The number is bigger than you’d think: more than 65,000 minors participate in over 175 BU-connected residential and day programs each year, from child care during services at Marsh Chapel to the College of Fine Arts Summer Theatre Institute and from lacrosse camps to Upward Bound.
After nearly two years of work by the cross-campus Protection of Minors Task Force, the University has instituted a new policy and a training program to ensure that those young people are safe from abuse and neglect.
“Our students, faculty, staff, and volunteers interact with young people in many ways, and we are absolutely committed to providing them with the resources and training to help them ensure the safety of minors under their care,” says Peter Fiedler (COM’77), vice president for administrative services.
Most of those in the BU community who work with minors are designated “mandated reporters” under state law, meaning that they must report any known or suspected mental or physical abuse of a minor to the BU Police Department or to University officials, depending on the circumstances. That includes abuse connected to a BU program or elsewhere in the minor’s life.
A minor, in this case, is defined as anyone 17 or younger who is not a matriculated BU student and is not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
“We’ve been meeting one by one with different programs to explain the new policy,” says task force chair Carolyn Brownawell, executive director of Human Resources. “Each school, college, or department that sponsors a program that involves the participation of minors has been asked to identify a minors program coordinator, and we will educate them this fall on what they need to do to make sure that minors are protected on our campuses.”
Brownawell says that entails “making sure that you’re running criminal and sexual offender [CORI/SORI] background checks on staff, faculty, and volunteers who are working with minors, and then having those staff, faculty, and volunteers complete an online training on how to protect minors.”
Those who work with minors are required to pass CORI/SORI (criminal offender record information/sex offender registry information) checks to weed out those with backgrounds of criminal or sexual offenses.
Matriculated BU students and students at Boston University Academy are already covered under other laws and policies, she says. And the new policy is not related to issues such as physical safety during athletics.
The policy emphasizes procedures, training, and resources to help faculty and staff recognize abuse and ensure that those cases are reported. “We’ve made it as simple as possible for the minors program coordinators to comply,” Brownawell says.
Staffers are instructed that the first call in urgent cases should be to the BUPD, or local law enforcement for off-campus programs. They can also report concerns to their supervisors without fear of retaliation, according to the policy. Brownawell says calling the state Department of Children and Families directly is also an option. The important thing is to report as soon as possible.
Created in collaboration with an outside company, the online training takes 20 to 30 minutes. It begins with a trigger warning noting that some of the material may be difficult to watch, such as the parts about recognizing the signs of abuse and neglect and the ways pedophiles “groom” their victims. The training describes appropriate interactions with minors and potential trouble spots, including physical contact, one-on-one meetings, and social media. (Do not post photos of minors in your charge to your personal Facebook page.)
All minors program coordinators must attend an orientation through Human Resources, with sessions scheduled for Friday, November 20, and Wednesday, December 2. The coordinators will be responsible for ensuring that each person in their unit working with minors has passed required background checks and completed the training, either online or in person.
BU is one of many institutions that have devoted increased attention to the well-being of minors in their care in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. Sandusky was a football coach convicted of molesting boys, including in a program hosted on the campus.
The sheer size and complexity of BU adds a degree of difficulty to the initiative. The task force created a spreadsheet with all of the campus programs involving minors that they were aware of, but the list can change quickly.
“I’ve had student activities coordinators call me and say, ‘We want to have kids come for an overnight hackathon, and by the way, they’re going to be getting on buses in Canada,” Brownawell says. “I say, ‘Well, it would absolutely be great to welcome these youths, if you’ve got adult supervision whose backgrounds have been checked and you’ve had the parents sign liability waivers.’”
The policy also applies to outside groups that rent university facilities. The task force has notified departments such as Events & Conferences and Athletics about contractual provisions to make clear to outside groups “that if they’re going to be running an event on our campus, they need to make sure that their own staff has had background checks and that they’ve had some training,” Brownawell says.
“These resources will help all of us to ensure a safer environment for minors on the Boston University campus, and for those participating in off-campus University-sponsored activities,” says Fiedler.