Learning from Others’ Mistakes: Keeping Vulnerable Populations Safe from Would-be Predators
Posted Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 by Sterling Volunteers Staff
Most nonprofit organizations try to take every possible precaution to keep volunteers and the groups they serve safe. When it comes to vulnerable populations like children, you can never be too cautious with your policies and procedures as they relate to the vetting of volunteer candidates who work alongside these groups. Though you would assume organizations working with any type of vulnerable population would maintain airtight screening and onboarding regulations, not all do…and persons with harmful intentions sometimes gain access to these groups.
We’ve pulled three articles from newspapers over the past few years and analyzed where these organizations took a misstep in their approach to screening volunteer candidates and/or how their policies and procedures were too lax resulting in unsafe environments, harm to their organization’s reputation, and, in some instances, legal recourse.
Their mistakes, however, are learning opportunities for us all.
- “Pedophile volunteered at local church.”
- “Camp Counselor engaged in inappropriate communication with camper!”
- “Family members charge Not-for-Profit organization leaders for undue influence with deceased mother’s Last Will.”
Headline One: The church involved was committed to ensuring a safe environment for its congregation and had strong policies and procedures in place around volunteer screening. Still, a sub-committee of the church decided to start a Food Bank for the community. During the planning stages, a new member of the church offered to help out. Because the Food Bank was an impromptu program for the church, the church did not screen those involved as stringently as they would those volunteers involved in their regular community initiatives. After the Food Bank passed – with the new church member serving as a volunteer – it was discovered he was a sex offender; he had unfortunately slipped through the “screening cracks”.
Headline Two: The camp had very strong policies and procedures in place for protecting children – at least while camp was in session. Those policies did not carry over after the summer season ended and one counselor initiated inappropriate communications with his campers through email and text. Luckily, the campers shared the emails with other camp staff, and the counselor was arrested for sexual crimes against minors. The organization that ran the camp was also charged for vicarious liability for the actions of their volunteer.
Headline Three: When the subject of the article passed away, her children were well aware that their mother had bequeathed a percentage of her estate to a given charity. When her official will was being read, the family was horrified to learn that the will had been recently changed. It now directed that the money go directly to the Executive Director of the charity and his wife. In discovery, it was found that the Executive Director and his wife would often visit their mother when there was no other person home. They shared with her the financial hardships they were experiencing as a family, and convinced her to leave her funds to them.
Whenever we read stories like these the importance of organizations having strong protection policies and procedures is glaringly evident. Each of these scenarios identifies areas of hidden risks involving children, the elderly, and a nonprofit’s invaluable reputation. Sterling Volunteers strongly recommends that organizations think about all activities and programs they have in place and assess the level of risk associated with the activity.
This article originally appeared on Plan to Protect’s website.