By Elisheva Aufrichtig
Managing volunteers and volunteer programs can be challenging. When trying to encourage people to volunteer for your school, sports league, church, synagogue, or non-profit, the last thing you want to do is scare away potential volunteers with piles of paperwork and discussions of child sexual abuse behaviors and outcomes. And when there are already multiple volunteers working with the children in your organization or business, and probably a high turnover rate, it can be daunting to implement a thorough screening and training plan.
There are some basic tips to remember
that will help make the process easier.
Screening Volunteers is Not Optional
Youth-serving organizations can be
targeted by individuals who want easy access to children. It is necessary for volunteers
to understand the importance of thoroughly investigating people who will be
working with children and that your organization takes safety very seriously.
Organizations working with troubled
youth may be more at risk for sexual abuse, since troubled youth can be
emotionally insecure, looking for affection, and lacking the support of a
trusted adult. This applies to vulnerable adults as well, such as people with
mental disabilities who may not recognize danger.
Implementing Screening of Volunteers
Volunteers may not commit long-term, but it is still important for your business or organization to invest effort into properly screening people who will be interacting with children. Especially for positions involving working one-on-one with youth, such as mentoring or tutoring, it is essential to screen for past crimes, potential issue traits, and suspicious behavior.
Teenage and high school volunteers are
no exception. For teen volunteers, who might not have work references or
available criminal records, you will need to conduct personal interviews,
thorough reference checks, and perhaps require more detailed written
applications. Teen volunteers should be more closely supervised, as well.
Even if the applicant is personally
known to the volunteer coordinator or other people within the organization,
such as a parent of one of the children, the applicant must still undergo a
background check and screening. Unfortunately, 90% of sexual abuse is
perpetrated by someone familiar to the child, meaning that strangers are not
usually the criminals in these cases and abusers are hard to identify.
Sometimes a volunteer has a
personality or temperament less suited to working with children. The position
is just not the right fit, even if it’s not a question of abuse. Here at BCAC,
during the interview process, Nicole Reed, our Volunteer Coordinator, asks how the
applicant found out about our organization. With a former client, or anyone who
is a sexual abuse survivor, she has a conversation about potential triggers and
whether the applicant is ready to return to an advocacy center’s environment. This
informal tool is used to better screen volunteers and make sure that they are
protected and feel safe, as well.
Limitations of Background
It is important to note that
background checks have their limitations. Background checks should not be
skipped, yet many sexual criminals have not been caught or charged and
therefore would have no record. Additionally, criminal records for underage teens
are usually confidential. Don’t think that simply because you have conducted a
background check on someone, you know everything there is to know. A thorough
in-person interview and speaking with references helps to gain a more accurate
impression of someone.
At BCAC, every volunteer must have a
phone conversation and a face-to-face meeting with our Volunteer Coordinator
before starting, in addition to a criminal background check; this allows her to
gain a more thorough understanding of the personality of the prospective
The goal of training is to make
volunteers feel comfortable, competent, and capable of doing what they are
supposed to do. While training volunteers to do their job, incorporate training
about preventing sexual abuse. They are part of your team in preventing child
Provide explanations of sexual abuse
and symptoms to watch out for. Volunteers need to feel comfortable asking
questions. Allow time to discuss, or even act out, scenarios as part of the
BCAC, in addition to offering
preventative and informative trainings to other youth-serving organizations,
also trains its own volunteers. Volunteers participate in child development
training, learning about forensic interviews, and shadowing members of different
teams at BCAC, during which they learn through observation and have the
opportunity to ask questions. Importantly, volunteers learn the facts and
statistics of child sexual abuse, what it looks like, and how to report it. They
also learn about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), how they affect children
long-term, and how the work at child advocacy centers like BCAC helps.
Organizations can’t let the fear of
sexual abuse result in any form of neglect on the part of staff or volunteers.
Children must be cared for with empathy, attention, emotional connection, and
physical touch where appropriate. Create workplace policies and manuals which
include the volunteer functions and child protection policy.
At BCAC, volunteers are always supervised, with either intermittent check-ins
or by keeping volunteers in a shared space. Every volunteer position involves
constant learning on the job, and there is a very open communication system if
any concerns or issues arise.
If it seems like a volunteer isn’t the
right fit for a position, or small problems come up, BCAC has a re-evaluation
process and the volunteer is given an opportunity to undergo training again. Of
course, if a major breach occurs, for instance in a confidentiality matter, the
volunteer is dismissed.
In general, monitoring volunteers means
overseeing their interactions with the children through both the announced and
unannounced presence of a supervisor, always staying on-site with the children,
and scheduled assessments. Behavior to watch out for includes, but is not
limited to, a volunteer trying to spend time alone with the children, showing a
preference for one specific child, or giving presents.
Volunteer Coordinator Nicole teaches
BCAC’s volunteers how, and to whom, to report red flag behavior. This includes
anything suspicious a child may say to the volunteer.
The volunteers themselves are a part
of your team and are also responsible for the safety of the children. Teach
them to monitor interactions within your organization and how to report
anything suspicious. Define their roles from the start and include it in their
To learn more about BCAC’s trainings, contact Curley Newgent at email@example.com. To get involved in BCAC’s volunteer program, contact Nicole Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elisheva Aufrichtig is a Communications Intern at BCAC.