Home  |   Subscribe  |   Resources  |   Reprints  |   Writers' Guidelines


How to Help Coaches Identify and Report Suspected Child Abuse

Study shows positive impact for one-hour training program

A program designed to help coaches learn to identify and report suspected child abuse and neglect among their players has measurable impact 10 months later, a new study shows.

Researchers found that up to two-thirds of coaches who completed the one-hour program could recall at least two signs of physical abuse without prompting 10 months after training. Nearly all of them said they were more likely to report suspected child abuse or neglect as a result of the training.

The results are encouraging, especially given the current attention to child abuse in sports communities, says Dawn Anderson-Butcher, PhD, a professor of social work at The Ohio State University and coauthor of the study.

"We have a lot of coaches and volunteers who don't have training in this area and don't know what to look for and what to do when it comes to abuse and neglect," Anderson-Butcher says.

"Even a short training program like the one we studied can go a long way in helping coaches become more knowledgeable and feel more comfortable taking action."

The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance.

The researchers investigated the impact of the "Protecting Youth" training program used at Ohio State's Buckeye Sports Camps. The training was developed by the university's College of Social Work and Department of Athletics.

More than 14,000 youth attend one of 140 summer Buckeye Sports Camps offered through the department of athletics each year. The "Protecting Youth" training is aimed at the more than 1,350 coaches, staff, student athletes, and volunteers involved in the sports camp operation annually. Many of the coaches involved come from high schools around the state.

The training is given prior to each camp's start date. Participants learn what child abuse and neglect are, how common they are, and how coaches can detect, prevent, and report suspected incidents.

While most of the coaches may be familiar with some of the signs of physical and sexual abuse, the program also talks about emotional abuse and neglect. "People are not as aware of these incidents as much, but they're just as important to identify and report so youth can get help," Anderson-Butcher says.

Coaches are taught how each young person may have a different reaction to experiences of abuse or neglect—some may become volatile, while others may become more withdrawn.

"We want coaches to be aware that signs or symptoms may not always mirror what is commonly expected," she says.

Participants were also told how to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect if they encountered them among youth at their camps. Leaders of the camps decided to have a single contact person in Ohio State's department of human resources.

"We wanted to have an objective point person who was not affiliated with camp operations so that no coach had to feel uncomfortable bringing up any issues with a supervisor," Anderson-Butcher says.

The "Protecting Youth" program also included training on how the coaches themselves should behave around the youth in their camp. For example, they were taught the "rule of three," which stated they should never be alone with one young person in the camp. They were also given guidance on appropriate touching in specific sports, such as how to perform spotting in gymnastics.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 271 coaches and other camp workers about 10 months after their training and camp experience.

Results showed that 94% of participants said that, as a result of the training, they had become more aware of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect and were more likely to report suspicions of it.

"We made it clear in the training that they as coaches didn't have to investigate. All they had to do is report what they saw or heard. It is up to Children's Services to determine what needs to be done," Anderson-Butcher says.

The researchers reported what percentage of participants in the training could recall one or two signs of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect—without any prompting or answers to choose from.

More than half the participants could correctly identify two signs of each of the four types of abuse and neglect 10 months after participation. The number of correct identifications ranged from 53% to 66% depending on the type of abuse.

In addition, 67% were still able to correctly identify who they were supposed to contact at Ohio State if they suspected child abuse or neglect.

Anderson-Butcher says the study suggests even short training sessions like "Protecting Youth" can have a positive impact.

"The importance of these trainings cannot be overstated. We need to make sure that coaches feel equipped to identify and report child abuse and neglect and know how to act themselves when working with youth," she says.

Source: Ohio State University