Sioux Falls, SD
The Penn State sexual abuse scandal has many parents wondering: how do you know if youth centers and after-school programs are safe?
"A lot of kids that come here maybe do not have such a great home life, so we try to give them a fun place that's safe to hang out," Bowden Youth Center Supervisor Randall Fitzgerald said.
Volunteers of America's Bowden Youth Center in Sioux Falls offers after-school programs for kids and is also a drop-in center for runaway, homeless or at-risk youth. It is easy for kids to walk through the doors, but staff and volunteers have to jump through a few hoops.
"Reference checks, central registry for child abuse, possibly a criminal records check, an interview and we bring them in to shadow kids so we can see how they interact with the kids," Director of Outreach and Community Services Joan Neilan said.
Technology plays a role in keeping kids safe at Bowden.
"We make sure that no staff member or volunteers are ever alone with any participant. We have cameras in every room to monitor in case something would happen," Fitzgerald said.
The strict and thorough policy is more than necessary in light of the recent headline-making Penn State sexual abuse scandal. Neilan said retired football coach Jerry Sandusky's recent molestation charges are a slap in the face to other youth organizations across the country.
"It makes you angry, makes you sad, because kids, we want all kids to have access to good and wonderful experiences, but if it's the hands of someone who is going to harm them, it just hurts everyone," Neilan said.
In Neilan's mind, there is one positive lesson, if not important reminder, to be learned.
"What it does is reminds us too that we always have to make sure we're doing the right thing. It's a reminder you don't know who is capable of harming a child, so you can't assume anything about anyone," Neilan said.