Swim Life Magazine

Preventing Abuse and Exploitation

The second most dreaded call

Copyright © Swim Life Magazine 2016 – all rights reserved

The second most dreaded call to a recreation manager of child or youth programs is the one where you are being told that a current or past staff member is being investigated for child abuse. It is our duty as recreationist to prevent situations from occurring by limiting the opportunities in which abuse can occur.

In recent years there have been a cluster of cases in the GTA, (Greater Toronto Area) involving Swim Instructors and Swim Coaches where there have been charges laid, some of which were proven, some are before the courts and one high profile situation involving a swim coach has since been dropped.

The effect for the families involved is distressing and the long term consequences for the victim can be catastrophic. Staff who had worked with the accused experience distress. The reputation of the program provider is battered and may even result in financial damage for the organization. In cases where there has been insufficient proof of wrong doing by the accused the accusation alone continues to cause lasting harm to reputations and careers. All-in- all situations involving child abuse and exploitation MUST be avoided.

Program providers must develop hiring strategies and workplace procedures to prevent abuse, harassment and exploitation in sport and recreation programs.  Program managers must ensure that staff is trained in these practices and supervisors must ensure the practices are followed.  A variety of approaches to prevent abuse and create layers of protection to ensure your programs remains safe for children and youth as well as keep you staff above suspicion include;

Policy and practices  
Sound pre-employment screening practices
Establishing and maintaining boundaries around behaviour
Appropriate approaches to discipline
An immediate, transparent and fair complaint response system

Legal Duty

Everyone involved in sport and recreation must be aware that it is their legal duty to report to a child-protection agency any instance where they have reasonable grounds to suspect a child is or may be suffering or may have suffered abuse.

Provincial legislation places an even greater responsibility on professionals with respect to children. This includes teachers, healthcare professionals, operators or employees of childcare facilities and child and youth services’ workers, and recreation workers.

Definition of Harassment

Any physical, emotional, or psychological behaviour that demeans an individual is harassment. Harassment or abuse can include anything that is disrespectful, insulting, intimidating, hurtful, humiliating, degrading, and offensive or creates an uncomfortable environment for any person or group.


Ajax swim coach Matt Bell suspended by national organization over sex assault charges. Ajax News Advertiser -Nov 12, 2015

Police have charged a 47-year-old Toronto swim instructor with three counts of sexual assault on a child under the age of 10.Swim instructor charged in sexual assaults. Police believe there may be more victims​ - June 12, 2015​


 It is essential to establish rules of conduct for personnel, volunteers, and  participants.

 Physical Conduct

 The following guidelines apply;
~ Staff will not touch participants in a manner not necessary for instruction or safety.The comfort level and dignity of the participant should always be the priority. Avoid touching a participant out of sight of others.

 Unacceptable touching includes;
~ Hugging, kissing, tickling, rough housing, wrestling or slapping “bottoms.”
~ Contact should not involve touching the genital area, buttocks, breasts or    mouths.
~ Massages must only be performed by trained personnel.
~ In comforting or congratulating participants, limit touching to “safe” areas, such as hand-to-shoulder. The intention should be to congratulate or to comfort should be made clear.
~ Among participants, the same principles should apply. There should be no unacceptable touching between participants of different ages, or between peers.
~ Staff must not direct, encourage, or promote any conduct that can cause physical harm to a participant or having a participant train or play while injured.

Dressing Rooms
~ Participants must be supervised at all times. Staff are not to be in the dressing room with participants while they are showering or changing unless two adults are present.

 The following guidelines apply;
~ Dressing rooms for children will not at any time be locked
~ Personnel should enter the dressing rooms of opposite gender participants only w
hen all participants are appropriately dressed, unless in an emergency.
~Staff members will not change or shower at the same time as participants.

 The following guidelines apply when dressing for sports;
When participants are unable to put on their own uniform or protective equipment, and that equipment is located beneath the uniform, such as a protective cup, they should be aided by a parent/guardian or his or her designate.

Children 8 and under are not to be sent to bathrooms without a staff member present. Staff are encouraged to be inside the bathroom so they can be easily seen by the children and so they are able to immediately stop any inappropriate activity. The buddy system is not an acceptable practice for children who are able to use the bathrooms without accompaniment, please set reasonable time limits on their coming and going.

 The following guidelines apply;
~ For single stall bathrooms the staff will be positioned outside of the bathroom to make sure no one else enters the restroom.
~ At minimum, when multiple children are in the bathroom or locker room, staff members will be standing in the doorway so they can have at least auditory supervision of the children.

 Offsite practices, events, away games or meets
Have clear supervision guidelines and practices that prevent any opportunities for predators or situations where volunteers, parents or personnel can be accused of wrongdoing. 

~ On-site - do not allow personnel or volunteers to conduct or participate in private lessons, coaching, training or meetings outside of regular program times without prior arrangements and supervision.
~ Off-site - do not allow personnel or volunteers to conduct or participate in private lessons, coaching, training or meetings without prior arrangements and supervision.
~ Do not allow personnel, volunteers, and to use personal vehicles to transport participants who are not family members.
~Adhere to the guidelines and set out by the sport governing bodies concerning supervision and conduct, and maintain your organization’s practices at all off-site events.

 Participants with Disabilities
In the case of participants with a disability who require assistance in showers, locker rooms, toilet facilities, 
the following guidelines apply;
~ Encourage their own personal attendant or caregiver to help them.
~ When personal attendant or caregiver are not available, staff should only agree to provide personal aid after an explicit explanation of the nature of the aid to be given, the participant’s personal boundaries have been discussed, and training (if appropriate) has been undertaken.



1. PREVENTING Sexual Abuse of children in sport; Published by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Recreation. Printed by the Queen’s Printer for Ontario. Province of Ontario, Toronto, Canada, 2002, Queen’s Printer for Ontario .www.tourism.gov.on.ca

2. Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect: It’s Your Duty Your responsibilities under the Child and Family Services Act - www.ontario.ca/children

3. You Can Make a Difference: A guide to preventing and responding to abuse and harassment in sport and recreation - Nova Scotia Sport and Recreation Commission and Sport Nova Scotia

4.  Child, Youth and Vulnerable Persons Protection Policy and Procedures: 


5. Child Abuse RECOGNIZE IT,REPORT IT, PREVENT IT! : Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick.

6. Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Within Youth-serving Organizations: Getting Started on Policies and Procedures - U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Centers for Disease Control and Prevention