Rick Braschler, Director of Risk Management at Kanakuk Kamps, recently presented a 2-part webinar in conjunction with Verified Volunteers. The series, Working with Vulnerable Populations, covered two aspects of vulnerable population abuse prevention:  Identifying potential threats to the vulnerable populations an organization serves and developing a strategy to protect those populations from potential danger. We received a number of follow-up questions that the wider audience could benefit from and Rick is here to help us address a couple of them...


It was a pleasure presenting the Working with Vulnerable Populations webinar series – and it was great to see all the questions and interest that came through as a result. It shows that this is a very pressing topic for many organizations. To benefit those readers that did not listen to the webinar series, I’d like to start out with a short review regarding vulnerable populations and the abuse dangers they are posed with. 

First, what’s a vulnerable population?
- Vulnerable populations can be defined as groups that are often considered easier abuse targets. These include children, the disabled, the elderly or the infirm. 

And are they really more vulnerable than other groups?

Let’s look at the statistics:

  • 15-20% of the youth population will be molested prior to age 18¹
  • Almost 10% of the elderly experience abuse²
  • 30% of the disabled or infirmed report one or more types of abuse³ 
  • In all vulnerable populations, studies suggest that the perpetrator is a known, loved and trusted acquaintance 85-90% of the time, such as a family member, caregiver, coach, teacher or parent.⁴ 
  • Unfortunately, fewer than 10% of newly identified perpetrators of abuse had a prior criminal record that could be flagged with a background screen. That’s due to a national prosecution rate of only 3-5%.⁵


But with in-depth research and knowledge, we can implement effective measures to increase the safety of our vulnerable populations. Download the webinar recording to hear how you can structure programs to prevent abuse in your organization.

Now, on to the topic of this post. There were a number of questions posed during the webinar, two of which I thought it valuable to expand upon for a wider audience:

What are some examples of specific questions to ask volunteer or employee references in order to red flag an abuser?

The application process is the starting point for abuse prevention. During the application process, you are able to establish which people are  qualified and eligible to work with your vulnerable populations – and which are not.

The reference form is one piece of the puzzle.  However, traditional application forms do not ask questions that achieve the types of answers that that can be used to screen threats.  To compound the problem, administrators are not trained in advanced screening, so they don’t know what kind of responses to look for and how to follow up.  Many resources are available through various special interest groups to both train and equip administrators with these essential skills.  Abuse Prevention Systems provides sample forms, policies and checklists, as well as various trainings for staff on abuse awareness and advanced screening.  Visit their website to learn more: www.abusepreventionsystems.com

But let’s step back and answer the question. What are some of the questions you should be asking to improve your reference screening process now? The following questions are a good start:

  • How would you rate applicant’s ability to work with and relate to (children/elderly/disabled)? 
  • Can you give me an example of how the applicant relates to (children/elderly/disabled)?
  • We are looking for someone who can stay calm and control frustration even under very frustrating conditions with (children/elderly/disabled).  How would you rate the applicant’s ability to be patient and stay calm? 
  • Have you ever known the applicant to use harsh or abusive discipline with a (children/elderly/disabled)?      
  • Would you be comfortable placing one of your own (children/elderly/disabled) in the care of this applicant? 

Do you know of any resources to train youth so they can identify when they are being targeted for abuse or experiencing abuse?  
In my experience, training minors on abuse prevention techniques is delicate and somewhat controversial given the content matter.  This is compounded by the children’s lack of attention span and general unawareness of their surroundings and the savvy trickery of a perpetrator.  We have addressed these challenges by developing what we call the Kanakuk 3-6-0 Safe and Secure Talk.  This training is designed to equip children with a 3 Rules (Recognize, Resist, Report), 6 Boundaries (Modesty, One on One’s, Appropriate Touch, Appropriate Talk, Bullying, Your Territory), and Zero Tolerance message in less than 10 minutes.  To add more impact to this element, we implemented what we call the “Wrap-Around,” which is a short visit with the child mid-way through the session posing the question, “Is there any person or thing that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe while you’re here?”  The combination of the 3-6-0 with the Wrap-Around was instrumental in apprehending an acquaintance molester in 2011.  To view examples of the 3-6-0 Training, click either of these links and watch the video:   Kanakuk 3-6-0  or Royal Family Kids 3-6-0

In closing, there is no silver bullet to preventing abuse to vulnerable populations.  However, with better intelligence comes better strategies. If you would like more information on our comprehensive strategy to combat abuse, visit www.kanakukchildprotection.org.

¹Abuse Prevention Systems, 2015  www.abusepreventionsystems.com
²NCEA, 2014
³Curry, et al, 2009
⁴Abuse Prevention Systems, 2015 
www.abusepreventionsystems.com; Westat, Inc., 1998
⁵Abuse Prevention Systems, 2015 


Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Robin Scherne said:
    1/28/2015 8:57 AM

    Great blog!