Many health clubs offer programs and opportunities that cater to children: child watch, summer camps, preschool programs, swim lessons, after-school care, youth sports and more. While everyone’s safety is a priority, health club management has a duty — both legally and ethically — to do everything possible to protect the safety and well-being of children in their care.
One of the most damaging threats to a child’s safety, as well as the reputation of your business, is allegations or incidents of sexual misconduct. There are important protocols and processes you can implement to be diligent in providing a safe environment at your club, from hiring practices and conducting staff training on policies and appropriate conduct, to modifying your facility for improved supervision.
Children’s safety begins with the people who will work with them while they’re in your care. Exercise caution and include these steps when hiring employees or engaging volunteers:
In addition to carefully screening applicants, remember that every staff member and volunteer who is already working in your facility should be checked with state registries for child abuse or other criminal histories. A person with a history of abuse generally should not be employed, even if that person is licensed and certified.
Once your staff members are in place, provide them with comprehensive training. Explain your club’s code of conduct and policies about ethical behavior, so each staff member knows what you expect. Include sexual misconduct prevention training as part of your club’s initial orientation and conduct follow-up training at regular intervals to make sure your team knows how to recognize signs of potential misconduct.
Develop a crisis management plan and keep it updated to include procedures for reporting suspicious behavior and responding to accusations of misconduct or abuse. If there are suspicions about sexual misconduct, this plan will serve as a key reference for your team throughout the investigation process. Be sure your plan also includes a process for managing the flow of information to authorities, parents and the media in a crisis.
While managing people is an important safety component, don’t overlook your club’s environment. Avoid putting staff members in situations where sexual misconduct or the perception of it might occur. Provide supervision whenever your staff or volunteers are working with children, and always maintain appropriate staff ratios so that no adult is alone with a child. In addition, identify and correct features of the club’s physical environment, such as secluded areas, that could lead to misconduct. If necessary, modify the building and premises to improve sight lines to increase visibility in the areas that children will occupy.
Everyone in your organization has an obligation to keep children safe in your club so that they can grow up mentally, emotionally and physically strong and healthy.
This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article.
Brian Rawlings is the program manager for the Fitness & Recreation and Medical Facilities programs at The Cincinnati Insurance Company. He spent 10 years developing and overseeing programs in the fitness industry before joining The Cincinnati Insurance Company in 2005. Brian can be contacted at 513-603-5461, or by email addressed to Brian_Rawlings@cinfin.com.