Organized Sports & Failure to Report: Is Your Child Safe?

Girl baseball team kneeling with their coach, touching hands

By Eliza Buergenthal

What are the Boundaries of the Athlete/Coach Relationship? 
In sports, so much of what it takes to be the best—on the field, court, dance floor or mat—is physical. To perfect a tackle or a squat or pirouette may require physical contact between a coach and an athlete. Sometimes, within that contact, a line is crossed. But how does a child know when something may be inappropriate? How are the boundaries within the athlete/coach relationship defined in a way that is healthy and safe?

Coaches are given an incredible amount of access to our children and need to be held to the same standards as other adults in whose care they are placed (health practitioners, police officers, educators and human service workers, all of whom are mandatory reporters).

As a coach becomes a mentor and advocate for a child on the field, bonds often form between coach and athlete. What can sometimes occur is a sense of duty and obligation on the part of the athlete to the coach. Athletes see how a coach has taken a special interest in them; in cases of manipulation and abuse, this power structure is leveraged to the benefit of the perpetrator. Athletes and parents may not want to report inappropriate behavior because they do not want to disappoint a trusted adult for whom they have feelings of gratitude and respect, or they don’t want to risk losing their coach’s favor or getting kicked off the team. Often athletes are afraid they may jeopardize a community’s pride, their own success, or the trust of their teammates. The threat of suspension of a player, termination of a program or forcing a forfeit in a big game holds power over victims and caregivers alike.

What can parents do? 
Get out in front of it. Acknowledge and talk about the risks with both your child athlete and their coach. Talk about healthy boundaries. Ask coaches, gyms, and recreational centers tough questions – have they had training on working with kids in a way that is safe? Do they know how to recognize signs and symptoms of abuse? What is their reporting policy?

Regardless of whether your child is playing in a premier league or a recreational team, be present. Show up to a random practice. Talk to other parents who have been through the program. When your child is contacted by program staff, make sure that you are included in conversations, or, if necessary, request that all communications come to you directly. Unfortunately, abuse can happen at every level, from Pee Wee Leagues through high school and beyond. Stay involved and stay alert. 

On a larger scale, talk to your Representatives and raise awareness about abuse in your communities. Advocate for comprehensive policies and procedures around recognizing, responding to, and reporting abuse from all of your child’s institutions and programs. Advocate for institutions and states to have strict penalties for those who fail to report abuse. Make sure there are protocols and trainings in place.

When coaches do not receive proper training, and when we do not advocate in our communities for better policies, it not only allows for failure to report abuse when incidents occur, but also for abuse to go on at the expense of future victims. Intervention, prevention and healing is delayed or unable to occur.

We’re here to help. At the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, we have a comprehensive program for outreach and training. BCAC gives coaches, youth serving professionals, and the institutions they work for the tools they need to work with children safely, and to recognize, respond to, and report abuse. When everyone is educated and working together, we can better protect our children, and make a profound difference in the lives of not only our child athletes, but all children. Let’s keep them safe.

Eliza Buergenthal is the Special Assistant to the Executive Leadership Team. She is a recent graduate of Syracuse University where she studied Public Policy, Public Relations, and Management. Eliza first joined the BCAC team as a legislative advocacy intern and plans to eventually attend law school with a focus on policy and lobbying.

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Day of the Girl: We See You

On this Day of the Girl, October 11, 2018, Baltimore Child Abuse Center gives a huge shout out and thank you to all the girls who report abuse and demonstrate unbelievable courage and tenacity. 

Kyle Stephens delivers a victim impact testimony during a sentencing hearing for Dr. Larry Nassar in Lansing
Kyle Stephens delivers a victim impact testimony during a sentencing hearing for Dr. Larry Nassar. (Photo credit: PBS NewsHour)

THANK YOU to Nasser victim Kyle Stephens, whose was accused of lying and was forced to apologize to Nasser when she first came forward, but who persisted and helped open the door for the 200-plus other victims.

THANK YOU to the middle-schooler in the Cherry Creek School District in Denver, Colorado whose school administrators made her recant, apologize and hug the teacher she accused, then suspended her for “false allegations.” But she persisted, hired an attorney, and helped get an $11.5 million settlement against the school on behalf of herself and the predator’s four other victims.

