Assess Your Youth Protection Program

Host: Hello, and welcome to Prevention and Protection, the United Educators Risk Management Podcast. Today, Marcy Huey, Executive Director of Institutional Compliance at the University of Alabama; Rebecca Whitman, Protection of Minors Manager at the University of Alaska Fairbanks; and Melanie Bennett, Senior Risk Management Council at United Educators; will discuss assessing your youth protection program. A reminder to listeners, you can find other UE podcasts, as well as UE risk management resources, on our website, Our podcasts are also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Now, here’s Melanie.

Melanie Bennett: Thank you. Marcy and Rebecca, welcome and thanks for joining us today. The three of us have worked together a lot throughout 2022. We co-authored the Higher Education Protection Network (HEPNet) Resource: Assessing the Effectiveness of Your Youth Protection Program with Lindsay Bond from HEPNet and Praesidium, and James Bourgeois from Praesidium. So before we talk about your school’s assessments, Marcy, can you talk about what HEPNet is and why we decided to write this paper?

Marcy Huey: Absolutely. So HEPNet is the Higher Education Protection Network. It’s an organization that’s really dedicated to youth protection and minors programs in higher education. So all those activities where people are coming to your campus, they’re bringing minors to your campus, this is sort of a resource to get together and share professional experiences, develop best practices, do some networking. And through those conversations and those partnerships, we kind of determined that there was a need to help communicate how to assess your program, your program’s effectiveness on where your program might have some weaknesses that you want to shore up and really make that a formalized process. And a lot of people really needed some resources to help with that, so we wanted to put together some guidance and some suggestions, sort of share some of our experiences to open up that conversation.

Bennett: And Rebecca, why is it important for schools to assess their youth protection programs?

Rebecca Whitman: I think one of the important reasons to do these assessments is because we don’t know what’s working and what’s not if we don’t look at where there are gaps. So an assessment allows us to take information and see where our programs are doing well or our policy is working and where it’s not, where we have those gaps so we can shore up our policy or shore up our practices and really do a better job of keeping youth safe on our campuses.

Bennett: Great. So let’s get to the meat of this conversation. Let’s talk about the assessments you’ve performed on your campuses and why you chose the formats that you chose. Marcy, do you want to talk about your assessment?

Huey: Sure, I’d be happy to. So we have a regular process of assessment within my office. I feel like it’s important to clarify that because I want to highlight that this is an integrated part of our business process. We feel like the youth protection program, or any of our compliance programs that run through my office, you have to really have some sort of project and process for assessing how they’re working, what’s working, what’s not, what are gaps you have, and where you can improve the process, as well as where you can improve the compliance with the process. Because we see those as two different things. We have set out what we call in my office, a five-year plan. My staff likes to tease me because everything in my office has a five-year plan. But we try to develop and determine what we’re going to assess in advance so that we’re collecting that data, we’re collecting those metrics and that analysis, and then assess it at the end with an understanding of this is what we were looking at.

So, for example, if we were looking at compliance with the registration requirements, we need to know what all those requirements are and we need to be able to capture who complied, who did what, what worked well, what didn’t, where did people not understand what we were asking for. If you don’t know up front what you’re assessing, you can’t assess it on the back end. So that’s kind of been our process. It’s very iterative. We look at something one year, and then the next year we may pick a different topic.

So the next year, maybe we look at training and background screening. And then the next year, we look at a different area. We’ve kind of taken the position that we can’t do everything at once, and we can’t do everything all the time, but we can really dig into one area at a time and work on that as we go. So we’ve made it kind of an iterative process. But if you don’t look at your process, you can’t improve it.

If you don’t really assess, is this best practice? Is this protecting our minors? Is this actually giving us the information and the protection and the security that we think we’re getting? Then you can’t actually say that your program’s working.

Bennett: And one interesting thing I know from talking to you both in the past is that you’ve both done assessments, and your assessments look a little different. Rebecca, could you talk about your assessment process?

Whitman: Marcy has talked about how they’ve been doing their assessments for some time. At the University of Alaska Fairbanks, or UAF, we are a younger program. We have not historically had a program assessment in place. We don’t have a process for that. So over this past year, I’ve been really building that out and using our new compliance registration system to start pulling data. So I’m in the very early stages of assessments. I’m on quarter three of my baseline year.

And so I’m just pulling compliance data right now. Are we compliant with background checks? Are we compliant with interview questions, reference checks, training, all of those different components of making sure that we have safe programs. Right now, what I’m looking for, like Marcy said, you really need to know what you’re looking for before you start pulling data so you can figure out what the data is telling you.

