[FRC Blog] FIRST Youth Protection

Posted on the FRC Blog, 11/14/2022: https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc/blog/2022-first-youth-protection

FIRST Youth Protection

2022 NOV 14 | Written by Collin Fultz, FIRST Robotics Competition Senior Program Director

Safety is at the forefront of FIRST ® participation. The FIRST Youth Protection Program provides all participants in FIRST programs information, guidelines, and procedures to create a safe environment for our student participants. The information below contains key components of the FIRST Youth Protection Program that all adults and youth – especially mentors and event volunteers – should be aware of while participating in FIRST programs.

Reporting Portal

FIRST refreshed our Reporting Portal last season that allows anyone in the community to report a concern to FIRST. More details about the Reporting Portal can be found in this blog post and on the Regional & District Event webpage.

FIRST has a zero-tolerance policy regarding retaliation against anyone who reports a concern or who cooperates in an investigation of a reported concern.

All submissions to the Reporting Portal are investigated by FIRST with appropriate action taken based on the findings.

Mentor and Event Volunteer Training

The FIRST Youth Protection page provides a number of resources that volunteers should be familiar with before working with youth in our programs. The FIRST Youth Protection Program guide contains the policies and guidelines that all volunteers and youth participants must adhere to when participating with FIRST. The Youth Protection page also has a link to Youth Protection Training Videos. This training is intended to enable adults working with FIRST teams to recognize situations that may pose a threat to team member safety and take the actions necessary to prevent and report injuries. We encourage anyone participating with FIRST to take this training to better understand how to protect themselves and our youth participants. The training consists of a series of short videos; each video is no more than 5 minutes, and the entire series can be completed in 40-50 minutes.

Mentor & Volunteer Screening

All adult event volunteers are required to pass Youth Protection screening. Each FIRST team is required to have at least two adult mentors who have passed Youth Protection screening. As we get closer to Kickoff and teams are starting to meet more often, we also recommend that Lead Mentors require any individual who will participate in 30% or more of team activities go through the screening and training. Lead Mentors can request screenings on other team mentors by using the “Manage Contacts” button on their Team Roster on the FIRST Dashboard.

If you have questions, would like more information, or would like to speak to someone directly, please email safetyfirst@firstinspires.org or call 603-206-2050. You can find more information, training, and guidance at http://www.firstinspires.org/youth-protection.

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Is anyone aware why background checks are optional for non-lead mentors? This seems like a fairly glaring safety risk.

Mentors, even those who aren’t Lead Mentors, spend considerable time around students. They should be vetted in the same way LMs and volunteers are.

This would be a small change for HQ that would make a big impact on improving the safety of our program. If cost is a concern, FIRST should cover the first 5 or 10 screenings per team, after which the team would assume the cost for screening additional mentors.

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This is speculative, but the issue, as I described in another thread, is that there is next to no enforcement mechanism here. If the lead mentor doesn’t add the other mentors to the team roster and request the screening, there’s no way for HQ to really know about that (short of any at-event enforcement, which is easy to work around).

We could also have a discussion on the 0-30% people. I’d suspect that the reason for this is to not make the barrier of entry so great for some occasional mentorship/support as to turn people off from the program.

However, on both of these points, lots of schools and other organizations already have a 100% enforcement of such background checks for something as simple as one time volunteering. So, I’d argue this could be fixed.

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I assume, without any inside information, that whatever agreement FIRST has with the screening service may be limited due to financial or resource constraints. I’m not saying this is a good reason but I think it’s a plausible one.

FWIW Sterling Volunteers says it costs are “as low” as $10 per check.

Volunteer FAQs.

Sterling/FIRST give the option for volunteers to cover these fees instead of FIRST – basically as a donation to FIRST. A volunteer of mine for an event last weekend didn’t realize this option existed and thought they had to cover the fee. It was $16, and valid for three years*. I don’t know if FIRST gets volume pricing for the ones they pay for, but if not, this is a huge expense. It doesn’t seem like an excuse, though. If a team is paying paying ~$4,000 for event registration, and has 20 mentors (a large number, for argument sake), I think it’s reasonable for ~8% of that cost to go towards covering youth protection screening of mentors.

*I’m not sure, when they say it’s valid for three years, if there is continuous monitoring (i.e. Sterling would report to FIRST if someone who went through screening has something new pop up on their record) or if the three years thing is just a compromise, trying to balance diligence without making the process too onerous. Or, the third, cynical option, that the three year renewal is a profit center for the screening vendor. As I said, truly no idea.

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