We need to put together a list of best practices and new ideas for improving the safety and well-being of our students. YPP is a start, and I believe that the people at FIRST HQ do care about our students, but it is clearly inadequate. In light of the current and ongoing crises in our community, I have identified the following areas for consideration:
Highest security background checks. Ideally we would be able to identify people who should not be allowed access to youth across state lines, through using larger law enforcement databases. What resources do we recommend teams utilize to improve their team mentor background checks?
Access to students in person. How can we better ensure that all in-person interactions meet a high standard of conduct? How can we be more sure that everyone is where they are supposed to be, and who they claim to be? Is a badging requirement a good option for this? How could this best be implemented?
Access to students online. What limits need to be in place in teams to help students have secure interactions with mentors and adults? Can this be implemented while still allowing any internet contact through forums like Discord and CD? How?
Reporting. Clearly we have issues with students being able to report incidents and have action taken by a trusted adult authority. How can we help ensure students know how to get help? Is a “Safe-2-Tell” model possible?
Enforcement. Abusers are taking advantage of the fact that teams within this program don’t communicate, say, if a person is not allowed to be a mentor. An abuser may be banned from a team (or even officially “banned by FIRST”) but still able to move from team to team and continue the cycle of abuse. How do we prevent this?
Standardization of all of the above, across the Balkanized regions and teams that make up FIRST. Can we possibly take programs that work well and make them a requirement for the entire program?
Obviously this list isn’t exhaustive but it’s what I currently have. My team has additional requirements for all mentors beyond those of YPP, but we are planning additional security measures and expect to implement them within weeks. Specifically, we are looking at a national fingerprinting database requirement, and will be using and enforcing a QR-code scanned badge that all verified mentors (as well as students) will carry for any and all team activities.
I’m pretty involved in Cheerleading outside of Robotics. I would highly suggest looking into Safe @ All Star https://safeatallstar.com/ it’s the program All Star Cheer uses.
It not only encompasses the gym owners, but also other coaches, staff, and parents. It has a reporting procedure and teaches adults how to properly report AND address common issues with all parties involved.
The other thing that helps is the ability to notify others in the community if an athlete goes missing at an event.
It’s not the same, but it is something I think the FIRST community can build upon and use.
In Israel any (male) adults that want to spend any time with the team (including parents) have to pass a police background check. It’s a bit different here than in the US because everyone has a govt. issued ID number that they can use to track these kinds of things, the police is country-wide instead of local, and the privacy laws are different. If something similar is available or feasible in the US.
Hopefully the required YPP screening has individuals like this on a blacklist. Beyond that, it’s a tricky problem. Individuals can help teams without ever registering with FIRST and going through YPP. While I’m registered and passed YPP with my team, there are a bunch of other teams I know well, team’s I’ve spent time in their shop, students I’ve been on a first name basis with from other teams. FIRST has no visibility into any of that.
I suppose there could be a published list of banned individuals, but I’m not sure FIRST could get something like that past the lawyers.
It’s really up to the registered team mentors to follow proper YPP processes with new and unknown individuals, and ensure anyone that is going to be sticking around gets registered and passed YPP screening. Communications also need to be secured so no new or unknown individuals can directly contact students (and even well known and screened individuals should be trained in proper YPP communication) without the mentors being aware.
FIRST: In addition to the damage done to individual children, abusers are an existential threat to the organization as a whole (just ask the Boy Scouts). There needs to be a way to keep abusers from jumping from team to team.
I can speak to this as someone who’s had to remove a trial-period mentor before (this is why we enact trial periods, folks!) - what we were told is that the individual’s TIMS account will be blocked from joining team rosters or from volunteering.
However… what happens when they try to join a team who doesn’t effectively use the FIRST site, and doesn’t actually sign up as a mentor on the dashboard? How will FIRST know about this?
Moreover, how will the teams know who is banned from the organization if they choose not to use the dashboard?
Also, what happens when an individual just makes a new TIMS account. I myself have 3 accounts, one i made as a student, one i made as an adult once i lost access to my student email, and one i made when i forgot the password to the 1st one
This is not really a call out, but think of how connected you are vs the average science teacher sponsor in Texas, and even you have that problem! Makes the situation feel all the more dire.
This is a subject I felt like I was adequately vigilant with in my time as a mentor, and the sponsoring institution required us to get checked off with our driver’s licenses connected to a national database, but that only flags convicted criminals, not someone with a history of unaccounted for yet despicable behavior. I’ll always second-guess if I ever did enough in retrospect.
(I also agree this should be a split thread but since I have stepped in the conversation I cannot/should not mod it, so I will pass along the request for a split thread.)
This is the root of it. Without turning into ‘callout culture’ (ick, I hate typing that because there’s no nuance to it - of course people should be called out for bad behavior and face consequences) how do we keep these people out of the community?
I’ll take your phrase a little out of context to expand on it. I think the YPP can serve as a helper for adults who aren’t going to mess with the students and especially important is YPP defines a known (limited) environment - boundaries - that the students can know it’s safer on one side of the boundary than the other side. This aspect of YPP isn’t taken advantage of.
I think the failing of the YPP (besides the fact that violators don’t care about it) is the students aren’t similarly indoctrinated not to allow adults to violate their boundaries. Students generally don’t even know about YPP and that there are boundaries that they, too, should be enforcing.
I see students request mentors as friends on Facebook, for example, or I’ve heard of private messages. I’ve had another coach from another team that I offered to help want to setup a meeting between me and a student. It would have been fine I’m sure to help them learn Java but I declined - always have, always will.
Communications is a two-way concept and we should try harder to cutoff the students responding to inappropriate adults. I regret this could sound like blaming the victim which I absolutely abhor but I believe we don’t tell the students well enough not to engage with adults. Will the students pay attention? If it’s even a little bit, it all helps.
Or LinkedIn. I’ve gotten that on occasion. I ignore those unless a student has graduated.
STUDENTS: Do NOT repeat NOT request mentors as friends/connections on social media platforms (at least until you’ve graduated). It opens a direct connection, which may be in violation of YPP or school policies.
This certainly can be true. I know on my team, this is something we talk about. The students who are involved with communications outside the team all know that those communications have to come from one of our Google Groups addresses (all of which include at least 2 mentors). Pre-events, everyone is reminded of our different team contact details (emails, social media, etc), and clearly instructed that, if asked for contact information, that’s what they hand out. Never personal information. They know about the two-mentor rule, etc. This is stuff that teams should be talking about a lot more than I’m sure they do!
Not only is the community splintered, but the majority of these communities are poorly monitored and moderated, and even when they’re moderated well, abusers can message any student they can find in the Discord.
I don’t know the solution, but any discord with many students and many adults provides a favorable environment for abuse to be perpetuated and hidden.