Volunteer Management to Protect Minors From Sexual Misconduct
Host: Hello, and welcome to Prevention and Protection, the United Educators Risk Management podcast. Today, Nakeschi Watkins, Director of Risk Management and Insurance at Cornell University, Paula Griffin, Children and Youth Safety Program Administrator at Cornell University, and Hoda Hussein, Risk Management Consultant at United Educators, will discuss volunteer management for the protection of minors from sexual misconduct.
Before we begin, a quick reminder that you can find other United Educators podcasts and general risk management resources on our website, www.ue.org. All of UE’s podcasts are also available on Apple Music. Now, here’s Hoda.
Hoda Hussein: Hello, Nakeschi and Paula. Thank you so much for joining me today to discuss volunteer management for protection of minors. Cornell University has recently revamped its volunteer management practices, and we’d love to spend our time today hearing specifically about your procedures, approaches, and advice on your successes and challenges along the way with regard to your policy, screening, training, and reporting of volunteers.
But before we get started, I wanted to give both of you some time to tell us about your role with regard to volunteer management and protection of minors at Cornell. Nakeschi, we’ll start with you.
Nakeschi Watkins: Hi Hoda, thank you for inviting me to participate in this podcast. So currently I’m the Director of Risk Management and Insurance at Cornell university. And the Department of Risk Management and Insurance has oversight or the responsible department when it comes to volunteers on campus.
And Paula — and she’ll introduce herself — we collaborate since she oversees the minors programs on campus to ensure that minors are complying with the volunteer policy.
Hussein: Great. And Paula, tell us about your role.
Paula Griffin: I’m the Children and Youth Safety Program Director, and I oversee the programs that involve children and youth under the age of 18. I provide guidance as to our policy regarding volunteers and other people working with children and youth. So I am the person that provides the guidance, provides the safety protocols, and those sorts of things.
Hussein: Wonderful. And let’s hear a little bit more about your coordination of volunteer management between your two offices. So can you tell us a little bit about your shared responsibilities? Nakeschi, I’ll toss that question to you.
Watkins: Thank you, Hoda. As I mentioned earlier, the volunteer policy is overseen by the Risk Management and Insurance department. However, Risk Management collaborates with the Children and Youth Safety Program Administrator when it comes to volunteers with minors on campus.
In addition, we have two committees that we also work with when it comes to also looking at this policy as well, and incorporating any changes that may need to take place for this volunteer policy.
So Paula and I work together closely. We work together with other major stakeholders on the campuses, and we also work together with our Cornell Tech Campus - NYC and our medical college when it comes to this volunteer policy and management as well.
Hussein: It’s so encouraging, Nakeschi, to hear about breaking silos on your campus and ensuring that these several stakeholders are involved when it comes to the protection of minors. And with the potential for so many children on campus at any given time, how do you keep track of it all? Paula, can you tell us more about your approach here?
Griffin: We require everybody that is working with children to register their programs. That includes Cornell programs and third-party programs. So that’s one way we are starting to track all of this. And we collaborated with many departments within Cornell to create a digital online system to register these programs.
The program directors can also add their employees that are working [with] the program and their volunteers. And this allows us to keep track of each program, who’s working which program, and it also initiates as the trigger for the screening process of that volunteer.
Hussein: I appreciate your approach with collaborating with your IT folks to come up with the digital registry, especially in an environment where most of us may be working remotely and need access to important information at a moment’s notice.
Let’s move on to your policy. Paula, does your protection of minors policy state that it applies to volunteers in addition to employees?
Griffin: Yup. It does include volunteers. We treat the volunteers similar to employees when it comes to the screening process and having them follow our policies. I just want to let you know that Cornell is actually moving away from using the term “minors”, and we’re using the terms “children and youth.” Minors caused a lot of confusion, we discovered.
We had feedback or comments from across our campuses that when we talk about minors, it gets very confusing with the field of studies of major and minors. So I wanted to let you guys know that we wanted to get more used to using the terms children and youth.
Hussein: Thank you for clarifying your terminology. That makes a lot of sense, and your policy is very clear on who it applies to and in what instances.
So let’s move on to training, which is typically where we at UE hear from our members looking for support. Nakeschi, can you tell us what is covered in your training for volunteers?
Watkins: So currently right now, our volunteers meet with program directors when they’re going through the application process to understand Cornell’s specific policies, procedures, and reporting requirements. In addition, each volunteer is required to take the UE online training course Identifying and Reporting Sexual Misconduct.
