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Youth Protection Update: Spring 2020

Updates to Youth Policy Statement and Operational Procedures

The Barbershop Harmony Society has always carefully guarded its culture and reputation as a safe and wholesome place for people of all ages to enjoy harmony. As a part of our commitment to provide a positive environment in which members, associates, and all people interested in barbershop engage, the Society has a Youth Policy Statement as well as established youth protection procedures. These policies are to provide the safest possible environment for every person who engages with BHS at any level and in any activity.

Assessment of this Youth Policy Statement and associated operational procedures is a continual process. In early 2017, the BHS created a dedicated internal team to continually review youth protection efforts, standard best practice recommendations, and educational offerings. You may refer to previous announcements on the Youth Policy page (linked below) for earlier updates.

Updates to Youth Policy Statement

Working together with the staff, the Society Board of Directors has adopted the following updates to the Youth Policy Statement:

  • Replaced all previous references to the male gender (men, his) with the gender-neutral (persons, their)
  • Added a clause prohibiting personal interaction between youth and adults and personal interaction defined
  • Included an additional section instituting background checks for all staff members, board members, and those having regular contact with youth and regular contact with youth defined

Updates to Society Operational Procedures

In order to carry out the specific changes to the Youth Policy Statement and provide for the better protection of all people interested in barbershop, the internal youth protection team has established the following 2020 updates to our operational procedures for the Society and its subsidiaries, including districts, chapters, and members.

  • Institute a process for background checks for staff members, board members, and those having regular contact with youth.
  • Expand our safety measure regarding eligibility for membership to include an annual check of all members against publicly available federal, state, or provincial sex offender registries. This will require the additional support of our volunteer leaders at the district and chapter level.
  • Require and provide additional youth protection training to those persons in a position of choosing volunteers to work around youth on a regular basis as defined by the ‘regular contact’ clause on the Youth Policy Statement. This training will be the Skillful Screener Webinar from Abuse Prevention Systems.
  • Educate our Society, district, and chapter leaders as well as members and youth participants on activities that fall under prohibited personal interaction.
  • Update language on our youth membership and participation forms to include a hold harmless clause to mitigate risks to the Society and its subsidiaries.

Next Steps and Frequently Asked Questions

These updates to our policy and procedures will complement the work each of you is doing to share barbershop harmony with your communities. We have put together an initial collection of Frequently Asked Questions below and will continue to add to them as changes are enacted.

In the next week, additional information for affected individuals (e.g., chapter and district leaders, youth camp leaders, etc.) will be sent through direct email communication. Society staff and volunteer leaders will work together to implement these enhancements over the course of 2020 with substantial communication and training efforts to ensure that all are equipped to provide a safe environment as we carry out our vision of Everyone in Harmony.

What changes were made to the Youth Policy Statement?

The Board approved the following changes to the Youth Policy Statement:

  • Replaced all previous references to the male gender (men, his) with the gender-neutral (persons, their)
  • Added a clause prohibiting personal interaction between youth and adults and personal interaction defined
  • Included an additional section instituting background checks for all staff members, board members, and those having regular contact with youth and regular contact with youth defined

Why are we making these changes, and why now?

In November of 2018, BHS enacted new procedures under the existing Youth Policy which checked all new members against publicly available sex offender registries, and for all members to affirm their absence from such registries annually. The goal of those updates was to do the right thing by modern standards with regard to the safety of all of our members. While those updates were an excellent first step, more would be required to meet the modern standard.

At the end of 2019, after discussions with our insurance partners and legal counsel, an outline was created of those additional steps to protect the youth in our Society and our members. Every change described in the new policy documents was created with the goal of maintaining the traditions at the heart of our Society, while continuing to make this an organization that is safe for our young members, who are the next generation of barbershop.

Who receives background checks under the new policy?

Under the new policy, all BHS staff and the Society Board of Directors will undergo background checks as part of their onboarding process. All current members of the staff and the board have been screened.

