Duke Introduces New Policy to Safeguard Minors

Background checks and training required for all who work with young people

Each year, Duke hosts between 8,000 and 9,000 students under the age of 18 in athletic camps and academic programs on Duke's campus and at sites around the world. Photo courtesy of Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP).

Duke University officials have announced a new policy effective Sept. 1, 2012, establishing safeguards for children under the age of 18 who participate in activities and programs at Duke or under the authority of the university in other locations.

The policy requires any program involving minors to meet certain criteria, including criminal background checks and required training for all program staff. It also requires all Duke faculty, staff and students to report any abuse or suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities.

Each year, Duke hosts between 8,000 and 9,000 students under the age of 18 in athletic camps, academic programs, arts festivals and other learning opportunities. Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president for administration, said that everyone at Duke has a responsibility to help protect them.

"The reporting requirement is simple and empowers anyone to act," he said. "Basically, if you see something, say something."

Specifically, the policy requires every member of the university community to report immediately any suspected abuse of or inappropriate interactions with minors to Duke University Police and the program director. This includes information about suspected abuse, neglect or inadequate care provided by a parent, guardian or custodian/caretaker. These requirements are in addition to North Carolina law that requires any suspected abuse of a minor to be reported to the department of social services.

Beginning Sept. 1, any Duke program hosting minors must also be registered with Duke's Corporate Risk Management office by a Duke faculty or staff member. The new policy requires each program to conduct criminal background checks on anyone who will be working with minors and ensure that anyone working with minors successfully complete training to better understand, recognize and protect against abuse.

The program requirements are outlined on the Duke Event Management website, which includes step-by-step instructions for program registration, application and completion of background checks and training.

Over the summer, Cavanaugh met with Duke coaches and others on campus who work with minors to reinforce the requirements for reporting.

"Duke has always been concerned about the safety and well-being of students, faculty, staff, patients and visitors," he said. "We have had policies and procedures in place, but the recent tragic events at other institutions of higher education demanded that we revisit our policies and seek opportunities for improvement. Our new policy gives us the structure we need for tighter monitoring of the programs that use Duke facilities and the Duke name."

Duke officials have already worked with some of the larger programs, including Athletics and the Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP), to conduct background checks and offer training to staff for programs held this summer. Shayne Goodrum, director for domestic education programs for TIP, said she was pleased to be able to answer parents' questions with details about the new policy.

"We received several dozen more calls this year about safety than in previous years," she said.  "Safety is definitely on parents' minds."

Goodrum said that with approximately 4,000 young students at multiple locations - including international sites - TIP has always taken seriously the responsibility of maintaining a safe atmosphere for students. "You can't expect a good learning atmosphere unless you are also creating a safe physical atmosphere," she said. "And a good policy like this offers support to staff, too."

For the purpose of the policy, the definition of minors excludes current Duke students who are under age 18. The policy also does not apply to minors who are employed in any capacity or serve as interns in laboratories under the direction of a dean or director, or minors in Duke's patient-related settings, which are addressed in relevant health care policies.