THANK YOU to the Baltimore City teenager whose story no one would believe, but who bravely persisted, enough to support an investigation that turned up undeniable proof that the abuse was happening, just as she’d described it.

To all the brave girls out there, today and every day, thank you for your strength and courage. Never doubt that you are impacting the lives of thousands by owning your stories and bravely finding your voice. You are the light of hope for other girls who are not yet ready to come forward. They see you. We see you. Never back down. We’ve got your back.

BCAC: We’re Hiring!

Baltimore Child Abuse Center is looking for qualified individuals to join our team as we continue to expand our organization and work towards the BCAC mission of providing victims of child sexual abuse, trauma, and other Adverse Childhood Experiences in Baltimore and their non-offending caretakers with comprehensive forensic interviews, medical treatment, and mental health treatment with a goal of preventing future trauma.

Candidates must meet education and experience requirements specific for each job. Under qualified candidates will not be contacted, and each position is contingent on grant funding.

Evening Family Intake Coordinator

The Evening Family Intake Coordinator has an important role at Baltimore Child Abuse Center, Inc. (BCAC) in providing a welcoming, friendly atmosphere to children and families who come to the Center. This person must be engaging, have excellent communication skills and be able to manage an advanced phone system. The person in this position must be aware of their surroundings and be able to properly direct and navigate people to the appropriate departments within BCAC. The Coordinator should consult with BCAC Lead Forensic Interviewer about any concerning observations and be able to document them as necessary. The person in this position may also assist in clerical and administrative duties as needed.

Click here for more information and to apply.

Child Development Specialist

The Child Development Specialist has an important role at Baltimore Child Abuse Center, Inc. (BCAC) in providing management and structure for a program designed for the support and nurturance of youth and families visiting the Center. This person will operate within the Family Advocacy Program to ensure that all youth and families who are receiving services at BCAC have a coordinated, trauma-informed response. The Child Development Specialist must be knowledgeable of child developmental norms and appropriate positive behavioral management techniques. This person must be organized, engaging, energetic, patient, and have excellent listening skills. This position requires the ability to handle multiple tasks, manage multiple youth at one time and be able to interact with all youth in a developmentally appropriate manner. The Child Development Specialist will report to the Family Advocate Program Supervisor.

Click here for more information and to apply.

Training Associate

Baltimore Child Abuse Center (BCAC) is committed to providing education and training to both our professional partners as well as members of our community. In supporting the mission of BCAC, the Training Associate performs a critical role in administering, advertising, and building connections for the myriad of BCAC’s training offerings. The Training Associate is responsible for developing outreach programs for clients and community members, developing and delivering trainings on a myriad of topics, advertising and marketing training to professional partners and community members, and aiding the Training Specialist in tracking training data. This person will also be responsible for developing and maintaining relationships within Baltimore City and the surrounding communities. The ideal candidate will be a self-starter, organized, personable, and be excited about engaging the community in child abuse efforts.

Click here for more information and to apply.

Mental Health Therapist

This position will focus primarily on children up to age 18 who have been determined to be chronic runaways. This therapeutic position will provide therapy to children and families with the goal of stabilizing the child and family, activating protective measures and implementing therapeutic interventions as appropriate.  

Click here for more information and to apply.

Manager of Inter-agency Partnerships

Children’s Advocacy Centers were birthed out of the spirit of collaboration in order to reduce trauma, and improve effectiveness and efficiency for child victims of abuse and for the benefit of its multi-faceted team. The Manager of Inter-agency  Partnerships  provides leadership  in facilitating and improving  collaboration and resiliency  within all Baltimore Child Abuse Center (BCAC) teams and among all BCAC involved partnerships  (including  partner programs  within LifeBridge Health) and all Multidisciplinary  Teams (MDT) to better serve child victims of abuse and trauma.  The Manager of Inter-agency Partnerships will facilitate strong communication, team best practices, and resiliency to optimize team effectiveness.  Doing so will provide the best possible coordinated, trauma-informed response to child victims of crime and their families.

Click here for more information and to apply.