Additionally, any member who will have regular contact with minors as part of their role in the Society will receive a background check. Roles affected may include but are not necessarily limited to chorus directors, section leaders, convention staff, clinicians, teaching quartets, and judges.

Wasn’t the Society already checking members against the Sex Offender Registry? Why are chapters now responsible for this step?

Previously, only new members were checked against those public records. Any member that renewed annually affirmed that they do not appear on any federal, state, or provincial sex offender registries as part of that renewal process.

Under the new policy, all members will be checked against the registry on an annual basis. Because registries cannot be checked in bulk, we ask that current volunteer leaders check members at the local level. BHS staff will continue to check members with no district or chapter affiliation.

How are volunteer leaders going to carry out this check of the Sex Offender registries?

The job of checking membership against these registries will fall to the Chapter Compliance Officer, which may be any current chapter leader or a separate role, and appointed by the Chapter President. Specific instructions are forthcoming and will be provided according to the state of residence and incorporation of the chapter.

When do volunteer leaders become responsible for carrying out this check of the Sex Offender registries?

Communication and training will be implemented throughout the remainder of 2020 and BHS compliance auditing will begin in 2021. More detailed information will be coming to affected individuals (e.g., chapter and district leaders, youth camp leaders, etc.) through direct email communication.

What if there is no publicly available sex offender registries in a member’s country of residence?

Members residing in countries without publically available sex offender registry information will be required to continue to affirm that they do not appear on any federal, state, or provincial sex offender registries as part of their renewal process. Additionally, those in chapters with youth will be required to fill out a voluntary disclosure statement annually.

What is a voluntary disclosure statement?

A voluntary disclosure statement is a statement signed by the chaperone, member, or other such party attesting, at the minimum, that they have not been convicted of any violent crimes or crimes against children. This statement is legally binding and will be used in lieu of a background check.

My chapter doesn’t have any minors. Why do we need to check our members against the Sex Offender Registry?

The overall goal of these new procedures is to make our Society safe for all of our members, and that includes our prospective members. We want any chapter to be a safe place for anyone who may want to join in the future.

Additionally, as part of the 2018 updates to Youth Policy procedures, the Society Board of Directors defined anyone currently appearing on federal, state, or provincial sex offender registries in violation of the Code of Ethics, specifically the passage regarding “persons of good character.” Given that directive, we have instituted procedures to ensure that all members meet that definition as provided by the Society Board of Directors.

What is the purpose of the Skillful Screener Webinar training?

The intent of the Skillful Screener Webinar training is to train volunteer leaders about behaviors of potential volunteers which may indicate that an individual is not suited to volunteer roles that involve the supervision of or interaction with minors. The training will be taken by anyone whose role in the Society has them regularly selecting and/or managing volunteers. Since many volunteers who interact with us at various events are not Society members, this allows those in the Society who manage volunteers to be better prepared and equipped to handle those situations.

Why does the update to the Youth Policy prohibit one-on-one activities like voice lessons? Aren’t we an organization focused on music education?

The most valuable takeaway from this section of the Policy is that in keeping with the best practices of organizations that work regularly with youth (e.g., YMCA, Boy & Girl Scouts, SNAP Program, etc.), it is BHS’s policy that minors never be unsupervised or alone with an adult who is not their parent, legal guardian, or approved sponsor. There are many ways to educate the next generation that do not involve having minors alone with non-parent/guardian adults, and the Society requires that those safer methods be used.

What does the updated language on the new youth forms mean?

The indemnification clause or “hold harmless” language in the updated youth forms essentially states that, given that the Society is acting in good faith to prevent any untoward behavior at our events, individuals who choose to act outside of our Code of Ethics and Youth Policy will be considered free agents, and not actors on behalf of the Barbershop Harmony Society. Put more simply, BHS cannot be held responsible for the actions of those who do not follow these new rules and procedures.