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Coach background checks not always enforced in youth basketball

Basketball Nova Scotia puts onus to complete background checks on local clubs

4 min read
caption “First and foremost, we want to make sure that the children are safe,” said Sean François, parent and coach with Basketball Nova Scotia and the Cole Harbour Rockets. François acknowledges background checks can be time-consuming, but they are necessary.
Alix Bruch

Some Nova Scotia parents with children in basketball are concerned that criminal background checks for coaches aren’t required at every level.

Basketball Nova Scotia requires their provincial coaches to complete a criminal record check, child abuse check, and vulnerable sector check. But this isn’t required of coaches at the club level, including those in the Halifax Metro Basketball Association.

Ensuring the checks are completed is up to the individual club, something parents who spoke with The Signal were surprised to hear. Many were left feeling this approach leaves room for things to fall through the cracks.

As a parent of a child who plays basketball, Bedford resident Carla Callegari said background checks are something she definitely thinks about.

“It’s something we just assume is getting done,” said Callegari. “It should be mandatory.”

Katherine Brien, executive director of Basketball Nova Scotia, said in an interview that while they can guide clubs around how to implement a policy, the responsibility is on the club at the end of the day.

When asked why, Brien cited a lack of resources and the fact that there is yet to be a clear policy from Canada Basketball that reaches down to the club level.

“We are taking a lot of instruction from our NSO (National Sport Organization) and we are definitely working towards it being a requirement,” said Brien.

She acknowledged they are currently working through safe sport movements and are looking to Soccer Nova Scotia as an example.

Basketball Nova Scotia is developing a club excellence structure that would ensure all associations have safe and certified coaches, but implementation is at least a couple of years away.

caption Basketball Nova Scotia is the only Maritime province that doesn’t monitor and enforce background checks for coaches at the club level.
Alix Bruch

At some Nova Scotia clubs, there are already stringent policies in place to ensure coaches complete the necessary background checks.

For the Cole Harbour Rockets, these checks are mandatory. They go as far as providing a free online service to their coaches to help simplify the process.

Larger clubs, including the Rockets and those in the Halifax Regional Municipality, tend to have a board of volunteers who implement and monitor screening policies.

Sean François is a Cole Harbour basketball coach whose daughter plays for the Rockets. He also coaches with the provincial program and the school board, both of which require extensive background checks.

“My feeling is that if the club is not doing what they are supposed to be doing, then the provincial organization should step in and say ‘Hey, you can’t have these coaches on the court until they have their appropriate checks done, or you can’t be a part of the organization until such time,’” said François.

‘A challenge’ for rural clubs

Clubs in more rural areas face more difficulties when it comes to implementing screening policies.

Angela Johnston is a coach and parent of three kids who have played basketball for various clubs in the Annapolis Valley. She said to her knowledge, none have a policy in place for ensuring coaches get background checks.

Johnston believes that if it isn’t mandatory, people aren’t going to do it. She also suggested that many people in smaller communities settle into the idea that because a coach is their neighbour, they can be trusted.

“I am a facilitator of a program called Stewards of Children, which teaches adults how to protect children from sexual abuse,” said Johnston.

“One of the main principles of it is not trusting people blindly, but having policies in place and a code of conduct so everybody knows what kind of behaviour is acceptable and what is not acceptable.”

Basketball Nova Scotia is aware there is often a lack of people and resources to ensure everything is being done properly.

“It’s definitely a challenge for the rural clubs to operate at the same capacity as the clubs here in the city,” said Brien. “We’re working on a couple of things in our office to help get those clubs to a certain standard.”

Both New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island require clubs to forward completed background checks to their respective bodies, Basketball New Brunswick and Basketball PEI.

Angela Johnston wonders why Basketball Nova Scotia can’t do the same.

“I feel a lot of things. I feel frustrated. I feel sad,” said Johnston.

“I wish that Basketball Nova Scotia would take it more seriously. They could be a significant source of changing the culture and reducing the risk for kids.”

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About the author

Alix Bruch

Alix is a journalism student at the University of King's College. She left a career in geology to play soccer professionally in Europe, before...

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