Margaret Ochoa is a former child dependency and neglect prosecutor who now facilitates Safe Environment Training for the Archdiocese of Denver. Margaret lives in the suburbs with her husband and three children.
As the Colorado Rockies kick off with Opening Day, local youth are gearing up for another season of spring sports such as baseball, soccer or softball. As parents, what can we do to protect them from potential abuse as we entrust them to a new group of strangers?
1. Learn all you can about the youth program and its policies with respect to child protection. Ask if coaches and parent volunteers must provide criminal background checks as a part of their jobs. Programs through Catholic schools do. If your child is participating in a neighborhood club, find out. If not, suggest it. While most predators do not have criminal histories, it would be horrific to find out after the fact that your child’s coach was a convict and you put him or her in harm’s way. You don’t want to regret not asking the question.
2. Ensure the adults that have access to your child are not violating your child’s physical, emotional and behavioral boundaries. No coach should be alone with your child where they cannot be seen or heard. Watch for adults who touch too much, or in places that are private to your child. There is a vast difference between an adult-child soccer game and a game of “dog pile on coach.” Refuse to allow your child to participate in such activities, and make sure the program is aware if a coach is engaging in these games.
3. Monitor texts and Internet communications to see who your child’s “friends” are. Don’t allow them to “friend” or “follow” anyone they don’t know in person, and examine communications between adults and your child. Tell your child you are watching their social media, then do it. Be observant of adults who regularly text or message your child.
4. Beware of adults who ridicule your rules or refuse to honor them. At best, they are being careless with your values. At worst, they are interested in driving a wedge between you and your child. “If you were my son, I’d let you watch an R-rated movie. I can’t believe your parents don’t trust you. You are so mature.” Due to their inability to appreciate risk, young people—especially adolescents—can be drawn to this type of adult.
5. Watch your child’s behavior. Are they suddenly disinterested in attending practice or games? Are they anxious about being around particular people? Remember that juveniles, women and married men commit sex crimes. Don’t presume your child is safe alone with people in these categories just because you perceive it unlikely they would victimize your child. Ask questions about why your son or daughter is anxious or uncomfortable. It could be pre-game jitters, but it could be that someone is pressuring him or her to engage in acts that make him uneasy.
> Free parenting classes
The Archdiocese of Denver offers free parenting classes in child abuse prevention in parishes each month called “Safe Environment Trainings” or “Called to Protect.” Find out more at www.archden.org/child-protection or call your parish office.
> If you suspect abuse
Call the state child abuse and neglect hotline at 1-844-CO-4-KIDS