This is a great point, luckily on top of YPP my team/school also requires all adults, even parents and alumni, to be fingerprinted and go through their own BG Checks as well.
It’s worth asking your school districts to do the same if they aren’t requiring it already, it used to be free for us but recently they have asked the applicant to pay the fees which I believe for us has been $40.
Our school requires this too. But again, only a state level check.
When we moved from NH to VT we found that a long time coach had a DUI conviction in VT that the NH checks never found (they are no longer involved on the team of course). This is when I realized what the checks actually did, and lost basically all faith in their importance.
YPP is a minimally viable product to mitigate legal liabilities of Manchester. It was a reactive move and one that is not really built to handle the accelerating disaggregation of regional responsibilities to originate from mature regions instead of from Manchester. In instances like this, i would not say the program is or is not working as intended, but it’s achieving the best possible result under current conditions (a cold comfort, I know)
This is the real-world, human consequence of a poorly designed or limited in scope program to filter out dangerous and predatory people. There are too many unsealed cracks they can sneak through, and when someone who had trust in the system bears witness to it, any trust they have in the institution is vaporized.
The YPP has 2 parts:
The screening which is optional except for primary mentors is essentially a database search. It identifies very little since you have to be a list to start with. A necessary first step, but really of little value.
YPT: A short video on First’s web site, and a page of policies. In all the youth program I have participated, it is the shortest training. But training is not going to stop people willfully ignoring it.
What seems to be missing: This exists in all programs involving youth. Predators go where the youth are. We need to do more to encourage reporting. Teach that reporting is not violating a trust. Provide a safe space to encourage reporting. From the obvious pain of the victims, it is difficult. Without being overly paranoid mentors need to watch each other. The predators are not always obvious.
I agree with this now, and I should have supported you on it earlier. I should have more faith in the moderation team, who have been doing a commendable job holding this site together while also questioning basic assumptions about how the place works.
Furthermore, should there be communication between VEX and FIRST to ensure that somebody caught in one program can’t simply move to the other? There’s a line between “provable allegations that will show up in a background check” and “internal documentation that shows somebody should not be allowed to be in a position of authority around underage people”.
This is exactly what I had to go through with my daughter’s sport, which is now governed by SafeSport. Truly, I wish SafeSport was an option here as it clearly defines the rules regarding coach/trainer to trainee/athlete interactions. I would like to see this implemented across the board to prevent these types of things happening, though I’m sure some would still sadly slip through. I would imagine that many public and private schools would have to have SafeSport for their Olympic feeder sports. Perhaps there is a way to incorporate some of the practices from SafeSport to the YPP.
For reference, SafeSport came about as a result of the Larry Nassar case.
I don’t know a lot about it (my physical-sports days ended in high school, ages ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth and chief delphi had ‘just dots’) but is there a reason it ISN’T an option specifically as it applies to a ‘competitive league’ like ours? Is it just the terminology applied (trainer, athlete) - because on the surface, this looks really helpful. I will do some more skimming through the site but I’m definitely not an expert here, would love to hear more from athletes, coaches, and families under this system.
It’s not really set up like that. Safesport is a product of the US Olympic Committee and the national governing bodies for the various sports. I agree that, in theory, it could be adapted to competitive robotics. Right now, though, I think they have their hands full just with the various sports that they do govern, and aren’t yet in a position to broaden out to other youth activities.
Also, they’re not the only game in town – for example, they have nothing to do with most high school competitive sports (which are run by state governing organizations).
Exactly what CEF said. Because it’s only at the Olympic level, it doesn’t transfer to other areas very well, apart from those that are part of the Olympic feeders.
My daughter turned 18 this past year, so as a result, she’s no longer part of SafeSport, but now, on the flip side, since she competes with minors, USEF requires ANYONE that has interactions with minors, participates in competitions as a groom, coach, trainer, etc., to go through and be certified with SafeSport. Since my daughter is still eligible to compete with minors, now SHE has to go through the SafeSport certification, because she will still be in the same classes as they are. If I go to any of her shows and am registered as her groom to get access to the barns and whatnot, I too have to go through SafeSport certification again. On the surface, it appears to be a really good program, and I have yet to hear anything in the equestrian world of people attempting to circumvent it in any way.
I would like to think that parts could be ‘borrowed’ to incorporate into YPP to make it even more robust, but I don’t know the legalities that may come from things like that. And like efoote868 said, it just makes good sense and is a good practice to include 3rd parties on ALL correspondence with students, and avoid if at all possible private communications like one-on-one text, calls, DMs or anything of the like. It keeps everyone safer.
Based upon Collin’s blog post, my experience doing the Catholic Virtus training, and YPP training, I do think some slight changes would be good.
The 30% rule is good, but I don’t recall hearing about it. So I think instead, they should prompt the lead mentor to affirm which mentors are <30%, and then automatically run background on those not listed.
The YPP video series is useful, but going through a certificate online training like Virtus every few years would be a good thing for the 30%+ group. I think you could make it still be 60-90 minutes, but the above prompt would require anyone above 30% without recent training/retraining to do it.
A dream product would be a partnered app/platform for team communication that implements better youth protection than just the available ones teams use today at no/low cost to teams.
