USA Swimming Releases Findings of Independent Safe Sport Review

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, January 27. TODAY, USA Swimming released findings, that include 39 recommendations, from an independent review of the Safe Sport Program conducted by the Gunderson National Child Protection Training Center led by executive director Victor Vieth.

The full Executive Summary of the report can be found at the USA Swimming web site.

Meanwhile, the full 123-page report can be found at the Gunderson web site.

USA Swimming has also announced a task force to look into how to best implement these recommendations. The task force will look into whether recommendations can be implemented immediately, or if some of them will require a house of delegates vote to put in place.

The task force “will be chaired by Jay Thomas and will include Dave Anderson, Rachel Stratton-Mills, Cecil Gordon, Megan Ryther, John Morse, Malia Arrington, and one other outside member that will be named this week. Mike Unger and Susan Woessner will serve as staff liaisons.”

On a conference call with the press, Vieth pinpointed four of the 39 recommendations as needing to be considering for immediate approval.

#1: Make all adult members mandated reporters of ALL abuse, irrespective of the type of abuse.
#2: Implement evidentiary reforms that will strengthen the process when a victim is unwilling or unable to testify in National Board of Review items.
#3: Conduct a baseline study to determine with greater precision what abuse happens within the sport. Currently, it is necessary for USA Swimming to find out what it does not know.
#4: Establish a victim assistant fund.

Vieth also explained on the call that he had reviewed around 150 abuse claims files, and that USA Swimming, for a variety of reasons, had been unable to move forward on about a third of those cases. Specifics were not explained on why USA Swimming had not moved forward, but the implication that Vieth is recommending that USA Swimming implement “reliable heresay” evidentiary reforms speaks to USA Swimming potentially becoming even more aggressive at pursuing abuse claims.

Vieth also explained that USA Swimming had contracted Gunderson in August of 2013 to do the independent report, and was paid $25,000 for the service.

Both Executive Director Chuck Wielgus and President Bruce Stratton were part of the call. Their statements can be summarized fairly succinctly in that they both voiced excitement for the recommendations from the report, and they really wanted everyone on the call to know that USA Swimming had decided to undertake this review independently. Both reiterated that point with regularity on the call.

Here is USA Swimming’s press release announcing the release of the file:

USA Swimming today released a self-commissioned, independent review of its Safe Sport program conducted by the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center. The report, “When the Athlete is a Child: An Assessment of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport Program,” was compiled by Victor Vieth, executive director of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center and one of the nation’s foremost experts on the prevention of child neglect and abuse.

Following the presentation of the report at the USA Swimming Board of Director’s meeting on January 25, an eight-person task force was appointed to review the findings and make recommendations for implementation. The task force will present its findings and next steps at the USA Swimming Board Meeting on May 3.

The independent review measured USA Swimming’s abuse-prevention program against the best practices of other youth-serving and youth sports organizations, assessing its effectiveness and offering recommendations for improvement throughout the program.

USA Swimming gave Vieth and his team unencumbered access to the program in an effort to get the most feedback about not only its process, but also areas where the organization could improve its program.

“This review demonstrates USA Swimming’s ongoing commitment to raise awareness and reduce the risk of abuse in sport. Our Safe Sport program continues to evolve and an independent review of our program allows us to learn from the past, see what we’re doing well and make improvements for the future,” said Chuck Wielgus, executive director of USA Swimming. “We accept the feedback in this report head on and we are confident that it will only help our program become even stronger.”

The review examined all areas of the USA Swimming Safe Sport program and was both critical and complimentary of the organization. Vieth’s report points out areas in which USA Swimming exceeds industry standards, including general policies, education training and it’s investigative process. However, it also covers areas in which USA Swimming could be doing more to prevent abuse from happening — both within the sport of swimming and at home. In all, a total of 39 recommendations are included in the report.

“Our goal is to eliminate abuse within USA Swimming, and we recognize that even one case of abuse is too many,” said Susan Woessner, director of Safe Sport. “This is an ongoing team effort, from athletes, to parents, to coaches to USA Swimming leadership. This report will help us continue to strive for the goal.”

As executive director of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center (NCPTC), Vieth works with his staff to end child abuse, neglect and other forms of child maltreatment in three generations through education, training, awareness, prevention, advocacy, and the pursuit of justice. Gundersen NCPTC staff provides intensive instruction for students and current professionals in the field on how to better recognize, react, and respond to children who are being abused. The non-profit center trains approximately 15,000 child protection professionals each year. The Gundersen NCPTC is a program of Gundersen Health System, based in La Crosse, Wis.

Vieth and the Gundersen NCPTC have conducted independent reviews before and in May of 2013 released the findings of “Silent Tears”, a report which was a year-long review of child sex abuse in South Carolina.

The task force that will review the findings and make recommendations for implementation will be chaired by Jay Thomas and will include Dave Anderson, Rachel Stratton-Mills, Cecil Gordon, Megan Ryther, John Morse, Malia Arrington, and one other outside member that will be named this week. Mike Unger and Susan Woessner will serve as staff liaisons.

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Author: Jason Marsteller

Jason Marsteller is the general manager of digital properties at Swimming World. He joined Swimming World in June 2006 as the managing editor after previous stints as a media relations professional at Indiana University, the University of Tennessee, Southern Utah University and the Utah Summer Games.

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