AAU Implements Historic Child Protection Measures to Ensure Safety of Youth Athletes
Measures include background screenings for all coaches, volunteers, staff ~
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Building a new culture in which the “overarching priority” is protecting the well-being of hundreds of thousands of young athletes, the national Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) today released the comprehensive recommendations of two independent task forces and announced aggressive actions to implement those measures.
The steps include requiring that all adults involved in AAU activities – from volunteer coaches to AAU staff – undergo detailed background checks; adopting clear policies and procedures designed to ensure that young athletes are never left alone with individual adults; and requiring all AAU volunteers and staff to report any incidents of suspected child abuse to law enforcement and to officials of the AAU and related sports clubs.
“The new steps the AAU is taking will safeguard children participating in amateur sports across the country, so that we can continue our proud philosophy of ‘Sports for All, Forever,’ ” said national AAU President Louis Stout. “These new steps are not being implemented because we suspect anyone – rather, we must make these changes because we expect everyone to be willing to help us build a deeper trust and culture of safety. “
The AAU, one of the nation’s largest non-profit volunteer sports organizations, is acting assertively to respond to the report from independent task forces it established in December, following reports of suspected child sexual abuse at universities and other institutions around the country. Shortly after assuming leadership of the AAU, President Stout responded to unproven reports of alleged impropriety decades earlier by one of his predecessors. He announced then that the AAU would review and revise its child protection policies to more effectively address threats to youth and better screen adults wishing to participate in AAU programs and events.
In the 31-page report, the task forces – made up of nationally recognized experts in child protection and law enforcement – offered 42 recommendations for changes in AAU policies, procedures and protocols, all designed to make young athletes safer. The recommendations cover six broad subject areas: culture, protocols, screening, participation, training and reporting.
Among the most significant recommendations are:
- Culture: The AAU should establish and foster a culture that clearly and explicitly makes child protection an overarching value and priority. This includes requiring all adult volunteers, staff, parents and other youth to report questionable behavior.
- Protocols: The AAU should adopt clear policies, procedures and protocols to protect children from abuse and exploitation to the fullest extent possible, including policies to prevent adults from being alone with children and eliminating other opportunities for abuse to occur.
- Screening: The AAU should implement significant initial and ongoing screening procedures for all adults who participate in AAU activities to help identify and exclude individuals who may pose a threat to youth participants.
- Participation: Anyone who is prohibited from participating in an organization that serves youth or who violates the AAU’s child protection policies should be barred from participating in AAU activities, even if they have not been convicted of a crime.
- Training: The AAU should educate staff, adult volunteers, parents/guardians, and youth participants on safety protocols, appropriate vs. inappropriate behaviors and other information they need to keep children safe while participating in AAU activities.
- Reporting: All AAU volunteers and staff should be considered mandatory reporters and should be expected to report suspected child abuse to appropriate law enforcement authorities and child abuse hotlines, as well as to AAU authorities.
Shortly after they began their review, the task forces recognized the benefits of working together, resulting in a single report. Serving on the Youth Protection Task Force were Chris Newlin, Executive Director of the National Children’s Advocacy Center; Lauren Book, a childhood sexual abuse survivor, published author and founder of the non-profit organization Lauren’s Kids; and Ron Book, president of Lauren’s Kids Foundation and a specialist in government affairs and administrative law. Members of the Adult/Volunteer Screening Task Force were Tim Moore, the longest-serving Commissioner in the history of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; and Dr. Jim Sewell, a noted author, criminologist and retired Assistant Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Kim Ervin Tucker, a nationally recognized lawyer who has worked in public service for most of her career, coordinated the task forces and assisted in researching and drafting the report.
AAU President Stout said the recommendation likely to have the most immediate impact is the requirement for background screening of AAU staff and of AAU volunteers at the club level. To implement this recommendation, the AAU has contracted with LexisNexis Risk Solutions, a leader in providing essential information that helps customers across all industries and government predict, assess and manage risk. In conjunction with the start of the AAU’s next membership year on September 1, LexisNexis will perform background screenings, upon the AAU’s request, whenever a coach, volunteer or other individual registers for or renews an AAU membership. Almost all AAU memberships will expire and need to be renewed during the registration period, which opens on August 15. Depending on the person, the background check could take just a few minutes or several days to complete.
“Every adult who wants to volunteer or wants to be involved with AAU athletes will be screened,” said James Parker, director of operations for the AAU. “This screening process will be an effective deterrent to keep the bad guys away.”
