Child Abuse in Sports by
Janet Shindle M.S.W., Executive Director
George MacDonald M.A. South Team Supervisor.
Child Abuse in Sports
Within the last year, Canadians have increasingly learned that children have been abused in the context of a sporting activity. These instances of child abuse in sports have, for the most part, taken Canadians by surprise. While people have generally become more aware regarding the subject of child abuse, the realization that children can be abused while in the care, custody or control of a trusted coach or athletic trainer has come as somewhat of a shock to us.
Two factors seemed to contribute to our tunnel vision and prevented us from seeing this. The first factor stems from our mostly correct assumption that kids do sports because they are fun, they enjoy themselves and therefore, we do not expect it to turn into a context of suffering for them. The second factor is a little more insidious and probably arises from our own parental enthusiasms to see our children compete and excel to the detriment of attending to what may really be happening to them while engaged in a particular sport.These two factors working together, contribute greatly to a fundamental "forgetfulness" that children are vulnerable and that there are adults, in all walks of life, who will take advantage of vulnerable children. These include doctors, teachers, social workers, babysitters, policemen, parents and yes, even coaches or athletic trainers.
In another part of our website, we have posted a Toronto Star editorial by Michele Landsberg entitled "Our Myopia Contributes to The Sexual Abuse of Children". In it, the author warns about our predilections to value the game of hockey (although you could substitute any sport) over the physical, sexual and emotional well-being of our participating children. This section of our website confronts tunnel vision and myopia as it pertains to the problem of child abuse in sports. The following topical headlines in hypertext will be dealt with in this section. Click on any one to go immediately there. Click your back button to go to the top of the document.
The protection and safeguarding of children is probably the most important task any society undertakes. Within the last 20 years, communities across North America have become sensitized to the fact that many children in community are victims of abuse - physical, sexual and emotional. Our most recent realization has come about from discovering that some children have been abused while in the care, custody or control of a coach or trainer. There are a number of very good reasons why you as a parent or you as a coach or athletic trainer need to attend to this important issue. The following are a few them.
1) Because unacceptable and sometimes destructive things happen to children in the name of sport.
2) Because it is the responsibility of all adults to protect and nurture children.
3) Because if you overlook or minimize signs of abuse, you risk allowing a child to be abused longer and you prolong their suffering.
4) Because children who have been victims of abuse suffer long term consequences as a result. These include lost or strained family relationships, have experiences of continued victimization, suffer ongoing psychological and emotional disabilities. The costs to society are manifest in increased mental health problems, drug addictions, child welfare problems, and the perpetuation of offending behaviour, a phenomenon that we now know feeds on itself.
5) Because individuals who have a sexual preference for children often position themselves in places where they have access to children.
6) Because the needs of children take precedence over all other obligations.
7) Because parents and coaches are among the most significant and influential adults in a child's life. As such, it behooves you to familiarize yourself with the signs of abuse and to take action when necessary.
8) Because in all jurisdictions in Canada, you are required to report child abuse where you have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that someone has abused a child. It is the law.
The definition of abuse in Manitoba is: "abuse" means an act or omission by any person, where the act or omission results in
If you suspect that a child in Manitoba is being abused, you are required by law to take action to report the abuse to the appropriate person or persons. In most instances, the reporting is to the parent of the child. However, if you do not know the identity of the parent or guardian of the child or you do not believe that the parent or guardian is able to provide adequate protection for the child, you are obliged to report the abuse to the local Child and Family Services agency or the Police. Likewise, if you believe that the parent or guardian or any other person having care, custody, control or charge of the child is responsible for the abuse, you must report to the agency or police and not to the parents or guardians.
While it may seem unfair that parents are not the first persons contacted in situations where someone who has temporary control or care of their child is suspected of abuse [ ie. coaches, teachers, Guide leaders, etc.], it simply means that in these cases, it will be up to the agency or the Police to inform the parents.
Whether you are reporting a parent, a coach or any other person you suspect is abusing a child, agencies and police are required to keep your name confidential. If the case ends up in Criminal or Family Court, or at an appeal hearing, the agency will be obliged to disclose particulars of the investigation and your name may have to be released. You cannot be held liable for any report which is made in good faith, but failure to report is punishable on summary conviction in Manitoba.
If you are having difficulty deciding whether to report, either because you are afraid you might be wrong or because you do not wish to make someone angry at you, think about all of the times you have risked anger or lost relationships for lesser causes. Consider the consequences for some child that might occur because you chose self-protection or self-interest. You will probably find that once you have resolved for yourself that there is no choice but to protect children, there is no longer a decision to make.
(Where reporting requirements are the same as Manitoba, Manitoba will be in hypertext so people can return to the specifics. Where reporting requirements are different, they will be spelled out briefly)
Reporting requirements for all other provinces will be posted here as we acquire that information.
Alberta - In 3rd party, i.e. coach, teacher reporting to police only.
A. Be cautious in your approach to hiring your child's coach. Ensure the club has received criminal checks, child abuse registry checks etc. Check with parents whose children have trained with the coach before - both those who liked the coach and those who did not.
B. Be involved and be around the training area at least part of the time that your child is receiving instruction so you are able to observe the interaction between your child and their coach first hand.
C. Be clear with your child and with those around you that you will not tolerate maltreatment of children. Keep the lines of communication open with your child so they will feel free to confide in you if they need to. Pedophiles usually prey on children who are vulnerable to attention and special treatment.
