Local organizations, schools react to recent abuse scandals

Published 3:57 pm Friday, December 2, 2011

In recent weeks both Penn State University and Syracuse University have been rocked by scandals involving coaches accused sexually abusing children.

Local schools and organizations, such as the YMCA of Greenville, are working to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen in the Camellia City.

Bob McGaughey, president and CEO of the downtown Montgomery YMCA, which oversees the YMCA of Greenville, said his organization screens all employees and volunteers.

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“We do a criminal background check on every volunteer and they have to register and fill out a whole form – even volunteers who work for nothing,” McGaughey said. “We’ve been doing this that extensively for seven to eight years now.”

The background search is a nationwide search that checks any criminal activity, sexual abuse, domestic disputes or violence and anything along those lines, McGaughey said.

“Our policy is if you have a record, we basically don’t hire,” McGaughey said. “If you’re going to be a coach, or if you’re going to have contact with children with us, you’re going through our screening process.”

Once employees or volunteers are selected, each person goes through a risk management process and policy that involves sex abuse training.

“The interesting thing is our insurance carriers say the greatest risk is not what we’re seeing now, but peer-to-peer abuse,” McGaughey said.

Part of the training includes monitoring locker rooms and restrooms with sex-appropriate people.

“With little children, we don’t even allow them go to go the restroom without supervision within the proximity,” McGaughey said. “We take it that seriously.”

With any incident that does occur, the YMCA reports that directly to local authorities.

“That’s one of the major differences,” McGaughey said. “If there were some complaints of inappropriate behaviors, we were doing an internal investigation before we turned it over. Now, we immediately turn it over.”

McGaughey can speak from personal experience in regards to protecting children in places that care for them.

“As a grandfather with a three-year-old grandchild, and he sits in a childcare place, I think every parent needs to be diligent in looking for any signs or anything out of the ordinary,” McGaughey said.

Also dealing with young children are volunteers at local schools including Fort Dale Academy. David Brantley, headmaster of FDA, said the school would allow no volunteer unless there was thorough knowledge of him or her.

“We don’t require a background check on casual volunteers, but right now, all of our volunteers are our moms,” Brantley said. “We do have some volunteer coaches in our pee-wee programs who are dads. Anytime we have a new employee like a custodial employee, we go through the police and sheriff department to make sure there is no record that would endanger any child here.”

As for any volunteer that is a non-family member, Brantley said most of the time the school doesn’t allow it.

“If they have a situation where they really wanted to do something that would benefit our school and students, we would certainly research their background to make sure that they were in that situation that they did not have something in their past to put our children at risk,” Brantley said.

For McGaughey, he said even with all of the scandal, he believes organizations and schools, for the most part, are working toward keeping children safe.

“It’s all about diligence and knowing as much as you can about the people who are keeping your children and having expectations (for those people),” McGaughey said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, children are going to be safe. I told our staff I would not be surprised to see more of this around the country, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a call about something that might have happened 30 years ago. These things we’re hearing are horrible to be sure, but it’s a small minority. Other folks take it seriously to make sure that it doesn’t happen.”