Background Screening- Your First Line of Defense
Jillian Henry – Manager, Athlete Protection & Safety, USA Lacrosse
Jason Vescovi, PhD – Director, Center for Sport Science & Safety, USA Lacrosse
Of the 60 million youth athletes throughout the United States, up to an estimated 4.8 million may be victims of sexual abuse. This is why the main priority for the Athlete Protection & Safety program at USA Lacrosse is implementing policies and procedures that promote safe environments for all participating athletes. Having best practices in place ensures USA Lacrosse is doing everything possible to help prevent youth athletes from experiencing any type of misconduct or abuse.
Unfortunately, misconduct and abuse can happen in any sport. USA Lacrosse utilizes a multi-level approach with preventative measures to help reduce the risk of abuse experienced by athletes. The first line of defense is mandatory background screening for all coach members.
Over 90% of all child sexual abuse involves a perpetrator that the child knows and trusts. In the case of sports, coaches have close and frequent contact with youth athletes that can often span over multiple seasons. Coaching, specifically with youth athletes, is a privilege, and so implementing background screening is an important process to have in place for youth sports clubs, organizations, and leagues.
Transparency with parents should also be a key factor in the decision-making process when hiring coaches and those who are granted access to their athletes. If parents are unaware, then they should ask about the use of appropriate background screening for individuals within their child’s sports club to ensure those athletes are being welcomed into a safe environment.
Background screening will identify what’s known as ‘criterion offenses’, which include any misdemeanor or felony charges. At USA Lacrosse, any background screening that identifies a criterion offense will result in immediate suspension of membership with potential for termination.
Background screening begins when an individual provides (confidentially) their name, social security number, and addresses where they have lived. From this information a comprehensive background screening is performed through searches within:
- National criminal databases
- Criminal court records
- National and state criminal records
- Sex offender databases/registries
These searches will verify if there are any previous arrests, warrants, criminal cases, or convictions (misdemeanors and felonies, including sex offenses) as well as acquitted, pending, or dismissed charges. It is essential for any sport organization seeking to implement criminal background screening to inquire with a potential provider about the inclusion of all these searches. Another important point to confirm with a provider is that the criminal background screening meets the Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) regulations.
There are many third-party providers that offer background screening services (e.g., JDP, Intellicorp, NCSI). USA Lacrosse has partnered with the National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI)- one of the nation’s leaders in background screening services – which was created in partnership with the National Council of Youth Sports. Since initiating mandatory background screening for coach members in 2018, USA Lacrosse has completed over 73,000 screens. This includes achieving significant back-to-back milestones of 30,000 adult coach and volunteer background screenings completed within each of the previous two-year blocks.
There are many components that can be part of background screening. For example, USA Lacrosse’s background screening requires searches of two national sex offender databases, two national criminal history databases, various watch lists, fugitive and terrorist database searches, and county courthouse searches based on addresses where an individual has lived.
Clubs, schools, or employers, however, may require different components, resulting in varying degrees of thoroughness. For example, California passed legislation in 2022 requiring employees and volunteers in youth serving organizations (like coaches in youth sports clubs/leagues) to submit a fingerprinting background screening. However, USA Lacrosse coach members in California are still required to complete background screening with NCSI due to differences in the components searched.
If a local sports group is looking to include background screening for those working within the organization, it is important to know what components are included. At a minimum, background screening for local organizations should include searches of national sex offender registries, identity verification, and national criminal databases. Additional types of background screening can include motor vehicle reports, social media background checks, or education and employment checks.
Sport National Governing Bodies that use the USOPC level screening require that it be completed by all coaches, officials, and volunteers at major events within the sport. Regardless of how engaged individuals are in the event, there is still access to youth athletes. Parents and youth sports organization leaders should be aware of the importance of having background screening for adults that have regular interactions with youth athletes and deciding when someone should not be granted the opportunity to be at these events.
In addition to having background screening as a first line of defense, USA Lacrosse also follows best practices by having a comprehensive Athlete Protection & Safety Policy as well as standard operating procedures that provide definitions of key terms, requirements for members, and reporting processes for any allegations of misconduct. These documents establish transparency with our membership about the Athlete Protection & Safety program.
Another critical component of our Athlete Protection Program is requiring all coach members to complete abuse prevention training through Abuse Prevention Systems. This educational course covers important topics such as:
- Facts and Misconceptions of Abuse
- Abuser Characteristics
- The Grooming Process
- Methods to Reduce Risk
- Peer-to-Peer Training
- Impact on Children
- Protocol for Reporting Abuse
These courses inform coaches about the realities surrounding athlete abuse. Ultimately, proper abuse prevention training can help adult participants recognize early warning signs of athletes who may be experiencing abuse on or off the field and how to report those situations.
Finally, USA Lacrosse has recently utilized the template from SafeSport to establish its first Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policy (MAAPP) along with associated consent forms for situations like transportation and overnight travel. The MAAPP was designed to limit one-on-one adult-minor interactions and is a valuable addition to our Athlete Protection & Safety program.
The ultimate goal of USA Lacrosse’s Athlete Protection & Safety Program is to help create a healthy, safe, and enjoyable environment for participants within the game. This is accomplished by taking proactive and preventative steps to keep athletics free of abuse through education, awareness, and policies. Implementing mandatory background screening is the first step in protecting our athletes. To learn more about USA Lacrosse’s Athlete Protection & Safety Program, visit our homepage here.
Childhelp. (2022). Speak up be safe for athletes. Retrieved from https://www.childhelp.org/speakupbesafe/speak-up-be-safe-for-athletes/.
Fabricant, P. D. (2022). Intensive participation in a single sport: is it good or bad for kids? Retrieved from https://www.hss.edu/article_should-kids-play-competitive-sports.asp#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20of%20the%2060,round%2C%20often%20on%20multiple%20teams.