Added Henry Forrest, Chair of the AAU Compliance Committee: “LexisNexis is one of the most respected background check screening experts in the industry, and we are pleased to have this partnership to provide fast, accurate background checks to protect children.”
Stout and Parker said the AAU is committed to implementing all the task force recommendations, and emphasized that the most significant benefits will come from a change in culture among those who deal with youth athletes. Even the most dedicated adults who have done nothing wrong – and have never contemplated inappropriate behavior – must learn a new way of conducting themselves, Parker said. Coaches, parents and others will have to reorient themselves on the proper way to interact with youth. Task force recommendations include a “no closed door” policy for AAU activities (for example, when a coach disciplines a young athlete); the presence of two adults at all times during AAU-sponsored programs, events and training; and a ban on secluded, one-on-one contact between adults and youth athletes. Special emphasis is placed on travel for AAU competitions.
To ensure that all adults involved in AAU activities are familiar with the guidelines, the organization will develop a manual of materials focusing on child protection. That information will be placed on the AAU website and the membership registration site, and will be distributed through AAU district organizations, national events, coaches meetings and local activities.
A copy of the report’s Executive Summary is attached. The full task force report is available through the AAU website at www.aausports.org.
About the AAU
The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) is one of the largest non-profit, volunteer sports organizations in the United States. A multi-sport organization, the AAU is dedicated exclusively to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs. The AAU was founded in 1888 to establish standards and uniformity in amateur sports. During its early years, the AAU served as a leader in international sports, representing the U.S. in international sports federations. The AAU worked closely with the Olympic movement to prepare athletes for the Olympic games. After passage of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, creating the U.S. Olympic Committee, the AAU’s mission changed and, since that time, it has focused its efforts on providing healthy sports programs for participants of all ages, beginning at the grassroots level. The AAU’s philosophy of "Sports for All, Forever," is shared by more than 500,000 youth participants and more than 50,000 adult volunteers annually. The AAU is divided into 56 distinct Districts. These Districts annually sanction more than 34 sports programs, 250 national championships and 30,000 age-division events.
About LexisNexis Risk Solutions
LexisNexis Risk Solutions is a leader in providing essential information that helps customers across all industries and government predict, assess and manage risk. Combining cutting-edge technology, unique data and advanced scoring analytics, we provide products and services that address evolving client needs in the risk sector while upholding the highest standards of security and privacy. LexisNexis Risk Solutions is part of Reed Elsevier, a leading publisher and information provider that serves customers in more than 100 countries with more than 30,000 employees worldwide.
Comments from Task Force Members
Chris Newlin, Executive Director, National Children’s Advocacy Center:
“I commend the AAU leadership for aggressively pursuing this work because the most important thing the organization can do is safeguard the well-being of the young athletes it serves. President Stout’s national leadership and commitment to doing whatever is necessary to ensure that children have only outstanding experiences while competing under the AAU banner will leave a lasting legacy and positively impact our future generations .”
Lauren Book, childhood sexual abuse survivor, published author, founder of Lauren’s Kids:
“Sexual abuse robs children of their childhoods and scars them for the rest of their lives. It is something that we must all make serious efforts to prevent and eliminate. We have to find ways to keep children safe while preserving important programs like those produced by the AAU, because they offer opportunities for hundreds of thousands of young athletes within their home communities and empower young athletes to excel in all aspects of their lives."
Ron Book, president of Lauren’s Kids Foundation, specialist in government affairs and administrative law:
“What the AAU is implementing today – and for the future – is groundbreaking. These smart and strong precautions will propel the AAU into a new era that will establish it as the new gold standard for youth organizations. I applaud the AAU for embracing these new measures and procedures. As an AAU track athlete in high school, I experienced first-hand the unique opportunities and challenges the organization offers. This is a truly a great association, and I’m proud to be part of its efforts to make sure it stays that way. The AAU, by accepting and adopting these recommendations, affirms the importance of protecting our children and the athletes of the AAU as the highest priority of the organization.”
Tim Moore, retired Commissioner of Florida Department of Law Enforcement:
“It’s hard to imagine anything more insidious than predators who would take advantage of the trust of unsuspecting young athletes. These recommendations will go a long way toward making sure those despicable few will not find a safe haven within the AAU.”
Dr. Jim Sewell, noted author, criminologist, retired Assistant Commissioner of Florida Department of Law Enforcement:
“I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with the AAU on such an important mission. Large organizations like the AAU have a unique responsibility to the children they serve, and it is gratifying that the AAU has recognized this duty and taken decisive steps to meet it.”
Posted: June 13, 2012