Child Abuse Prevention Strategies in Public Recreation Agencies in Michigan


  • Al Ellard
  • Cheryl Gelsthardt
  • Mary Lou Schilling


recreation, child maltreatment, child abuse, child protection, risk management.


Child abuse and neglect is a significant problem in the United States. Recent high profile instances of abuse involving adults in positions of trust including the clergy and teachers, easy access to child pornography via the Internet, along with a string of kidnappings, abuse, and murder of children have heightened the nation’s consciousness to this problem. Agencies that provide services to children are under increased pressure to take affirmative actions to protect children. Numerous nonprofit, youth serving, and sports organizations have developed formal policy for protecting children that include screening of leaders and volunteers, strict rules related to harassment, guidelines for adult/child interactions, and educational programs for leaders, parents and participants. Little evidence exists in the literature that the public recreation sector has addressed child abuse as a serious management concern.This exploratory study begins to examine child abuse prevention strategies employed by public parks and recreation agencies in Michigan. A questionnaire examining attitudes and opinions about issues related to child abuse prevention was mailed to 262 Michigan public park and recreation agency directors. Participants were asked to evaluate their familiarity with signs of child abuse and their knowledge of procedures for reporting child abuse as well as that of their staff and volunteers. Participants were asked to respond to questions indicating their perception of the problem of child abuse in general and within parks and recreation specifically, and to respond to questions regarding child abuse prevention strategies employed in their agency including the existence of policy, screening efforts for volunteers and staff, and training activities. Participants were also asked whether they had personally encountered instances of child abuse during their career.The results of this study indicate that public recreation agencies are only beginning to address child abuse prevention as a matter of policy. Child abuse prevention strategies that are in place are unlikely to be based on formal policy. Directors indicate that more training is needed related to improving child protective practices in public recreation agencies. Possible next steps for beginning to address child abuse and neglect prevention in public recreation are explored.?





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