FIRST Youth Protection Program

Those of you who are not aware of Youth Protection Program (YPP) that FIRST has implemented, please read the guide below. Kudos to FIRST for implementing this. Background check for criminal records and sex offender registery is checked for mentors, not sure if all mentors or just the main and alternate contacts of a team.

FIRST, thank you for implementing this. We will continue to do school required background check for all mentors as well, it seems redundant, but it satisfies the school district requirement.

At least 2 mentors for each team. FRC-Main and Alternate, FTC/FLLJrFLL Coach and one other. Reccommended ALL mentors/coaches register, like always, in TIMS.

And most event volunteers for Jr.FLL, FLL, FTC and FRC.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but why is this considered a violation?

Engaging in personal exchanges such as phone calls,
e-mail, texting, social networking, etc., with a child
outside the context of team activities, educational
matters, or career concerns.

When I went through the FIRST program, I knew my head mentor really well. I saw him for 30 hours a week for about 10 weeks for FIRST, and usually had multiple classes with him each year for four years. We got to know each other really well, and he was a massive influence on my life. He was way more than a “robotics” mentor to me. I would consider him a life mentor and a life long friend. Our team encouraged getting to know the mentors better, and openly recommended in doing things with mentors “not related to the FIRST program, educational matters, or career concerns”

Don’t get me wrong, I understand where they’re coming for, but it would be a big change for my old team.

Welcome to the post “Sandusky” / “Catholic Church priest” world. People we trusted couldn’t be trusted. So rather than define your own trust, we have swung the other way to a default of “no trust”. I agree its a sad state of affairs, but we all code software for “this could never happen, but …” and this is a real world case.

don’t want to turn this into political or religious fight…

just that even with YPP, these people (that you have listed) could not be stopped. We as civilized society must remember that bad elements exists and we need to be proactive in protecting our kids. Yes FIRST has taken this major step and sure many schools had some sort of background check done. Also I want to remind myself that I cannot rest with YPP in place, I need to educate our students and make sure that they are not in harm’s way.

It’s sad to realize that people might join FIRST in order to get to kids. Two local teachers got in trouble for something like this. One teacher (a 70 year old woman) paid a kid $20 to clean the outside of his house, and the other became facebook friends with a student. It seems to me like common sense that a 70 year old librarian who worked at the school for the past 30 years and is respected and known by the town wouldn’t try to harm a 18 year old kid, but common sense isn’t that common :smiley: .

True. IMHO, the reason that part was added was to help protect FIRST if something bad were to happen.

Change “woman” to “man” and you’ve just described Jerry Sandusky. Highly respected, nobody suspected a thing, until they found out he was a serial child molester.

Obviously I’m not trying to say the woman in your story was a likely child molester, but it certainly does happen.

I’m very curious about the social media policies as well. I totally agree that above all students need to be protected but the wording seems a bit vague. I know Facebook has become an increasingly popular site for FIRSTers to connect on over the past few years for both students and mentors (myself included). Does this only pertain to just the students I directly mentor on my team or does it expand to all students in the FIRST family which I assume it would expand to every student? It looks clear that inside of FIRST related areas its okay as long as things remain appropriate (design feedback, strategy discussions, etc) but what happens if I post something non-FIRST related and that person likes or comments?

Like I said I’m totally on board with bringing in standard policies for engaging with students but I’m just curious how we handle some of these other issues. I think most of us would agree that FIRST mentors interact with students on their team (and others) more than your average student program between competitions, here on CD, and through social media. This area just seems a little loosely worded for me.

Engaging in personal exchanges such as phone calls,
e-mail, texting, social networking, etc., with a child
outside the context of team activities, educational
matters, or career concerns.

Does that mean we need to close the chit-chat forum?

(I’m being serious, btw)

Honestly, the YPP doesn’t affect my team at all - we already have all these policies in place. The basic idea is to try to prevent any situations that could even look funny from the outside.

