By Todd Williams
City youth sports teams are a normal activity for our children. As the weather warms, fliers, websites, and banners begin to publicize upcoming registration for football, soccer, baseball, and lacrosse. I’ve seen signs appear throughout my neighborhood advertising signups and wondered how safe are our children in the hands of coaches, volunteers, and others? We sign our children up for these activities without thinking of the safety concerns that could potentially exist.
For example, in September of 2018, James Earl Williams was arrested after Fort Worth police discovered he had been officiating girls basketball games for the local school district. James Earl Williams was a registered sex offender who has been convicted and sentenced in 2016 for attempted kidnapping of an 11-year-old girl. The school district failed to conduct a thorough background screen on Mr. Williams which put the entire city athletics in jeopardy and put at risk all student-athletes in the program. In the case of James Earl Williams, he had been required to register as a sex offender after being convicted and sentenced in 2016, however, after a more thorough screening it was found that he also was accused of another abduction and rape of a 13-year-old girl in 2015. The city and school districts ultimately blamed the local officiating organization, but the responsibility lies with the front line to ensure policies are put in place and that they are asking the right questions. The School Superintendent promised to “increased the local procedures to require that all prospective athletic officials submit to a background check.1” Background screening and safeguarding our children through an appropriate screening is paramount but in most cases are not being conducted.
Another occurrence became prominent earlier this year in Missouri when officials became aware of an issue with city transportation drivers. Teenage students were allowed to ride city buses anytime at no cost as an incentive to ride public transportation. Unlike School Bus Drivers who are required to submit to a thorough background screening, City Bus Drivers aren’t required to the same level of screening, exposing the youth to potential issues of unscreened drivers. The problem came down the overall costs of screening city drivers, but what would be the cost of a child abduction at the hands of an unscreened employee?2
Circumstances such as this underscores the importance of screening in almost any industry and organization. When most people begin thinking of conducting a background check they think of a very simple nationwide criminal check. However, a thorough background check is much more that that. It’s a process that includes nationwide review but also looks at state criminal records, education, employment, civil and court records, and references. Organizations will also want to ensure the background providers are accredited through NAPBS (National Association of Professional Background Screeners) as they are governed by a strict and thorough set of professional standards of requirements.
So what questions do you need to ask your city or recreation program to ensure your child is safe at practice and during games? Specifically, you need to ask whether all participants that are in contact with children have been thoroughly screened by an accredited provider. In order to become an accredited screening provider Consumer Reporting Agencies must have made a commitment to uphold and deliver the highest level of industry standards for the following critical areas:
- Information Security
- Legal and Compliance
- Client Education
- Researcher and Data Standards
- Verification Services Standards
- Business Practices
These practices safeguard customers, employees, and workplaces to ensure only the highest level of compliance and standards are met. While it is unfortunate that such regulations need to exist, it is comforting that these agencies safeguard our youth. We ask responsible people and parents everywhere to take the initiative and request the practice of background screening for the protection of our youth and communities. As a community, we need to ensure that our children and sports programs are safe and that thorough background screenings are being conducted on a regular basis.
As a registered Consumer Reporting Agency, Peopletrail has taken the initiative in school athletics and has led the way in ensuring that safety comes first in school sports. Over the last several years Peopletrail has focused on Sports Screening and Background Checks specifically for volunteers, referees, officiators, coaches, and more. Their customized sports package is based on the needs and compliance protocols specific to the industry.