The YMCA Song…and Dance, When It Comes to Background Checks and Liability

I ddakhfrrtd
suppose this is happening all over, this excessive testing, checking and hounding of anyone who, God forbid, wants to work with — or even nearby — kids. This letter comes to us from a 30ish YMCA volunteer in Ontario:
Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve been attending our local YMCA for longer than I can remember (beginning with parent-and-child swimming lessons, I’m told), and volunteering there off and on since I was twelve.  So I’ve been involved there longer than the people who are currently in charge, and most of the people who work there have known me for years.
In 2013, they introduced a mandatory Child Protection course for ALL staff and volunteers over the age of sixteen, even those who don’t actually work with children.  Fine, a bit much, but it’s a family facility, and the Child Protection course only takes about an hour (the first incarnation was in person, but after that, it was online). 
Then, with the introduction of the Child Protection course, they also insisted that we get Police Record and Vulnerable Sector Checks done every six months, when the standard rule is that these are good for a year. 
In addition to that, they instituted a rule whereby everyone over 16 has to show I.D. to enter the YMCA.  Okay, that’s also a bit over the top, but they don’t really enforce it with people they know. 
But this year, they upped the ante again,  Here are the new requirements:
1.  Take an online Child Protection Course (about 60 minutes to take)
2.  Take an online AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) course (about 30 minutes)
3.  Take an online course about Bill 168, which is about workplace harassment (about 30 minutes)
4.  Take an online WHMIS [Workplace Hazardous Materials Information Systems] course (about 60 minutes)
5.  Provide the contact information of three references who’ve known us for at least a year, aren’t family members, are over 18 years of age, and can speak directly to our ability to work with children.
6.  Update our Police Record and Vulnerable Sector checks if we’re nearing the six-month mark since last time.  The Y will write you a letter authorizing the police to do it for free, but it’s still a hassle. 
7.  Attend an in-person volunteer orientation.
Now, maybe some of this makes sense for some people, but the materials course certainly doesn’t apply to everyone at the YMCA.  WHMIS is mostly for factory workers, or people who work around dangerous chemicals.  So, it’s not really relevant to anyone other than maintenance staff, and possibly lifeguards, who have to periodically test the pH of the pool and add more chlorine.
The Child Protection course I can understand, because even people at the YMCA who don’t specifically work with children, are going to run into them.  I don’t even mind taking the AODA course, because one of the things I’ve done over the years at the YMCA, and plan to do again, is volunteer in an adaptive fitness class for people with disabilities. 
However, I don’t see any reason for everyone to take everything, except that it’s easier to set a blanket rule, and send a mass message, than to think about what’s really necessary for whom.  As for the letters, I don’t know three people who’d fit all the criteria to act as references, and the only one I’ve found so far is another YMCA employee, which the YMCA didn’t specifically forbid……yet. 
As for the volunteer orientation, I can’t imagine what it would entail that hasn’t already been covered in the myriad of online training courses.  And the best part?  I got the e-mail about all of this late on a Sunday afternoon, and we were told that we had to finish everything by the following Thursday.  It’s a little over a week later, and I’ve just managed to finish the first four things.
The most ironic thing about all of this is the fact that the YMCA purports to be all about “Building healthy communities.” It’s impossible to do that when trust and goodwill have given way to bureaucracy. – Y Volunteer 
It may be fun to STAY at the YMCA, but try volunteering there!

It may be fun to STAY at the YMCA, but just try volunteering there!



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32 Responses to The YMCA Song…and Dance, When It Comes to Background Checks and Liability

  1. MichaelF March 18, 2015 at 8:03 am #

    Welcome to the new CYA. Many places go over the top, this sort of behavior with the YMCA does not surprise me since national organizations do more, when they need less, in order to protect themselves. Blame the courts.

    I volunteer for my local Cub Scout Pack, more each year to support my kids, and the protection courses and rules get more and more each year, but that’s the price I pay, and probably why fewer people volunteer. This sort of overhead is going to start affecting places where people want to help, like the YMCA, until that happens though none of these organizations will care. Only when no one wants to help, then they will begin to wonder why.

  2. Matt March 18, 2015 at 8:30 am #

    I used to live in Ontario, and I’m pretty sure 2-4 are legally mandated as an employer. In particular, WHIMS covers everything from household bleach to toxic soups used in plastics manufacturing, so it’s not really fair to say you don’t ever need it. 1, 5, and 7 don’t strike me as too bad. 6 is clearly WAY over the top, and the Y is doing itself a disservice by making the requirement so onerous.

