Clemson University officials are working to “shore up” safety procedures at the summer camps on its campus after an audit identified policy violations that included incomplete background checks for camp staff members.
In 2018, more than 10,000 children attended camps and similar activities hosted at Clemson facilities, according to a report by the university, and at least that many are expected again this year as the season warms up this month. The camps cover programs from technology and life sciences to baseball and fishing and are held both on the main campus and at other sites such as the Clemson Outdoor Lab, South Carolina Botanical Garden and Camp Bob Cooper on Lake Marion.
Clemson’s Pre-Collegiate Programs Office was established in 2012 following the discovery that former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had sexually abused minors at Penn State. The office at Clemson, directed by Greg Linke, ensures that Clemson’s camps follow the university’s Protection of Minors policy.
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After the Sandusky incident, colleges realized they needed to get a better handle on all of the ways they interact with minors, Linke said, from hosting summer camps and extension programs to allowing high school students to work in professors’ labs.
Each year, the Pre-Collegiate Programs Office and a sampling of its camps are audited by the university’s Office of Internal Auditing to ensure that programs are complying with university policies. In 2018, the university reviewed 10 programs out of the 280 that were required to register with Linke’s office.
The Greenville News and Independent Mail obtained the 2018 audit through an open records request. It showed a number of issues, including lack of background checks for some camp staffers, missing driving records checks for people transporting minors and lack of procedures to handle children’s medications at one camp.
Two of the camps were hosted by Clemson sports coaches, the Monte Lee Baseball Camp and Michaela Franklin Volleyball Camp. Both had “major findings” on the audit.
“Numerous Clemson policy violations were identified regarding hiring practices related to background checks and annual disclosures by Clemson University Athletic Coaches,” the audit said. “This is a recurring issue.”
Each year, returning camp employees have to sign a disclosure statement that there is nothing new on their record and have to be checked against the National Sex Offender Registry. These disclosures were missing for staff at some of the athletic camps and other camps. At the Autonomous Boats for Ocean Conservation camp, which was also audited, 10 of the 12 staff members had not completed the disclosures. Three employees for the Monte Lee Baseball camp had not submitted disclosures.
Kyle Young, Clemson’s associate athletic director, oversees compliance for the coaches’ camps.
“They are considered major findings, and they are major from the standpoint that something major could happen if we don’t shore up what we are doing in those areas but not because something bad has happened,” Young said.
Young said the university is working on implementing a centralized system for managing background checks to solve some of the issues that were identified. Because each camp is run as a private business hosted at the university, it has proved challenging to get into compliance with the rules of the Pre-Collegiate Programs Office, Young said. Young said the coaches rent space from the university to hold their camps.
“There is definitely an expectation that employees have cleared a background-check process,” said Young, whose own kids have attended multiple camps for different sports at Clemson. “The screening process is important. I believe we have shored it up. I don’t anticipate any issues going forward.”
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During the 2017 audit, there were problems identified with making sure kids were picked up from camp by an approved adult, Young said. He said that finding led to positive change in 2018 and greater caution in pickup practices.
“A lot of time people send kids to camp to be babysat,” Young said. “Our camps are not set up to babysit people. They are set up to teach people more about the sport which they play. When kid comes home, they will be tired, they will be worked, but they will be worked in a very safe and productive way.”
Linke said Clemson has made additional changes outside of sports camps to ensure the safety of minors. For example, in the past they have allowed individual camps to train their staff in-house; now, they are centralizing that process to make sure everyone learns how to report issues of abuse and understands university policies on minors.
Additionally, while the camps held at the Clemson Outdoor Lab have always been accredited by the American Camp Association, the rest of the university’s standalone camps are also becoming accredited, Linke said. He anticipates they will have that stamp of approval by the summer of 2020. The association sets standards for things such as counselor-to-camper ratios.
Although accreditation can provide one useful, outside stamp of approval, Linke also encourages parents to ask questions and do their own research on camps at Clemson and elsewhere.
“I think parents need to be mindful,” Linke said. “They need to investigate. What do they do to keep your kids safe? Because they are not all the same.”