I can understand how many people might think all of this is maybe a little extreme or draconian, but it’s as much for our protection, as mentors, as it is for the students. It’s important to avoid giving even the impression of any impropriety. All it takes is one incident, one accusation (even a fallacious one) to create a situation that could severely impact our lives as mentors, and the team for years to come. By following the YPP policies, we work towards preventing even the opportunity for such an event. If we have multiple mentors at each meeting, then we know nothing untoward happened. If we avoid connecting with active students over social media, we don’t provide an opportunity for someone to say we’re too friendly with a student, or suspect that something more is going on. If we keep all of our e-mails, texts, etc focused on team activities and career growth, they can’t be pulled out later as “proof” that we were being to friendly or forward.

Maybe I’m a little over sensitive about the whole thing, but I think that’s par for the course when you’re a young male working with an all female team. Due to many crappy incidents in the past, society has almost come to the point of instant suspicion in those situations, and you have to spend a lot of time and energy proving you’re there for the right reason. All it takes is one “incident” (could be real or imagined) to confirm the suspicions society already has. It’s generally better to prevent any scenario where such an “incident” can occur.

The part in bold especially applies to me. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been an “old soul” but a mentor and I got along quite well. His been a significant influence in my life. We’ve joked that I’m his right hand (and sometimes his left too). When brought to a competition, his son knows that if he can’t find his dad to come find me. I’m friends with his wife and at least passing acquaintances with some of his friends that have come to events/helped out the team.

Incidentally, I’m also vaguely related to his wife, but we didn’t discover that until I was no longer a student.

Like magnets, had this been in place while I was a student, I wouldn’t have become as good of friends with him as I did, nor would he have had the impact that he has. I understand the intent behind this policy, but the impacts it has saddens me.

I used to work at a scout camp where we would have to follow YPP for these same reasons and this is the exact reason why. They are in place so that FIRST can say that this information was given out to make the mentors aware to look for these things so that they don’t happen. And even if it does, FIRST can say that they did something to help prevent it.

Not sure if it strictly follows the YPP rules, but as it relates to something like the “chit-chat” forum…

(Disclaimer: This is a personal opinion on good practices, not any statement on whether they comply with the new YPP)

In terms of social media, email, forums, etc… just keep it either public or through a group email that several have access to. We commonly send email to our kids, either as a group or to a single student. We always copy our team Gmail account which is a record of the email, and it auto-forwards to 4 mentors (3 male, 1 female). The key here is to minimize strictly 1 on 1 interactions in off hours. In 99.9%+ of cases, it would be perfectly fine. However, in at least a few percent, it might look/sound a little funny, and human nature sometimes leads us to assume the worst.

A few “crazy” scenarios that can be avoided:
Imagine you are dropping a student off after a meeting on a regular basis. A parent in financial trouble decides to fabricate a story and raise a civil lawsuit claiming harassment. Can you defend yourself? Do you have any concrete proof?

A younger student has a crush on an adult mentor and begins talking to them in off hours. The mentor thinks the relationship is platonic/mentorship, but the younger student feels it is a “boyfriend/girlfriend” connection. The student decides to make a move, and it gets noticed by another adult who raises the flag. Now, all text messages between the two are subject to review. The older mentor never intended anything, but how would the text messages look in retrospect? Is there anything said that when looked at in a new context could appear inappropriate?

Or… you are on a team that just thinks “this could never happen to us” and doesn’t place much value in the YPP rules. You unfortunately do get into a bad situation where an adult becomes involved with a vulnerable high school student. How much good is required to be done to offset such a bad thing? What does this mean for the future of your program?

Long story short, I think the right answer is somewhere between the written rules and ignoring the topic altogether. If you try to stifle any form of interaction, you lose much of what makes FIRST such a great program. However, don’t put yourself into a situation that might be hard to explain. The simplest solution IMHO is to always have a second person involved (preferably in a documented way like email). In most cases, everyone says “I never would have thought that person would do ______”. However, I can’t think of many (any) cases where a child predator managed to pull something off with a 2nd person in the room.

I understand completely what you are saying, and I think it is very important to be careful and have common sense when you’re dealing with people to avoid bad situations.

It’s just my opinion that it’s not worth it to live your life in fear of something like this happening. Sure, you should be careful and make smart decisions, but I don’t believe we need people making decisions for us about who we should and shouldn’t be friends with.

If you start thinking like this, you have to consider everybody you know from the FIRST program as being a potential threat. People who you’ve known for the past ten years of your life that you care about are a threat. This is a dangerous line of thinking, and it leads to a really sad and boring team, and eventually life. There are people on my team who I trust.