    The reality is, reliable volunteers who will stick with your org over the long haul are harder and harder to come by. People are crunched for time as it is, and aren’t going to volunteer somewhere that they feel unwelcome. I have no problem with them wanting background checks for people working with kids (although I know full well that they’re pretty ineffective), but the frequency is bananas.

  3. Nicole March 18, 2015 at 9:05 am #

    I do find all of these trainings excessive and onerous for volunteers, BUT NOT for employees. Here’s why. I used to be a program director in the YMCA in the US. Because of my professional experience, I understand why those trainings are necessary. All YMCA staff who work with kids are mandated reporters, so have to go through child abuse training. We all had to get regular background checks, too, but certainly not every 6 months. That’s ridiculous! On top of that, we had to get separate background checks to maintain USA Gymnatics professional memberships. But that’s another story. Alll staff had to go through the US equivalent of WHIMS training, which for us is OSHA hazardous chemicals. Believe it or not, it is helpful to know how to protect the kids and ourselves when a child pukes or pees on the carpeting and the maintnance crew isn’t in the building because of budget cuts. Do you know the health history of every family that comes into the Y? Perhaps a child has a communicable disease you don’t know about. Or maybe a parent. I know from experience tht people will fib about medical conditions on their forms because they don’t want you to treat their children any differently. Most of these regulations comes down to state and federal laws and the Y protecting themselves from litigation. They want families to feel safe and secure at the Y. Remember. there are families of all backgrounds and beliefs using the Y, from helicopter to free range. I don’t think volunteers should have to go through all of the training that staff go through, but I think all staff should have to get those trainings regularly to remain employed. The trainings are actually useful and used at some point in your life. Just because you don’t personally see the point doesn’t mean it’s there for a paranoid reason.

  4. BL March 18, 2015 at 9:23 am #

    Anyone good at writing song parodies? How about a parody of the Village People’s “YMCA” called something like “Let’s CYA”.

  5. Warren March 18, 2015 at 9:30 am #

    And places wonder why their lists of volunteers are getting shorter and shorter and shorter.

    First of all, if you are going to put volunteers through the same training as your employees, then you damn well better be paying them for their time as well. Instead of it costing them money to volunteer for you.

    Nicole, you really need a formal hazardous material course to clean up pee and or puke? If you honestly believe that, then you are just as much of the problem. Maybe if the Y hadn’t wasted so much money on over regulation, they wouldn’t have had to cut the maintenance budget, and the clean up crew would be there to handle such hazardous waste.

  6. Warren March 18, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    Sorry Matt, but you are an idiot.

    1,5 and 7 are not reasonable.

    1. Is nothing more than the program to make employees mandated snitches.

    5. It is bad enough that one has to get a background check, now they have to impose on three friends to vouch for them and probably be interviewed by the Y. Friends know never to list me, as I will not participate in this dog and pony show.

    7. Well we all know that background checks are useless.

  7. Peter March 18, 2015 at 10:13 am #

    I have been a member at my local YMCA for several years. My impression is that they are having difficulty finding adults to handle kid-related classes and activities, so they are just omitting those classes and activities. The YMCA nearest my home is now basically a senior center, where senior citizens gather to do low impact exercise in the pool or gym, then sit around and chat. I rarely see any children there at all.

  8. ARM March 18, 2015 at 10:24 am #

    Volunteering at church in any capacity is becoming similarly onerous. A friend of mine volunteered as a lector since her early teens – when she couldn’t get a background check yet because she was too young. Upon her 18th birthday, she had to quit reading for some time until her background check could be done. (Because obviously reading from the podium during the service is a huge opportunity for abusing kids. . .)

  9. Puzzled March 18, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    If an organization is going to depend on volunteers, and it acts in a way that loses volunteers, it will crumble. Stop putting it up with it and let it wither.

  10. Rick March 18, 2015 at 11:52 am #

    I had to go through similar background checks working for the federal government where there are no children in the workplace. This has less to do with protecting children than using the excuse of protecting children to institute a militarized police state where everyone is a suspect. The YMCA has jumped on the bandwagon.

  11. So Cal YMCA Firestarter March 18, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

    Dear Y Volunteer – I completely agree with your assessment about the YMCA’s requirements to volunteer. When I was a child in southern California in the 1970s my family found the YMCA to be a reasonably priced place and it is where I learned to be a competent swimmer and learn some basic lifeguarding skills.

    I returned to my local YMCA in southern California 7 years ago so my two boys and I could participate in the Adventure Guides program. I took on the responsibility of lighting fires for our group campouts. This simple activity introduced me to so many multiple layers of expense and bureaucracy that I now understand why it costs a small fortune to participate in any YMCA program.

