unthinkable abuse of kids at Penn State, there have been efforts to make background checks mandatory for coaches and volunteers, but progress is slow. The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation has focused energy on preventing sexual abuse in sports. Part of their effort is aimed at trying to make background checks more affordable.
Baltimore County Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins is sponsoring legislation that would require a background check on anyone working with children as a coach or volunteer. The bill is not making much headway. Opponents are trying to delay the vote, claiming it's too expensive.
When I went to EBI's Chief Knowledge Officer, Bob Capwell, about this, he basically said it's unthinkable for a government to leave this kind of thing up to chance. Capwell says, "How do you even weigh the costs of conducting background checks against the safety of our children? Many pedophiles seek volunteer positions that don't require background checks as an opportunity to slip under the radar. It's like providing an open invitation to a sexual predator."
That said, it can cost between $30-$40 dollars every year to run a background check on a volunteer. When you have 30,000 volunteers in the county, that kind of money can be hard to come by.
So what do you do? Well, you don’t put your head in the sand like Baltimore County seems to be doing.
Capwell says there are other ways to handle the cost. "A way of deferring cost would be to have volunteers pay for a portion of the background check. Volunteers, especially parents, are more willing to pay a nominal fee to have a background check run with the peace of mind that other volunteers with access to their children have done the same."
Right now, the county’s "parent's code of conduct" explains that the county doesn't do background checks because experts say parental involvement is a more effective means of protecting children. As I mentioned before, I am one of those parents, and while I am all for parental involvement, I didn't even notice that disclosure.
So what do we do? I guess being aware of these shortfalls is our best weapon. I know I’ll be paying much closer attention from now on. Wherever you live, it might not be a bad idea to investigate and to find out exactly how much you can trust the people coaching your athletes… and how much trust you can place in the people hiring them.
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