Hussein: It’s nice to hear about this blended approach that you’ve taken with the online training and also meeting with program directors for your volunteers. And so this collaborative approach, that’s interesting to hear as well, that your volunteers are educated both on general principles, but also on Cornell’s specific requirements. Nakeschi, can you tell us a little bit about how volunteers report misconduct?
Watkins: Recently, Paula revamped her children and youth safety website, where it actually highlights all the policies regarding minors or youth on campus. And for that we outlined, for example, all departments and as well as our colleges, our Cornell Tech Campus - NYC and our medical college have specific directions when it comes to reporting incidents.
In addition, volunteers can reach out to CUPD and report as well. Also, as we know, reporting officers have reporting obligations as well when it comes to incidents on campus.
But also, like I said, the website highlights the various ways where you can report incidents on campus. In addition, we also have our Title IX office where volunteers can go and report as well.
Hussein: And so those reports that come in filter to you, Paula. Can you quickly overview what you then do once you’ve been notified of an incident?
Griffin: Once I receive notice of an incident, I notify the President, the Executive Vice President, our Chief Compliance Officer, CUPD, and making sure that the appropriate university stakeholders’ offices have been notified that a possible incident may have happened on our campus.
And then after I’ve notified them, I also notify New York state of a possible incident that has happened on campus. And when it goes from there, the Protective Children’s Services for New York state and CUPD or the other local authority will work together on an investigation to see if anything did happen on our campus or not.
Hussein: You know, one common barrier we’ve heard from our members when it comes to training volunteers is that it can be cumbersome to integrate them into the institution’s training framework.
So, for example, maybe you work with an outside vendor or with UE to do online training of an institution’s employees. And then you want to offer one of your employee courses to a volunteer. Nakeschi, any tips for our listeners on how to get around this challenge?
Watkins: I think it’s very important, regardless of who is delivering your online training. For example, we do work with UE, and UE is currently and has worked with Cornell in the past into integrating or being able to set up an account for our volunteers to access the training and take the training.
And I think it’s important to be flexible so that volunteers do understand that they’re getting the same training as employees are getting.
So I would say it’s very important to establish that relationship and ensure that whether it’s your outside provider or whether it’s UE, just talking to them and ensuring that you want to make sure that your volunteers are able to access the same training that you’re offering for employees when it comes to volunteering with youth and children on campus.
Hussein: Great. So communication, flexibility, and, although, convenient, we all know that technology can often come with some unanticipated challenges. So it’s nice to hear how you navigate this one in particular. Speaking of technology and given the current landscape, how has the pandemic impacted your volunteer management program, Paula?
Griffin: Our programs that were able to go to a virtual online platform, we treated them as they were happening here on campus. We still had them follow the same policy requirements and we also vetted that they had to use Zoom or Teams or those type of platforms for doing their virtual learning.
We also implemented them telling them that they couldn’t do one-to-one meetings with children, that they had to have another adult on the Zoom call or the Teams meeting. We pretty much issued the same safety protocols that if they were here on campus, we had them use the same ones on virtual meetings with children.
Hussein: All right, well we’re just about at the end of our session. If you could give words of wisdom or three pieces of advice to campus administrators charged with volunteer management, what would they be? Paula, let’s start with you.
Griffin: You want to develop a volunteer profile questionnaire to help you get a feel of that volunteer, to see why they want to volunteer for Cornell, especially working with children. You want to make sure that they take some type of training, your approved training, and you also want to make sure that you’ve gathered some type of references from them so you can verify that they’ve worked with children before.
It’s not hard with students because they provide families’ and friends’ names. So it’s a little bit harder to narrow down their references better with an objective viewpoint. And you want to make sure you create, you develop a organization with protocols that limit opportunities for abuse and grooming and train all your participants.
Hussein: All right. Anything to add, Nakeschi?
Watkins: Take advantage of resources that are available through insurance carriers or organization and peer groups that you belong to. And I think a really important key is getting those stakeholders involved, your legal, HR, your different departments that you know have volunteers on campus, your student groups.
And just having everybody a part of the conversation — collaborating, working together so that you’re able to, I would say, continue to support this program and move it forward.
Hussein: I’d like to thank both of you for your time today. We’ve covered quite a bit with regard to policies, screening, training, and reporting on volunteers with regard to protection of minors.
I’ve certainly learned a lot from both of you, and I know our conversation will inform our listeners and give them new insights to consider in their practices. Thank you both 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, www.ue.org.