    It starts with the fact that anyone who lights the group fire in an Adventure Guide program has to be a YMCA employee. Based on Y-Volunteer’s letter, it looks like my kids graduated out of the program at the perfect time in 2013. I had to go through a round of the Child Protection Course (and it turned out to be the same video I had seen at my church) and find 3 references but did not have to go through all the other steps Y-Volunteer went through. Quite honestly, had all that been necessary for me at the time, I probably would not have taken on the roll.

    Everyone at the YMCA seems so completely brainwashed about being sued that being an employee just to light a fire was a completely disappointing experience. I can’t imagine working their full time. Everyone must think every other person is a criminal. And sadly, that was not the point of the YMCA when I was a kid. My children participate in other organizations and I volunteer to support those groups. None of them has ever been as over the top as the YMCA.

  12. caiti March 18, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

    Rick, you have hit it spot on. Government agencies and the policies they make are really just concerned with getting your data. But they have to convince other organizations to get it for them, since their direct pipeline seems to be a limited time resource.

  13. lollipoplover March 18, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

    Y bother???

    We don’t use our local (very nice) family YMCA.
    I looked into swim lessons there when the kids were little, but decided against it because they used flotation devises as part of teaching swimming. So we use a local family gym. The swim instructors were usually local high school swimmers who loved kids. Parents were asked not to sit inside the pool area (too distracting) so I just got my workout in while the kids took lessons. Swim lessons are a VITAL life-saving skill all children should be taught at young ages.

    Why an organization dedicated to building healthy communities would put up road blocks to access and go through bureaucratic nonsense is beyond me. On a side note, our local Y is heavily advertising with our school district it’s “Teen Stress Management” courses. Perhaps the teens are so stressed because to just get a basic, minimum wage job at a Y, you have to get White House Security clearance?

  14. John March 18, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

    I volunteered for Big Brothers back in 1984 and again in 1997 and it took nearly 3 months each time for me to get paired with a “little brother”. Of course, they did a police check on me each time. Even though background checks are not fool proof and have proven ineffective at times, I can understand Big Brothers doing the check as it would be a huge egg on their face and a liability issue for them if I were a convicted child molester who just got out of prison or even if I had a number of felonies on my record! Big Brothers of Milwaukee required a 6 month grace period before allowing the big and the little to have an overnight together whereas the Big Brothers organization where I lived in 97 required a years grace period. But once the grace period was over, both my little bees LOVED staying overnight at my place as it was like a camping trip to them! My second little brother and I would go for night time drives before bedtime and just talk about life and family. Then he would barge in my room and jump on me in the morning and wake me up so we could go to McDonald’s for breakfast! And I remember accompanying my first little brother to Cub Scout Camp. It was great for him because all of his fellow Cub Scouts had their dads with them.

    One thing I resented though was the inquisition I got by a board of people in the community during my volunteer stint up in Milwaukee. It was part of the screening process and they would pepper me with extremely personal questions regarding my sex life such as what I felt about premarital sex and adultery and if I had ever engaged in sex with a woman OR man or if I ever had an adulterous relationship. I really failed to see what value those questions had on my ability to be a Big Brother. If I said no to all those questions, would they think something was wrong with me and that the reason I never had sex with an adult was because I liked little boys instead? How can anybody assume that? Then if I said yes to any of those questions, how would my personal sex life have any bearing on my ability to be a mentor to a young boy? I mean, you’d have to eliminate EVERY adult volunteer if that were to affect their decision to bar me from volunteering! The case worker also asked me if I have ever heard of NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association). I told him I had heard of it and then he asked me the ultimate stupid question. “So what do you think of this organization?” So I answered his question with a stupid question of my own. “So what do YOU think of bank robbing?” I think he got my point!

    Today, my first “little brother” is 40-years-old and we’re Facebook friends (He lives across the country from me) and my second “little brother” is 26-years-old and has a really good job in retail management. He doesn’t live too far from me and we’re both the best a friends and periodically go golfing together! I got so much out of the Big Brothers organization and had lots of fun! I’m thinking of volunteering again but I’m afraid that since the Penn State scandal and all of that, they might have made the rules ridiculously stringent such as no overnights at all including camping trips. I hope that is not the case but you know how Americans over react to bad situations. I guess I’ll find out.

  15. E March 18, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

    @lollipoplover, I worked at Y throughout college, lifeguard, taught swim lessons (preschool to adults) and coached swim team. I have no issue with them using floatation devices in their lessons (I did it 30 years ago when I taught). The idea behind it, is to allow kids to be in the water more during the lesson as opposed to only taking turns with the instructor in order to be safe. You can have a kid on the wall with a small device on them, and it gives them a chance to put their face in, practice kicking, etc. It also gives them support/confidence to keep their faces in, and their torsos up on the surface in a more correct swimming position when it is “their turn”.