I mentored with an all-girls team hosted out of a Catholic school for 4 years. They required Virtus every 4 years and I found it very thorough. The 15-minute video I watched for my public school team lacked much of what Virtus covered, but at least we require YPP for all mentors.
The challenge with any training like this, though, is that it’s only good if enforced.
My first two years at the Catholic school, I was allowed many opportunities to be one-on-one with students in mostly closed-off spaces. I constantly had to keep myself accountable, avoiding those situations, ensuring “rule of three” and visibility at all times. I brought it up numerous times with the teacher lead mentor and he’d only comment on limited mentors (the team constantly had a severe shortage of consistent mentors) and trusting me.
My latter two years we had a new teacher and lead mentor. He was relatively on top of ensuring folks had taken Virtus, provided their certificate, and monitored to ensure “rule of three” in most situations. Still, he quickly made assumptions that I was trustworthy and afforded me opportunities for one-on-one time that he shouldn’t have. Again, I mostly had to hold myself accountable.
As mentors, we must hold each other accountable. We have a duty to the students and to ourselves.
I don’t want to dwell to much on the situations that you unexpectedly find you are one-on-one. Like when you have multiple students sign up for an activity and only one shows. Or when the other mentor has to leave when a small group is working, and then 4 of 5 students parents arrive and the 5th parent is 20 minutes late. You can plan for things like this to happen and better set up what should happen, but when you have a small number of mentors it is more difficult, and you aren’t kicking the lone student out into the cold.
But anyways, I know that enforcing these practices is the only way to make them effective, and also talking to the students about the interactions, like online, that are largely outside your control, and what they can do if they experience bad signals from others in the program.
The more I’ve been thinking about this today, the barrier seems to be that we don’t know everyone who works with teams, and we don’t know everyone who is at events. These are two distinct problems, with two different strategies.
Require main mentor 1/2 to provide a complete list of all adults working with the team. Make them sign/acknowledge something that will get people to take it seriously, and threaten action (like disqualification from events) for failure to comply.
Require both a background check and training for all of those mentors. If colleges/universities can get their entire student bodies to do Title IX training, we can have all mentors take a brief annual course.
Publish documentation for how organizations can conduct their own background checks if they aren’t part of a larger organization that requires it (like a school). Include minimum requirements for vetting mentors as well as best practices.
Require teams to create an internal reporting process that is shared with team members.
FIRST’s desire is to have every person at every event have a signed consent and release form on file, at a minimum. We all know this doesn’t always happen. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t solve for it. I love that events are open to the public. I don’t love that there are random adults, who are unknown quantities, who can directly access students at most events.
Change the posture on consent and release forms, requiring their collection even for spectators.
Badge or otherwise identify (e.g. wristband) all attendees at events.
Require events to publish (and maybe announce) immediate reporting processes. If an adult is making a student feel uncomfortable at an event, we shouldn’t wait for someone from the Youth Protection Department to respond to a form submission within two business days. It should be addressed immediately, and directing people to an online form when there is a current issue is a silly strategy. I believe the form already has language about contacting authorities in the event of an emergency, but there’s a while spectrum between needing to call emergency services and filling out a form that will be answered in a few days.
None of this is even close to perfect. The more I was writing, the more flaws I found. What else can we do?
The third problem is online platforms which can allow adults to bypass any of the above checks and directly access vulnerable students.
You can try to keep students off these platforms
You can put in systems to keep unvetted adults off these platforms
You can use platforms that allow for complete content moderation and surveillance - team slacks allow for this.
I don’t know other options than these or how you’d even enforce these given the breadth of this program and the nature of the social internet. Plus these platforms (including this one) have value to the FIRST experience in terms of creating connections and facilitating education.
Certainly. And there’s evidently a problem here, but there is also a greater problem on the internet outside of this community. Adults prey on children in every corner of the internet. That’s not to say we shouldn’t do everything in our power to try to stop it here, but it’s not a unique problem, and one a lot of people have been trying to solve for a long time.
Team Slacks can also have issues. I’ve had female team members direct message me with no other mentors involved on the message. In those cases, I’m usually working to add another mentor to the conversation.
One thing to be aware of: Know who the Mandatory Reporters (MR) are on your team/in your team’s sponsoring organization. If a team member approaches you with a concern and you aren’t one–and the MR isn’t the target–then you may need to direct the student to the MR, or to a local one. In CA, if an MR doesn’t say anything they’re in a pile of trouble; if they do their job properly then the person who needs to be dealt with is in a bigger pile of trouble!
This might be seen as me excusing inaction on this, and I do not want that to be the case. Still, it is worth pointing out the following:
In the US, children are functionally allowed to access the internet with limited oversight from their parents at the age of 13, likely before they are ever on an FRC team
These online platforms might have some loose affiliation with the activities on a FIRST team, but in the case of a student participating in a space like a Discord server, they are likely happening well outside of team oversight and potentially even without knowledge of an adult affiliated with the team. You can tell them to not participate, but you can’t monitor that which you cannot prove exists
In these cases, it is on the leading adults of teams, especially mandatory reporters and those in the driver’s seat on TIMS, to proactively engage in a discussion about what you said, Kevin. I do not think it needs to be much, or it needs to be heavy-handed in rules, enforcement, or delivery, but a concerted good faith effort to cover the bases with them annually and periodically within the season should be the expectation.