What’s Big Brothers Big Sisters’ reaction to the Sandusky verdict?
We applaud the work of the prosecutors, law enforcement and others who worked so hard to bring this case to justice. We are saddened and outraged that so many children were harmed before this case came to trial. Our hope is that this will send a clear message to all who might exploit their association with a school, community center or mentoring organization to harm a child. We believe that these kinds of crimes are under-reported and that media accounts of cases such as this bring forth more reports. We remain committed advocates for the children we serve and want past, present or would-be perpetrators to know we have zero tolerance for abuse and will work proactively with law enforcement to provide information to bring facts to light.
Doesn’t a message like that deter good volunteers?
According to experts, false reports of child abuse are rare. Our child safety practices protect volunteers as well as children. By following ground rules and having regular contact with our match support professionals – a practice that sets Big Brothers Big Sisters apart from many other mentoring programs – everyone involved in our mentoring matches -- children, volunteers and parents/guardians -- have regular, ongoing support from professionals who provide guidance to help ensure that the mentoring relationship develops in a healthy, transparent and trusting manner. In addition to providing safeguards that help to protect children and families, our one-to-one mentoring model is designed to yield positive outcomes for youth enrolled in our programs. The 2012 Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth Outcomes Study finds children in our program improve in educational performance, behavior and socio-emotional areas. This is consistent with long-standing research, conducted by Public Private Ventures a decade ago.
How can an organization such as Big Brothers Big Sisters minimize the occurrence of child sexual abuse?
Effective and robust screening, coupled with training and controls, reduce risk and increase the likelihood of positive youth outcomes. Our volunteers and staff undergo thorough screening and background checks and we provide ongoing professional support for our children and families. As part of the orientation process, our Little Brothers and Little Sisters and their parents receive personal safety awareness education.
You say that safety is your number one priority; yet your organization has had volunteers, even staff, who have abused children. How do you explain that?
Unfortunately, there is no way to eliminate all unsafe behavior. But, it must be the objective of every organization charged with helping children develop into productive adults to manage this risk effectively. The integrity of our program is extremely important. To achieve the highest quality standards possible, we work to constantly review and strengthen our screening and background check systems as new best practices in the industry emerge.
How many child sex abuse reports and convictions does Big Brothers Big Sisters have annually?
The rate of reports made to local Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliates for each calendar year from 2000-2010, alleging that anyone within our organization perpetrated child sexual abuse or exploitation on a child associated with our organization, amounts to a fraction of a percentage point per year, based on children served annually. Included in those reports are incidents that may have occurred years or even decades before the report was submitted. Still, we are outraged and saddened by accounts of any child being abused or harmed. In every case, we are disturbed by reports of our program being exploited by anyone wanting to do harm to a child.