New Ga. law compels volunteers to report child abuse

Coaches, scoutmasters, others face penalities if they ignore signs

ATLANTA — Scoutmasters, soccer coaches and other volunteers who work with youth will face legal penalties if they ignore signs of child abuse under a new law taking effect in Georgia this weekend.

House Bill 1176, based on recommendations from a citizen commission appointed to review sentencing, passed the General Assembly this year unanimously.

Professionals, such as pediatricians and teachers, have long had a legal obligation to report suspected abuse within 24 hours or face a year in prison and a fine. What’s new is that a provision in the sweeping criminal-justice reform widens that responsibility to include volunteers and clergy.

“From an ethical and moral standpoint, volunteers who work with children already have an obligation to report suspected child abuse,” said Attorney General Sam Olens. “HB 1176 simply makes this obligation a requirement by law.”

Many organizations working with children already have policies that require volunteer training and background checks.

Protecting youth is central to the mission of the YMCA, notes Bucky Johnson, the senior vice president at the YMCA of Savannah.

Georgia Soccer, the organizing body for most recreational leagues, has a policy in place that exceeds the law’s requirements, according to Rick Skirvin, the group’s executive director.

“In 2009 (our Risk Management Committee) decided to tackle the issue on our own because we thought it was an issue that was neglected in youth sports,” he said.

Johnson said the abuse-awareness training given volunteers has paid off.

“We’ve had coaches come to us and make reports that a particular player seemed out of sorts or had some bruising or whatever,” he said. “When we see that, we’re in immediate contact with Family and Children Services.”

In small organizations that don’t have established programs, volunteers may consider getting training elsewhere.

“We’re more than happy to provide youth-protection training for someone like that,” said Jeff Schwab, an executive with the Boy Scouts of America in Augusta.

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