Blueprint Project Coordinator

Baltimore Child Abuse Center (BCAC) is committed to providing education and training to our professional partners as well as members of our community. Thanks in part to a grant by The Leonard & Helen R. Stulman Foundation, and in supporting the mission of BCAC, the Blueprint Project Coordinator performs a critical role in aiding in the process of changing the culture around child protection and child abuse prevention in Jewish Baltimore. The Coordinator is responsible for helping develop and implement the Blueprint project in the grant project area of Greater Baltimore, developing outreach programs for youth serving organizations and community members, developing and delivering trainings, advertising and marketing training to professional partners and community members, and aiding the Director of Prevention and Education in this three year project. This person will also be responsible for developing and maintaining relationships within the Baltimore Jewish Community. The ideal candidate will be a self-starter, organized, personable, and be excited about engaging the community in child abuse prevention efforts.

Click here for more information and to apply.

All candidates must submit a resume and cover letter with each application. Please indicate if you have applied for more than one position in your cover letter. We look forward to speaking with you!

Back to School Safety:  6 New Child Abuse Laws To Know

back to school image of smiling kid

By Joyce R. Lombardi

While abuse, sexting, and predatory teachers aren’t great dinnertime topics, they are all, unfortunately, part of many kids’ back-to-school experience. Whether your kids know it or not, they are likely to know at least one child who is being (or will be) abused at home or at school.

One way to broach the topic is to ask your child to find out what their school is doing about child abuse. The Maryland General Assembly has passed a number of child abuse bills in recent years, and it’s possible that your child’s school might not be up to speed yet. If they are, great. If not, your child’s questions can help them. We are all in this together.

These questions work best coming from kids in middle and high school, but you can ask the school yourself if you want. The answer key is included.

Q: What kind of child abuse education do kids get in school?

A: After Erin’s Law went into effect in July 2016, public and certain nonpublic schools must teach kids K-12 about “the awareness and prevention of sexual abuse and assault.”  Jurisdictions were free to shape their own curriculums, and many have incorporated lessons on inappropriate/appropriate touch, not keeping secrets, and telling adults.

As of July 1, 2018, each county’s public school family life and human sexuality curriculum must include age-appropriate education on the meaning of “consent” and personal boundaries. It’s a new law, but ask your kids to find out if your school is doing anything yet.

Q: What kind of child abuse education do teachers and staff (i.e. adults) get?

A: Truly, only adults can prevent and stop child abuse. The Child Abuse Prevention Bill, which also went into effect July 1, 2018, requires that school personnel in public and certain nonpublic schools receive annual training on the prevention, identification and reporting of child sexual abuse. (Note: This does not include neglect or physical abuse; despite attempts by BCAC, there is no mandatory statewide training requirement for identifying and reporting those kinds of abuse.)

The new law requires that school personnel are trained in preventing child sex abuse, including how to recognize and address grooming behavior, and how to identify and report suspected abuse. The law also requires schools to create codes of conduct to address and prevent abuse, and to make sure their physical spaces do not encourage abuse.

Q: Do teachers or coaches or school staff have to report child abuse?

A: Yes. For decades, school personnel (and others, such as health professionals and law enforcement) have been mandatory reporters in the State of Maryland, meaning they must report if they have “reason to believe” child abuse or neglect has occurred, no matter how far back it was, or even if they only have a suspicion. Child abuse in Maryland means physical or sexual abuse, as well as child exploitation (e.g., photographs) and human trafficking. Since 2017, Maryland’s “child abuse” definition includes not just parents and household members, but anyone with authority or temporary care and custody over a child, including school personnel, coaches, and teachers.

Q: To whom does a teacher/school have to report child abuse?

A: This is not new, but teachers and principals often do not know that the law (Maryland Code, Family Law §5-704) requires the person who has the suspicion of abuse to report OUT to the Department of Social Services or police and UP to a principal or supervisor. Often, a staff member just reports up. This creates a problem, because, far too often, the principal or other authority figure tries to handle the abuse on her own, rather than alert the authorities. Your child can find out if their teachers and counselors know they must report out, as well as up.

Q: Are there signs posted in your school for the child abuse hotline?

A: This is an easy one—no talking required. As of July 1, 2018, schools are encouraged (but not required) to post the telephone number of the local department of social services to report suspected child abuse or neglect. (Note: Every county has its own reporting number, but that will change in a couple of years.)  Once the statewide child abuse number is released, schools can post that instead.

Q: What does the school do if someone at the school spreads sexual pictures of your child (e.g. sexting, revenge porn) or sends them lewd photos?   

