The day NHL hockey player Sheldon Kennedy testified that his coach, Graham James, sexually abused him hundreds of times when he was a boy is the day that screening became a reality for many organizations. Kennedy not only settled the score with his coach by agreeing to testify but his admission also signalled the end of the unspoken agreement by many victims to stay silent about abuse. 

Likewise, the story of Gary Blair Walker haunts many social agencies and organizations that service the vulnerable sector. Walker admits to sexually molesting over 200 boys over the course of 30 years while he held a variety of positions of trust as a paid worker and a volunteer. He was at different times a sports coach, a police officer, a Scout master, a church camp counselor, a school bus driver and a martial arts instructor.

We’ve all heard stories like these. Stories we would like to forget or pretend never happened.  Unfortunately we can’t. All we can do is try to ensure they don’t happen again.

The issue of physical and sexual abuse and safety remains a huge concern for volunteer-based organizations who are serving the vulnerable sector. For organizations like these, abuse prevention and protection needs to be a strategic initiative.  Not only is it the right thing to do but, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we must provide special protection and assistance to children to enable them to reach their full potential as adults.

So what is the standard of protection? It involves an organization having:

  • A STATEMENT OF POLICY.  A written policy formally approved, implemented and periodically reviewed under the direction of executive leadership.  It should confirm your commitment to providing a safe environment for children and the vulnerable, declaring zero tolerance for abuse, harassment or neglect. The declared purpose of the policy should be clearly expressed; that is, preventing harm to the children, youth and vulnerable adults in care and protecting your staff and volunteers from false or wrongful allegations.
  • A DEFINITION OF ABUSE. Define abuse and related issues so that all of your employees will clearly understand and be able to identify unacceptable behavior including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, harassment and neglect.
  • SCREENED STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS. These individuals should be screened to a degree that is appropriate with their interaction with the vulnerable sector in your organization’s care. Screening includes a completed application form, interview, reference checks, and background checks.
  • OPERATIONAL PROCEDURES written out and distributed to all workers.  Operational procedures should include, but are not limited to, guidelines for communication, bullying, social networking, appropriate touch, discipline, emergency response and health and safety guidelines.
  • PREMISE MODIFICATIONS OR ALTERATIONS OF YOUR FACILITIES which can assist in preventing and discouraging abuse incidents.
  • TRAINING (ORIENTATION AND ANNUAL REFRESHERS) FOR ALL STAFF MEMBERS and volunteers who regularly work with the vulnerable sector to assist in the prevention of abuse.
  • A PROTOCOL FOR REPORTING AND RESPONDING to all allegations or complaints of abuse in an appropriate manner adhering to legal requirements. 


This standard of protection is fairly consistent across the United States. Insurance companies support the standard; some may even say insurance companies established the standard. The standard also is used within the courts in identifying what should be known and reasonably done to protect children and youth within our programs and activities.

If we adhere to this standard, I believe we can significantly minimize abuse and ensure that children, young people and vulnerable adults who are being abused do not go unnoticed.  We would also be demonstrating our duty of care to our volunteers as we would be not placing them in a position where they could be falsely accused of abuse.  Together let’s raise the bar on protection. 

If you need help to put these procedures in place to qualify for abuse coverage from your insurance company, contact Melodie at  Plan to Protect® provides customized policies, training and assessments for volunteer based organizations.



Melodie Bissell is the President & CEO of Plan to Protect®, a Verified Volunteers partner and an organization with a vision to win the race against abuse. She co-authored and now is the primary distributor of Plan to Protect®, A Protection Manual for Children, Youth and Those That Work With Them. The manual is a comprehensive plan to help you achieve a high standard of protection.  Plan to Protect® provides the tools, training, and momentum to create safe places for kids. Melodie regularly consults with associations, schools, camps, churches and dioceses on abuse prevention, risk management, and strategic planning. She is also a sought-after speaker and trainer on Vulnerable Sector Protection. Visit Melodie on the web at

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