D. Remember that you are the parent and that you are not the coach. If you become involved in coaching when you are not the coach, you may over-look your responsibility as a parent. You may become so enthused about progress that you dismiss as unimportant the issues you should be dealing with.
E. Be wary of coaches who tell you things about your child that in your heart you know are not true.
Over-stating a child's ability and potential are signs of someone who is either trying to gain your favour or is uncomfortable with telling parents how things really are. This places undo pressure on your child, who know in their heart what their abilities are.
Under-stating, not appreciating or belittling your child's ability and potential are signs of someone who does not have confidence in their own ability and who is living through their atheletes. This kind of behaviour undermines your child's sense of confidence and self-esteem.
F. Ensure that your club adheres to policies on Conduct unbecoming a coach and to provincial legislation on reporting abuse. Ensure that your coaches are aware of protocols. Maintain an appropriate executive involvement in the running of your club.
Some Do's and Don'ts When Hearing A Child's Disclosure of Abuse
Do Say -I Believe You
Do Not Interview the Child
Do Say - You Are Not To Blame
Do Not Make Promises You Cannot Keep
Do Say - You Did the right Thing by telling
Do Not Doubt the Child's Disclosure
Do Say - I Will Try to Help You
Do Not Appear shocked or disgusted
Do Say - I cannot keep this secret
Do Not Confront the Offender
Staying Cool about Child Abuse and Child Abuse Investigations
With the increase in identified child abuse and in reports of child abuse, widespread concern has been raised about the validity or truthfulness of children's allegations. At times, the national media have alleged that social workers have become overzealous in the pursuit of child abuse or that social workers have intemperately investigated abuse allegations where no abuse existed. In these circumstances, many feel that the danger of falsely identifying someone as abusive when they are not, should dictate whether or not an abuse investigation is initiated in the first place. While it is recognized that "false positive diagnoses" do entail serious consequences for persons alleged to have committed child abuse, it goes almost without saying that the consequences of "false negative diagnoses" (identifying no abuse where abuse exists) are far greater for a child. If a child is neither suspected of being abused nor investigated, the result for the child can be both long lasting and shattering emotionally. With these thoughts in mind, it needs to be said that all child abuse investigations are undertaken in an effort to ascertain the truth of any child abuse allegation. Sometimes allegations are made that have no substance in fact.
There are many reasons for false allegations being made. Sometimes child welfare agencies notice that people within communities may make allegations about their neighbours simply because they don't like them. At other times, in particularly difficult separations or divorces, parents may wrongfully make them about the other partner to establish custody. At other times, children who have been previously abused and victimised may misinterpret some action on the part of another adult to be abuse. These things happen and it is the job of the child protection agency in the course of investigating to conclude whether an allegation of abuse has substance or not.
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Coaching and False Allegations
The truth is that you cannot fully protect yourself from this possibility, because there is nothing that you can do to stop someone from telling a lie about you if they really want to tell it. This is a reality for all of us, not only for those who work with children. Fortunately, allegations result in investigations and not immediate conclusions, so it is highly likely that the truth of the situation will be discovered before any lasting damage is done to your career or your life.
There are, however, some things that you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of misunderstanding, misinterpretation or retaliation, where an incident actually occurs but there is room for disagreement about what it meant or how it happened.
a. Associate yourself with credible organizations.
Organizations which have standards with respect to hiring practises, which enforce adherence to coaching ethics and promote the safety and well-being of their athletes will automatically enhance your own credibility as a coach. Cooperate with all requests for criminal reference checks, child abuse registry checks, etc. Provide references from as many of the places you have worked as possible. Be forthright about any problems you may have had in the past.
If you are a free-lance coach, be certain to join any coaching organization which exists for your sport to enable you to keep up on the latest developments in the field. Knowlege of your sport enhances your credibility as well. Encourage any club or organization with which you become involved to develop policies with respect to protecting children from abuse. Ensure that a system is in place for "Incident Reports" which will allow you to document injuries, serious disagreements, unintentional incidents [ie. walking into a dressing room you believed was empty and coming upon a half dressed athlete], or any other out of the ordinary circumstance. Retain copies of anything you submit.
b. Practise Effective Communication
Ensure that the parents and athletes with whom you are involved are aware of what you will be teaching their child, what your teaching methods will be, what the costs involved will be, what your philosophy with respect to coaching is, what your expectations are with respect to transporting, attending competitions/tournaments, etc., how you see your role and how you see the parent's role in the child's development, how you intend to resolve problems between yourself and the child or yourself and the parent, and what your policy with respect to parents observing is. Provide regular feedback and be open to discussions as the athlete progresses.
c. Demonstrate professionalism and a consciousness of personal boundaries.
i. Do not repeatedly single out an athlete for special attention or criticism.
d. Know and follow the legislation and reporting requirements with respect to abuse or neglect of children in your province or state.
Set an example within your sport of doing the right thing. Be aware that this is a changing world and that some of what was accepted by parents and by society in the past is no longer accepted. Your best defence is a strong reputation for honesty, personal integrity and committment to the well-being of the athletes you coach.
If you are the subject of a child abuse investigation, it is important for you to know that certain procedures are always followed in the course of that investigation and that you have certain rights. Please refer to our Guide for Families being Investigated for Abuse at another section of our website by clicking on the hypertext.
Uploaded July 21, 1997
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Last Modified: Saturday April 19 11:53:32 CDT 2003.