The backbone of Little League is the adult volunteer. One million strong, it is the corps of dedicated people who coach the teams, umpire the games, work in the concession stands, serve on the local Board of Directors, and serve at the District level. These people live in every U.S. state and more than 80 countries and they make Little League the world’s largest and most respected youth sports organization.
We know the greatest treasure we have is our children. As adults, we must ensure that these young people are able to grow up happy, healthy, and above all, safe. Whether they are our children or the children of others, each of us has a responsibility to protect them.
What can leagues do?
The Little League® Child Protection Program seeks to educate children and volunteers in ways to prevent child abusers from becoming involved in the local league. Part of that education has been to assist local Little League volunteers in finding effective and inexpensive ways to conduct background checks. Little League regulations now say, “No local league shall permit any person to participate in any manner whose background check reveals a conviction, guilty plea, no contest pleas, or admission to any crime involving or against a minor or minors. In addition, if an individual is listed on either of the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s Centralized Disciplinary Database or the Little League International Ineligible/Suspended List, they are not permitted to participate.” (Reg. 1 [c] 9.)
Local Little League programs are required to conduct an annual volunteer application process, which includes background checks of all Managers, Coaches, Board of Directors, and any persons, volunteers or hired workers who provide regular services to the league and/or has repetitive access to, or contact with, players or teams. (Reg. 1[b], Reg 1[c]9.)
Each year, Little League International provides each local league in the United States 125 free criminal background checks administered through JDP Background Screening. For more information on the background check process, see the Little League Background Check Page.
What Can Parents Do?
Parents of little leaguers should be aware of the practices that Little League is taking to protect their children. The Child Protection Program has been updated in 2021 to reflect all type of child abuses, not just sexual abuse. According to statistics compiled by American SPCC, there are 7.8 million child abuse reports, but only 3.3 million children received prevention and post-response services.
Most children have been warned about the dangers of talking to strangers. But for many children, child abuse is committed by someone they know. The truth is, child abusers can come from every background, every occupation, every race, and every level of education. They may be married, and they may have children of their own. It is dangerous to believe that the only threat is the stranger in a long raincoat lurking behind a tree.
In fact, the promotion of this myth may contribute to the problem. Sometimes, a child who is abused by a known and “trusted” person will feel so guilty about not reacting the “right” way that he or she never reports the problem.
Sadly, we have all seen too many reports in which teachers, police ofﬁcers, clergy, youth sports volunteers, etc., trusted by all, have violated that trust and abused children in their care. Of course, this must never be tolerated in Little League or anywhere else.
In many of these situations, the young victims are groomed, sometimes over a period of months or even years. The child’s family is lulled into believing the unusual attention being lavished is a bond of friendship between the adult and the child. In fact, the adult abuser often uses gifts, trips, attention and affection as part of a courtship process. Sometimes, the courtship process extends to the child’s parent(s), but the real target is the child.
Best Practices for parents of local little leaguers
Parents should talk with their children about what are appropriate one-on-one interactions with their volunteers as well as prepare them if an incident does occur and how they should handle the incident. USA Baseball BASE Program offers a free Abuse Awareness for Minors that helps identify what abuse is and what to do if someone is being abused. The BASE Program also offers the Abuse Awareness for Adults that covers the same topics but focuses on how to create a positive and safe environment for the athletes. This training is also free through USA Baseball.
With this training, parents are aware of some of the warning signs of an abuser. Parents should monitor their children’s behavior and if they become aware of any abnormal behavior in their child to have a conversation with them. Parents should also be aware that abuser are not always adults; sometimes other children can abuse other children. There is no way to totally prevent child abuse, but with training, education, and background checks, Little League can create a less hostile environment.
Some Indicators of Child Abuse
According to American SPCC, the following are some indicators of child abuse.
- Physical indicators of neglect (constant hunger, fatigue, or lack of supervision)
- Behavioral indicators of neglect (begging for/stealing food, delinquency, state there is no caregiver)
- Habit Disorders (sucking, biting, rocking)
- Conduct Disorders (antisocial, destructive)
- Neurotic Traits (sleep disorders, speech disorders, inhibition of play)
- Unexplained bruises and welts
- Unexplained Burns
- Unexplained fractures
- Unexplained lacerations & abrasions
- Wary of adult contact
- Apprehensive when other children cry
- Behavioral extremes (aggressiveness, withdrawal, frightened of parents, afraid to go home)
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
- Pain or itching in genital area
- Bruises or bleeding in external genitalia, vaginal, or anal areas
- Venereal disease, especially in pre-teens
- Unwilling to change for gym or participate in PE
- Withdrawn, fantasy, or infantile behavior
- Bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual behavior or knowledge
- Poor peer-to-peer relationships
Talk to Your Kids; Listen to Your Kids
It is important that you, as a parent, talk frankly to your children. If a child reports any type of abuse, statistics show they are probably telling the truth.
Unfortunately, the abused child often sees himself or herself as the one “at fault” for allowing abuse to happen. Your children MUST know that they can come to you with this information and that you will support them, love them, and believe them.
If there is an allegation of abuse of a minor, the crime should be reported immediately.
How to Report Suspected child abuse
To report suspected child abuse, please visit the State Specific Information on Child Abuse to review your state’s standards on reporting child abuse. Local league volunteers are considered mandatory reporters per the SafeSport Law and must report the abuse. If they do not, there are legal consequences against them.
These items are meant solely as a general guide and should not be used as the only means for rooting out child sex offenders. Parents can access more information on child abuse from the following organizations:
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children®