And right now, what I’m looking for is which areas are we doing well with compliance, where most of our programs and most of our individuals are compliant in those areas, and where are we struggling? So my plan, once I get some good baseline data, is to find the areas that we’re struggling, and then to dig into why we’re struggling there. So for example, if we’re having trouble with background checks, is that because of the cost? Is it because of the time it takes to get those done? Is it accessibility to background checks?

So just looking at those different items, again, we’re really in a much newer or much earlier phase of assessment. And so I think it’s really great to hear from Marcy about how that looks in the future, and that gives me some guiding points. But like I said, for now, we’re just looking to see where we’re at and getting a good baseline.

Bennett: Have you run into any challenges while building your program?

Whitman: Any good assessment really requires that you have access to the data that you want to evaluate. And previously, we didn’t have access to that. Like I mentioned, we are just building out a compliance registration system. I’m still having trouble figuring out where I’m going to get some data from about how many youth are involved and what types of programs.

Dual enrollment specifically is one that I’m having trouble finding out how many youth are involved and how to access the staff, and just figuring out how to get staff registered in our new system. So I think the data collection point is the biggest challenge, and so building relationships with different people across the campus and figuring out how to get that information is the route that I’m taking to try to close those gaps.

Bennett: Marcy, did you experience challenges when you were building your program? And have challenges disappeared entirely now that you’ve got a program that’s running?

Huey: I so wish that the challenges had disappeared. I think that Becca’s comments about data, finding the data, getting access to the data, I think that is a perpetual motion challenge. I don’t think that that ever really goes away because you’re constantly trying to look at things through a slightly different lens or look at things a different way. And no matter how much planning you do in advance, there’s always going to be a data point that you’re like, “Oh, I wish we had caught this from the beginning.”

With that said, I think one of our biggest challenges that rears its head over and over and over again has been the blurred lines between the youth protection program that helps coordinate programs and the programs themselves. So it’s that education, that the number of programs we have is not as relevant as the quality of programs that we have. It’s the number of background checks is not as relevant as the data in the background checks. It’s that conversation and that education.

There’s constant turnover in the staff that are running these programs or in administration and leadership. And so it’s a constant education and reeducation that we are trying to assess the programs, we are looking at data, we are looking at this area or that area, but no, it’s not a matter of just, “Well, did you count them?” Because yes, we did. We did, but there’s a lot more to it than that, and that has been a challenge for us. Not necessarily insurmountable, but just constant.

Bennett: Rebecca, you and Marcy have both said that you assessed your programs internally. Would you ever advise a colleague to use outside experts when they’re conducting their assessment?

Whitman: I do think there is a time and a place to use an outside expert. I think Marcy and I both have pretty extensive graduate-level training where we’ve been exposed to how to collect that data, how to analyze that data, so not everyone may feel like they have the skills to do that. Also, even if you have the skills, you may not have the time or the resources. The time that it takes to invest into a program assessment may be too much for someone who is doing this as just one part of their job. Protection of minors often is a secondary duty for many of the people who are doing it, and so it might be worth the money to spend to have an outside resource or an outside expert come to do that assessment. It may be that you don’t know what you’re looking for. And in that case, an external expert is also a great idea. So you really just need to weigh what capabilities you have and what limitations you have in deciding that.

Bennett: And for the last question, Marcy, what resources would you recommend for schools who are assessing their youth protection programs?

Huey: There are a lot of resources out there. I think I will echo what Becca mentioned, that if you’re in a position to bring in an expert or a third party, certainly that’s a valid approach. But if you’re not, or if you want to build your own assessment program, HEPNet, obviously, along with our amazing paper, HEPNet has resources that can assist with developing an assessment program. As I mentioned, HEPNet is a great networking group, so there’s a lot of people there, us included, who are always happy to talk through programs, program assessments.

United Educators has a number of resources in their library that we have used over the years, white papers, checklists, webinars, things like that, to develop some of our resources.

URMIA, which is the risk management association, they also have a lot of resources in their library. If you are a member or somebody at your university as a member, they have a lot of resources in their library.

The American Camp Association has an amazing amount of resources. And they have, depending on the type of program you have, they even have their own accreditation program that your program can be assessed by a third party. We aren’t really structured in such a way to benefit from that, but we have benefited from some of their assessment resources that they’ve created as part of their accreditation. And they will even have somebody come to your campus and talk to you about how some of that works.

There are a lot of things that can help you think through what you want to assess, how you want to assess it, which points are the most critical, which ones can maybe be secondary assessments, and what kind of data you should be thinking about when you’re collecting those.

Bennett: Great. And we’ll make sure that our paper is linked on the webpage. That’s it for today’s podcast. Thank you, Rebecca and Marcy, for joining me today.

Host: From United Educators Insurance, this is the Prevention and Protection Podcast. For additional United Educators resources, please visit our website,

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