    We went on to allow/encourage our kids to use them when using a pool recreationally (at younger ages obviously) because it gave them much more freedom to move about the pool w/o us standing *right-there* in water over their heads. It becomes obvious to all when it’s no longer necessary or desired. Both kids grew up to swim on swim team and be lifeguards themselves.

    I don’t know why I felt compelled to comment on the Y’s swim lesson approach, they don’t need my defense, they’ve got a solid track record (I learned to swim about 47 years ago…at a Y…in a “Tips for Tots” program with my Mom).

    Yes, none of this has anything to do with the Y’s ‘security’ policies. Our Y is booming, growing, with a ton of kids’/youth programs. My son (3 summers of lifeguarding) was not subjected to all of the above, but perhaps he will be this summer.

  16. Warren March 18, 2015 at 2:14 pm #

    To get your high school diploma in Ontario, each student must complete 40 hours of volunteer time.

    I have come to realize this has nothing to do with instilling a sense of community, because most still have to be forced to do it, hate it and won’t continue the moment they have the needed hours. What this has a lot to do with, is the volunteer pool is shrinking every year, and a big factor is the crap needed to become a volunteer.

    Now with the economy the way it is, a lot of people do not have the time to volunteer, add it it now costs you money to volunteer, because police checks are not free. Time off work to attend these classes. There are going to be fewer and fewer volunteers. Programs will be in jeopardy.

  17. John Brown March 18, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

    I must chime in here and say our local YMCA in Westchester, CA has a new rule that they are beginning to enforce that I feel goes too far. The Y no longer allows photography in and around their facilities and pool. This is ridiculous! I pay membership dues, enrollment fees, get my children to the classes and then I can’t take a picture of them having fun and learning? Why not? They are my children… Anyways, we love the Y and our local facility and hope that they are able to keep functioning and serving the community. They deserve thanks, a little tweaking and some Big THANKS!!

  18. Bartimaeus March 18, 2015 at 5:55 pm #

    I am distinctly reminded of the story with the frog and the boiling water.

  19. Dhewco March 18, 2015 at 6:49 pm #

    You comment about BB organization brings up a sore point with me. In the 90s, I tried to join the organization but was turned down. They wouldn’t tell me why. I’m not a perv, have never been arrested for anything, and I was in a steady relationship.

    I was left shocked when they turned me down. It left me suspicious of my references and I wondered if they’d somehow shot me in the foot. (Maybe they thought it weird a 23yo wanted be be around kids. Or thought I was too immature, or something.)

    Maybe they found out that my gf’s mother had had her kids taken from her for neglect. I later learned that the girl I thought I’d marry had a history with social services in the state she’d lived in before. Maybe they found that out before I did.

    I really have no idea.

  20. Sandi March 18, 2015 at 8:28 pm #

    I’d just quit being a volunteer there. They aren’t paying you enough to deal with all that harassment.

  21. Celeste March 18, 2015 at 10:08 pm #

    It’s really not that big a deal to devote 5 to 6 hours so you can get cleared to volunteer for an organization you believe in. You’re saying you want to donate your time to help out and make a difference, so why whine and complain about the (relatively short) amount of time it takes to do what they require?

  22. Donald March 18, 2015 at 11:54 pm #

    Years ago there was a need for this. Bureaucrats were put in place to address this need. However when the need went away, the bureaucrats didn’t.

    Image if you have a broken pipe and hire a plumber to fix it. He does. The job is completed but he doesn’t go away. Over the years he does extensive maintenance on all of your plumbing without your consent! He even starts tearing up walls and replacing pipes that don’t need to be replaced! All of this is done against your will and you’re powerless to stop it!

    This also resemble Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerers Apprentice. Mickey cast a spell to make the brooms fetch water for him. However he was unable to make them stop and was in danger of drowning!

    Bureaucracy is a system that was made to prevent corruption. People can be persuaded. This is why the authority have been removed from them and mechanical system was put in place so that regulations that can’t be bypassed. However be doing so we created another problem.

    NO ONE IS IN CHARGE! Even the person with the most authority within the bureaucracy can’t control the menacing growth that acts like a noxious weed!

  23. Warren March 19, 2015 at 12:00 am #


    Where to begin,

    1. Those hours are wasted jumping through hoops, when they could be used actually doing what you are volunteering for.
    2. Now when you volunteer you are greeted with suspect instead of gratitude.
    3. Somethings you volunteer for can cost you hundreds of dollars, before you even get to the event.
    4. Most of the hoops you have to jump through are useless, time consuming, costly, and oh yeah USELESS.

