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Monday, February 20, 2012

After Allegations of Sexual Abuse, Big Brothers Program Ends Sleepovers

Posted by on Mon, Feb 20, 2012 at 4:10 PM

For the past eight years, David Robison has mentored a boy through a program operated by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound (BBBS of PS), the local affiliate of a century-old national nonprofit that matches adults with children for recreation and nurturing. The group’s nomenclature calls the adults “Bigs” and the kids “Littles.” As for Robison and his Little, they have taken a trip to Canada, they’ve gone on bike rides, and—at the encouragement of an organization case worker—they’ve had overnights together at Robison’s home.

But the overnight visits need to stop.

To Robison’s dismay, BBBS of PS sent a letter to all 1,500 adult-child pairings on January 31 that announced an immediate policy change: “Overnight visits between Bigs and Littles are strictly prohibited except in the event that it is an agency sponsored event.”

Robison, a partner in a Seattle software firm, calls it an “overreaction.” The sleepovers have provided an unparalleled opportunity for Bigs and Littles to bond, he says, and they expose children to the ways other people live. “The only thing I can assume is that there was some sexual activity between a Big and Little during an overnight stay,” Robison posits. “But there's potential for abuse regardless... Sexual activity could take place any time—it’s about the people, not the situation.”

It turns out that Robison is right about reports of sexual abuse.

“We’ve had a recent allegation,” BBBS of PS president Patrick D’Amelio said on the phone today when asked if there were instances of reported sexual abuse between mentors and children in the program. “We are working through those issues with a high regard for the child’s well-being and cooperating with law enforcement.”

Overseeing a five-county region, D’Amelio declined to say where or how recently the event occurred. (Attempts to track down the case in courts today were unsuccessful.) But D’Amelio adds that he doesn’t know whether this recent allegation is linked to an overnight visit or not.

Repeatedly, D’Amelio stressed that the policy change—which elicited three complaints from Bigs and 15 praises from Bigs—results from at least two years of consideration about steps to promote child safety. He says, “There is not a specific event that led to the change in this policy.”

Still, this isn’t the first case they’ve encountered. “We’ve had experiences where we’ve been concerned about a child safety issue, like any organization that serves youth,” D’Amelio acknowledges. “We have had to—and I am pleased to say on extraordinarily rare occasions—deal with allegations of child safety.”

Nationally, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been recognized (along with groups like the Boy Scouts of America) for proactively addressing potential abuse, screening its volunteers, and holding regular check-ins between volunteers and caseworkers. But things do happen. A statement provided by the BBBS to The Stranger says that the number of cases “alleging that anyone within our organization perpetrated child sexual abuse or exploitation on a child associated with our organization amounts to a fraction of a percentage point per year…”

The rules for overnights have been strict: The Little and Big must sleep in separate rooms with a shut door between them, and there’s no changing clothes in front of each other. Volunteers also go through extensive background checks and training.

“Still, we are outraged and saddened by accounts of any child being abused or harmed and in every case we are disturbed by reports of our program being exploited by anyone wanting to do harm to a child,” the BBBS statement continues.

National standards for Big Brother Big Sisters allows the 370 affiliates to facilitate overnights visits with Bigs and Littles, or ban them if they wish. But people familiar with the local program aren't shocked by the strict new rules in Puget Sound.

Tina Podlodowski, the immediate past president of the local Big Brother affiliate, says she is “sad to hear about the policy change, but again, BBBS really does pride itself on no incidents, so I am not surprised.” Podlodowski, who left the organization in 2009, says "there had not been any incidents in the Puget Sound chapter for years and years... I can't recall one.”

As for Robison, he’s had enough.

He sent a resignation letter on February 18. Robison was planning to take his husband, his seven-year-old-son, and his Little on their third annual vacation. But he was hurt that the organization banned overnights without consulting Bigs, creating a grandfather clause for existing matches, or offering additional training.

Informed that there was—as he had speculated—an allegation of abuse, Robison says, "I think [the policy change] is even worse. If they have been planning it for two years, they should have done a much better job of getting information out, and working with Bigs and Littles instead of giving us this letter with no explanations. Bad things do happen, but we can't shut down the world because bad things happen."

“For me, 50 percent of the reason I’m resigning is because of this loss,” he says, “and 50 percent is the way it was handled."

