A parks and recreation department in Missouri found itself the subject an embarrassing public call out by a parent who discovered a felon among the coaching ranks of a youth soccer group. Here’s the actual letter from the parent:

Hey Mr. Pokin! I’m asking for your help. My daughter was on a team and as of Aug. 30 there was a convicted felon coaching children ages 4-6 soccer in Republic through the Parks and Recreation Department. The facts were made aware to the parks director and the district does not currently do background checks on youth sports coaches. What that means, to me, is that any felon or child predator can volunteer to coach and get a list of children and their phone numbers. — Sarah Brotherton, of Republic

The newspaper reporter, aptly named the Answer Man, did a little digging and what he found was probably a little unsettling to many parents with kiddos in the program. Even though the coach in question was dismissed, at the time of the letter, the parks department did not conduct background checks UNLESS a parent brought a complaint forward. That meant that an estimated 400 head coaches were operating around little children without any checks into their backgrounds and/or criminal histories. Never mind the countless other assistant coaches and volunteers that might be participating in or helping with the teams, too.

The head of the parks and recreation department also said that his department had been researching how to conduct background checks for more than a year, but had several hang ups:

  • Who should be screened? Only head coaches? Assistants, too?
  • What types of crimes should eliminate someone from consideration? A sexual crime against a child would certainly eliminate someone, but what about the person convicted of tax evasion ten years ago?
  • How expensive would it be? Would parents be expected to pick up the slack with increased participation fees?
  • Would less people be willing to volunteer if volunteers were required to be screened, too?

So, What Did They Do?

In late September, the parks and recreation department announced that all people aged 18 and over who apply to coach youth sports must agree to a background check. Volunteers will undergo screening every two years.

It’s a sweeping change to a previously inadequate screening policy and will affect more than 400 youth athletic teams throughout the district. Estimates show the city will pay about $6700 in screening fees that will cover more than 360 volunteers.

The parks and recreation department has partnered with a security firm to run the background checks, which will include a national search in the sex offender registry.

Here’s The Thing, Though

It’s always a move in the right direction when a youth sports organization makes the pro-active move to screen coaches, volunteers and other personnel. Other parks and recreation departments who haven’t made this move should seriously consider following in this Missouri department’s footsteps.

There is something that doesn’t quite sit right with this particular case, though. The letter from the parent was published September 4, and then, just two weeks later, the parks and recreation announces its sealed a deal with a screening security firm. This, after claiming it had spent more than a year researching its options. It seems like the two things were clearly related and perhaps the parent’s letter gave the department the final push it needed to make a decision.

Why are we pointing this out? Because whenever a child’s safety is concerned, it should never come down to a parent pointing out a flaw in the system to invoke change. Any and every youth sports organization should make children’s safety the number priority from DAY ONE and implement a screening policy for coaches, volunteers and personnel. There is no excuse to let a predator slip through your ranks with the types of advanced background searches that are available and allowed today.

Finally, we urge all youth sports groups to go above and beyond basic background screening and include child safety training into your on boarding policy. This is what separates Protect Youth Sports from other security firms. We are one of the only nationally-accredited youth sports screening agencies ENTIRELY dedicated to protecting our children and empowering children and grown-ups alike with the knowledge to spot odd behavior and/or suspected abuse. Applicants are required to pass our online child safety training course which includes important topics like ‘Characteristics of Child Molesters,’ and ‘Victim Behavioral Characteristics.’

When you combine our industry-leading screening services with our trend-setting child safety course, you will see that we offer the best overall product for volunteer organizations. There simply is no comparison. So, before you have to read another’s parents letter in the local newspaper, urge your youth sports organization to sign on with Protect Youth Sports before it’s too late.  Call us today at (877) 319-5587.