    Why when I am volunteering, essentially doing your organization a freaking favour, should I have to prove myself worthy? Your organization should be proving it’s worthiness of my time and effort. The whole thing is ass backward. And if you cannot see that you are too gullable for real life.

    For example, just to cook pancakes, once a year for a school, you have to spend $40 of your own money, and spend 4 times as many hours to qualify as a volunteer, as you will actually spend on the day you volunteer.
    Excuse the language but that is fucked up.

  24. sexhysteria March 19, 2015 at 2:32 am #

    I’m a volunteer with hospitlized children in Europe, and although there is a training course before you start and an annual refresher course, the courses are about how to be a good volunteer, not how to protect kids from highly unlikely risks. No background checks, fingerprints, etc. either. I guess the YMCAs in Canada are more advanced than old-fashioned Europe.

  25. Donald March 19, 2015 at 2:37 am #

    I hear both arguments for and against increasing the amount of hoops you must jump through in order to volunteer

    I’m against. One of the biggest reasons for this is because it feels like a slap in the face. I’m not trying for a, “Oh thank you for volunteering” but I don’t like the:

    “Even though you have gone through a few background checks in the past and have worked for years volunteering, I’m still not convinced that you are not a pedophile. I need further proof that you’re not.”

  26. julius glinter March 19, 2015 at 6:39 am #

    It’s interesting you brought up the YMCA. I am 67 yrs old and love going to the Y. But something has come up which I detest. I have two daughters, but I have a concern using the locker room at the YMCA. A lot of the kids are unsupervised and when I’m changing clothes with young kids present I have concerns about the climate today.

    Nothing has ever happened, but I wear my gym clothes to the Y and then wait to get home to change. If I do have to change I use the family changing area to avoid the main locker room.
    I repeat nothing has ever happen. I love the watching the kids run around but I feel like I have be on guard.

  27. Donna March 19, 2015 at 8:40 am #


    It may be worth 5-6 hours of my time if it actually accomplished anything, but it doesn’t.

    For example, my school district requires nothing to volunteer in a school (except if volunteering as a one-on-one mentor). You just have to show up. The uptight county next door requires all volunteers to have a background check and watch some training videos. Both counties have the exact same level of reported incidents with volunteers – a grand total of zero. This despite the fact that the crime rate in my county is probably about 100 times that of the other county in general.

    The fact is that very few volunteers have any interest in doing anything harmful. And those that do are not going to be run off by having to jump through a few hoops. Those hoops are going to run off plenty of people who do want to volunteer, but don’t have an extra 5-6 hours on top of the time they have to volunteer. We see it in our Girl Scout troup. We are somewhat limited on the things we can do because Girl Scouts requires so much training to do any simple project and the leaders don’t have time to get the training on top of leading the troup and working and taking care of their families and their other obligations.

  28. Eric S March 19, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

    You give some people an inch, then another, and another, eventually they will learn to take a mile. Just because they now know they can. But it’s really all because everyone is scared of everyone else. The mentality of people in the last 15 years only perpetuates the fear that drives these things. It’s a vicious cycle that people have put themselves into. The merry go round keeps going and going, and people are too afraid to shout “stop”, or jump off. So they become complacent, and become sheeples.

  29. Papilio March 19, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

    And they still have volunteers? Amazing.

    “I volunteered for Big Brothers back in 1984” LOL! 😀

  30. Emily March 19, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

    >>“I volunteered for Big Brothers back in 1984″ LOL! :-D<<

    @Papilio–That's pretty funny…….and fitting for this thread.

  31. Tom Triumph March 21, 2015 at 9:12 am #

    I do recommend the online child protection course that was mandated by the Boy Scouts. I have been a BSA merit badge counselor for years, and when they made me do it I was annoyed (I had, maybe, one scout a year come to me, for a few hours, and I’m a teacher and have been vetted by the state already).

    The class covered some common sense procedures, though, that I had not thought of. For example, not leaving yourself alone with a child while waiting for parent pick-up, and what to do if another child takes a cell phone photo of another child in the bathroom, etc. It was not fear mongering, just common sense.

    But, once done, I was done and free to volunteer. These procedures seem ridiculous; I think I’d stop volunteering.

  32. Papilio March 21, 2015 at 3:49 pm #

    @Tom Triumph: “not leaving yourself alone with a child while waiting for parent pick-up […] was not fear mongering, just common sense.”

    I hope you mean ‘just common sense in the context of a society that sees pedophiles on every street corner’, and not ‘just common sense, period’?