A: Several things. As of 2017, an adult in authority who solicits or sends lewd/inappropriate pictures with children must be reported to police or social services under the mandatory reporter law. Students who engage in unwanted sexting or sharing sexual images with each other might fall under the state’s brand new cyber-bullying law. Starting October 1, 2018, Maryland’s definition of cyberbullying now includes intentional electronic sharing of sexual images and content that creates a hostile educational environment. The bill also requires that public (and some private) schools’ model procedures on handling bullying include notice to victims and their families.

BCAC’s training department can also help if your child’s school wants guidance on child abuse prevention training and policies. Contact training@bcaci.org or call 410-923-7003 for more information.


Joyce Lombardi, Esq. is BCAC’s Director of Government Relations and Legal Services. She can be reached at jlombardi@bcaci.org and she welcomes questions and comments about how child abuse laws are being used in Maryland.

Protecting Kids When Everyone Has a Camera

by Drew Fidler, LCSW-C; and Iona Rudisill, LGSW

Protecting Kids

Here’s what you should know about child sexual abuse images and how to protect children from the dangers of the internet.

The internet is constantly changing and evolving. As professionals, parents, and people who care about children, the internet and all of its perils present a whole new world of challenges for child protection. This is how prevalent phones and the internet are in children’s lives today:

  • 56% of children aged 8 – 12 have a cellphone[1]
  • 88% of teens have or have access to cell phones or smartphones[2]
  • 92% of teens report going online daily[3]
    • including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly,”
  • 71% of teens use more than one social networking site[4]
  • Children as young as 2 know how to work a tablet or cell phone[5]

Technology was created to be helpful, but if used incorrectly it can be abusive and disruptive with catastrophic results. This wave of access to technology has given birth to a number of different ways that young people can be taken advantage of online, including through the production and manufacturing of child sexual abuse images.

So what are child sexual abuse images? While child sexual abuse images are commonly referred to as child pornography, the latter term doesn’t do the crime justice. Child sexual abuse images are a visual manifestation of child sexual assault that involves the creation of sexually explicit content, typically pictures and videos in which children are being used as sexual objects. Between 1998 and 2016 more than 12.7 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation have been made to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Just in case you think these predators are strangers to children: 43% of images are produced by familiar persons, 18% by a parent or guardian, 25% by a neighbor or family friend, and only 18% through online enticement.[6] Additionally, out of the 25 million child sexual abuse images that are annually viewed by NCMEC, 78% of these images depicted youth under the age of 12.[7]

This form of child sexual exploitation is different from other types of child sexual abuse because the images can never fully be recovered. The abuse has been captured in a visual platform and medium that has no boundaries. Once an image is created, the child who has been victimized has no way to take down that image or stop people from viewing, which puts them in an unfortunate space of re-victimization.

Victims of child sexual abuse images experience a wide range of both immediate and long-lasting effects. Common with this form of victimization are feelings of helplessness, heightened anxiety, anger, shame, guilt, increased depression, and symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder. Also, victims of child sexual abuse images often withdraw or isolate themselves from their community due to extreme feelings of paranoia and confusion associated with the distribution of their abuse.

What can you do to protect your children online?

  1. Communicate: Talk to your kids about their internet usage – the risks, the realities of what is out there, and how to engage with others on social media sites. Think about having a social media contract.
  2. Be Share Aware: Know what your children are posting and where they are spending their time online. Encourage your child to think before they post or text, and never to share their personal information – address, passwords, phone numbers, etc.
  3. Know Your Friends: Help your child to understand that not everyone online is who they say they are, and it is important that your child only accept requests from people they know IRL.
  4. Be Patient, Be Nurturing, & Be Available: Children are going to push boundaries and experiment. Try to be a good listener. Take your time to understand what has happened and how your child has been affected. Listen to their concerns and questions. You may not have all the answers, that is alright.

Drew Fidler, LCSW-C, is the Director of Community Outreach and Education at Baltimore Child Abuse Center (BCAC). Drew works with youth serving organizations to analyze their systems relating to protecting youth, conducts trainings for professionals and community members, and creates programs for organizations both locally and nationally.