Here’s a quick story-
A student on my team who is a big FIRST enthusiast was having a hard time fitting in, both on CD and on the team. A very well respected mentor reached out to him over private messages on Chief Delphi, and helped show him how he needed to behave. After the conversation, the student became a much better team member, and I’m thankful for what that mentor did. If I follow YPP, I am required to report that “incident” to FIRST. I won’t, but you get the idea.

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A student on my team who is a big FIRST enthusiast was having a hard time fitting in, both on CD and on the team. A very well respected mentor reached out to him over private messages on Chief Delphi, and helped show him how he needed to behave. After the conversation, the student became a much better team member, and I’m thankful for what that mentor did. If I follow YPP, I am required to report that “incident” to FIRST. I won’t, but you get the idea.

I went ahead and spent a few minutes reading through the YPP, and I don’t see what you described as being an issue. I feel like the YPP actually leaves a little grey area for interpretation.

CD is a forum that is certainly used for “team activities and educational purposes”. The mentor was not trying to keep anything a secret, just to protect the feelings of the student. The context of the conversation would likely be clearly interpreted by anyone reading it as appropriate.

You would only be required to report this interaction if you believed that abuse occurred, or if you simply had a question… clearly you don’t.

Let’s tweak the scenario. Same thing happened, but a less well intentioned adult sends a PM with a few choice expletives about a person’s behavior on CD. The student feels threatened by it. The YPP simply provides a tool to report such interactions.

Or, a student becomes “friends” with a Chief Delphi adult. Can they exchange PMs… sure. However, a smart mentor might consider forwarding the PM to the listed adult for that team, especially if it is a repeated thing. Also, watch out for “out of bounds requests”. A student might say something like “I’d like to meet up with you at competition.” This is an innocent request in most cases, but you would be wise to let another adult know (such as their team’s lead mentor) that a student on their team would like to say hello at competition. Then the other team’s mentor can at least be aware of the situation, and tag along if they have any reason to suspect an issue. This of course assumes you’re meeting them at their team’s pit, the inspection station, something clearly in public view.

The purpose of this doesn’t appear to be to severely change any behaviors, but to take an appropriate amount of precautions to be able to definitively say that “everything is ok”… instead of just assuming it is.

Any adult working with a FIRST team who is aware
of a violation of this Code, or who is in doubt about
whether or not a behavior is appropriate, is required
to immediately consult a team Lead Coach/Mentor (if a
team Lead Coach/Mentor is not the potential violator), or
the hosting school or organization, and if satisfied with
the guidance provided, to act in accordance with it.

and

Engaging in personal exchanges such as phone calls,
e-mail, texting, social networking, etc., with a child
outside the context of team activities, educational
matters, or career concerns.

The content of the messages had nothing to do with education, FIRST, our team, or a career. It was written as a response to a view a student had on something unrelated to robots.

Nothing in this says you have to think of people as threats… just keep your eyes open and follow common-sense guidelines. Two or more mentors at every meeting. Meet in public places. Keep communications as public as possible, and on-topic. You make it habit, and its something you don’t think of anymore. The team still has fun and you still get to know the students and other mentors very well (after all, you see them more than your own family!). You’re just more aware of how things might look to an impartial third party, and make decisions to make things more open and more public.

As an example, at the MN State Championship last year, myself and another mentor were the last to leave, along with two of our students. We walked them to their cars together (which weren’t all that close to each other), and then both took the long hike to a different parking lot in the other direction to get to our cars. It wasn’t a question of trust - I have complete and total faith in the mentor I was with, and know both of the students well enough to know nothing bad would happen. Despite that, we maintained the “two mentor” rule. It protects the students, and it protects us. Doing it with people you completely trust also makes it easier/more natural to do it with people you don’t know as well or have a weird feeling about.

As you said, the mentor used the PM to show the student how they should behave. I, personally, would classify that both career concerns (you need to know how to behave appropriately) and as a team concern, as the student is a representative of the team.

For Team Main Contacts (and I’m assuming Alternate Contacts), when you log into TIMS, you are forced to watch the video before it will continue to the next page. Just a heads up.