UW strengthens policies to protect health and safety of youth in precollege programs

June 4, 2019 By Doug Erickson

Through expanded policies and procedures, the University of Wisconsin–Madison is bringing greater coordination, oversight and intention to its more than 150 precollege programs.

The effort will help ensure the health and safety of all youth under age 18 participating in academic programs, summer camps, sports clinics and other activities under the auspices of UW–Madison. The latest policy updates took effect May 1.

“As the issue of youth protection has gained needed national attention, we’ve been proactive in taking steps to safeguard the young people in our care,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “This campuswide effort is strengthening all our precollege programs, making sure they are safe, of high quality, and beneficial to the young participants.”

UW–Madison’s youth protection policies are not new. Since 2007, all employees and volunteers with duties that involve contact with minors have been required to pass a criminal background check every two years. Additionally, for more than a decade, the Precollege Council — a coalition of campus program directors — has provided necessary forms and information on best practices for all programs on campus wishing to host minors.

In November 2017, university officials, seeking to bring more clarity and formality to a largely decentralized process, hired Prenicia Clifton, a national expert on youth organization and protection. She directs the Office of Precollege & Youth Program Compliance, created in March 2018. The office has five full-time positions in addition to Clifton.

The office is a central resource for all university departments that offer youth programming. It shares expertise on youth protection policies and best practices, enforces adherence to youth protection standards, and secures scholarship and grant opportunities for precollege programs.

“We’re not the office of yes or no, we’re the office of how,” Clifton says. “If you want to work with youth, we can make it happen.”

Since its creation, the office has strengthened policies and procedures around youth programming. As of May 1, any university program hosting minors must:

  • Secure, in writing, the approval of a risk executive sponsor. Within a school or college, the sponsor would be the dean. For a major auxiliary unit, the sponsor would be the director. The risk executive sponsor bears ultimate responsibility for the program.
  • Have a program director designated by the risk executive sponsor. The program director is responsible for ensuring the program’s adherence to all university requirements.
  • Register all staff with the Office of Precollege & Youth Program Compliance no later than 30 days prior to the start date of the program.
  • Agree to obtain and retain program documentation properly.
  • Purchase medical insurance for youth participants.
  • Establish a plan for adequate supervision based on the number and average age of the minors and the type of program.
  • Establish and document a safety plan.
  • Provide clear identification at all times — through name tags, staff shirts or lanyards — for all adults connected to the program.

In the last year, the Precollege Council has taken on heightened importance and responsibility, providing monthly professional development opportunities. Anyone running a youth program is expected to participate.

In addition to providing strong safety protocols, the new centralized coordination offers many other benefits, Clifton says. Parents, guardians and young people will be able to more easily see the totality of the precollege programs available. The university will be able to more easily track which young people attend precollege programs and whether they end up attending UW–Madison.

“UW–Madison is ahead of the game,” says Clifton, a founding member and current chair of the Big Ten Youth Policy Consortium. “We have an office and an initiative solely dedicated to protecting youth, we have strong policies that are transparent for the public, and we’ve raised the level of oversight for all activities involving minors on our campus.”