Iona Rudisill, LGSW, is BCAC’s Anti-Trafficking and Exploitation Program Manager. Iona has been an active member and certified trainer of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF) for several years, is presently the Co-Chair of the MHTTF Victim Services Subcommittee, and was recently awarded a Governor’s Citation from Governor Hogan regarding her work against human trafficking in Maryland. Iona serves on NCA’s Commercial Sexual Exloitation of Children (CSEC) Collaborative Work Group, where she contributes to resources and projects that help CACs serve the special needs of this population. 

 

BCAC@30 and Nassar

Last night BCAC celebrated our achievements at our Annual Community Gathering. Thanks to those of you who attended, and for those who missed it, we missed you.

If you want to see just what we all did last year, take a look at our 2017 by the Numbers attached. Please share.  In the coming days we’ll have a video version of it as well.

Our event last night was covered by WMAR. You can see the clip here. There are 2 versions of the video. The first from this AM, and the second from last night.

It’s fitting that our annual gathering occurred the same night as the Larry Nassar sentencing for his sexual abuse of dozens of girls. He received a 175 year sentence. Angela Povilaitis, the Michigan Assistant Attorney General who prosecuted the case, said at Nassar’s sentencing 6 points that resonate and mirror what BCAC has stood for over 30 years. Allow me to share them with you all.

  1. We need to listen to and believe children when they report abuse, no matter who the adult is. 
  1. Anyone can be an abuser: As a society our response cannot be that he did not do this – this is how Nassar got away with what he did for so long. 
  1. Delayed disclosure of child sexual abuse is not unique – it’s quite the norm. 
  1. Predators groom their victims and families. 
  1. We must teach our girls and boys to speak up until someone listens and helps. 
  1. Police, child protective services workers, and prosecutors must take on hard cases no matter who the suspect is. They cannot wait until they have the perfect case. They must be victim centered in their work.

BCAC has held to those principles for 30 years. We continue to work in partnership so no child has to suffer the same trauma that these brave young women endured. And last night the President of Michigan State University resigned due to her inaction in the Nassar case as well. Sadly, it looks as if societally we’ve learned little after Penn State – all the more reason to stay on top of what we do.

Last night also represents the soft start of BCAC’s 30th year celebration. If you’re tweeting and posting about us, use #BCAC30.

30 year logo_BCAC_CMYK

We’ve got lots coming in the year ahead. I’m excited for what the future brings. Thanks for what you all do to make this happen.

With appreciation,

Adam

Action 1 of 10 : Save VAWA

Saturday’s Women’s March ignited a movement of activism around the globe. Thousands never before involved, found themselves united behind issues, their voices amplified. And with that amplification, comes the need to keep it going.

Take the personal politics out of Saturday and focus on what it stood for and what it can do next. Among the issues highlighted is the need to stand up for women’s issues and rights. The announcement after the inauguration, and before the march, that the 20 plus year old Violence Against Women’s Act grant and office at DOJ is at risk of being cut is one such issue worth standing up and fighting for, and making your voice heard.

The organizers of the march proposed taking 10 actions in the next 100 days on an issue we care about to keep this momentum going. Action 1 of 10 is to write a postcard to your Senators telling them what matters most to you and how you’re going to fight for it in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

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We suggest you write to your Senator and tell him or her to fight to Save VAWA. You can read yesterday’s post, and I’ll tell you about VAWA’s history and importance. Tell them that you’re concerned about proposed cuts to the Violence Against Women’s Act and then tell them why. Share with them any number of reasons why VAWA is important to you: a personal story, the fact that it saves millions of lives at risk from sexual assault and domestic violence, the impact VAWA has on protecting children from violence, or the fact that it’s been expanded to help protect victims from prison rape and even violence perpetuated by the same sex.

VAWA has become a beacon for millions of vulnerable women, children, and even men, who needed help at their darkest hour. In my 20 years of prosecuting, protecting, and advocating for victims, I have seen first hand how VAWA funds and programs have saved lives. And while these cuts are proposed not to be mean towards women, but to trim the federal budget, consider the cost of domestic violence and sexual assault on society – domestic violence alone is estimated to cost you the America taxpayer $8.3 billion a year.

So take action. Be A Hero. Fill out your postcard and send it in. And if you want to keep the movement going, post a picture of you or your card and include the #SaveVAWA and even #BeAHero so we can see we did!