 

Comments (17) RSS

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1
um, this is a catholic organization right? Maybe the priests are just frustrated by the extra competition...
Posted by econoline on February 20, 2012 at 4:29 PM · Report this
BearNecessity 3
BBBS of PS is not a religious or religious-affiliate org.
Posted by BearNecessity on February 20, 2012 at 4:53 PM · Report this
4
How can the sleepovers be so crucial that this guy would cut off contact with the boy he has been mentoring? Surely they could keep going on bike rides, go to movies, restaurants, museums, whatever. If he's that irate about not getting sleepovers and not getting to take the kid to Canada, I dunno, that seems weird to me.

I'm a mom to a girl scout and a cub scout, and in both cases, there are rules about who can sleep in a tent (in girl scouts, it's only the girls, and no adults; in cub scouts it's only family members, and no other children), who can give rides, who can lead meetings without another adult present. All adults are fingerprinted. It's a little off-putting to realize that these policies mean that the organization is treating you as a potential abuser. But you put it in perspective and realize that they're just trying to make sure all the children enjoy their years as scouts, and it's not a big deal, really.
Posted by EricaP on February 20, 2012 at 5:04 PM · Report this
6
Organizations like BBBS have enough trouble getting and keeping funding. Unfortunatey, decisions like these have to be made to limit the opportunity for damage to the group's reputation. There's also nothing stopping him from taking the kid on an overnight outside of the involvement with the organization as a friend of the family... just not as a big/little. So now that he's gone and thrown his bitchfit and likely caused a headache for the local BBBS, he can take the underaged kid wherever he likes, provided the child's parents also pull him from the program.
Posted by perfectscreenname on February 20, 2012 at 5:50 PM · Report this
7
So that's how an organization whose leadership actually cares about the well-being of children responds to allegations of abuse.
Posted by Proteus on February 20, 2012 at 6:03 PM · Report this
rob! 8
Maybe someday there will be a pill to take for all those adults suffering from arrested psychosexual development as a result of bizarre or abusive parenting, or for those who just feel they were somehow cheated out of some part of childhood and are determined to "experience" it as adults no matter what the cost to others.

Fuck. Leave kids the fuck alone sexually, even if in your warped and needy perception you think they are "coming on" to you.

The need is so great for nurturing, companionship, security among all the neglected children out there (many more on the way if forced-reproduction conservatives have their way). It's too bad all the damaged adults can't recognize their own narcissism and just be there for kids.
Posted by rob! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZBdUceCL5U on February 20, 2012 at 6:04 PM · Report this
9
So, the organization allegedly overreacted with their policy change (but look at it from their perspective, and the "overreaction" is perfectly predictable), and in response, Robinson is going to overreact by resigning from the group.

It seems like someone who is participating in the program for the good of the children would continue on with it for the children, even if he's going to complain about the new policy. Even if the policy is a hindrance as he suggests, I can't imagine the children are left better off by his dropping out entirely.
Posted by madcap on February 20, 2012 at 6:11 PM · Report this
Soupytwist 10
All adults molest children, you guys. We have to just accept that and start putting kids in situations where they have zero individual contact with adults.
Posted by Soupytwist http://twitter.com/katherinesmith on February 20, 2012 at 7:06 PM · Report this
11
"All adults molest children"? All? I guess that includes you, Soupytwist.
Posted by Cosmo63 on February 20, 2012 at 8:24 PM · Report this
DOUG. 12
Note to David Robison: Child rape is not "sexual activity".
Posted by DOUG. http://www.dougsvotersguide.com on February 20, 2012 at 8:53 PM · Report this
Puty 13
Maybe the guy resigned precisely BECAUSE he wanted to take the kid along on his trip and he couldn't while they had a formal Big Brother/Little Brother arrangement?

Tough call. I had a couple of Big Brothers when I was little and had sleep-overs with both. One actually was pervy, in a working-up-the-courage-to-molest-me kind of way, while the other was a Big Brother superstar. Sleep-over visits with the awesome BB were very rare, but they made sense when they happened (like, my mom took off for a weekend once in a blue moon). I wouldn't have wanted that option removed.
Posted by Puty on February 20, 2012 at 8:57 PM · Report this
14
I'm David Robison and let me be clear bout two things: 1. I will continue to see my Little regardless of whether or not we're in the program; 2. It's not just that BBBS of PS overreacted, but as Dominic's article makes clear, it's also being treated as a commodity by the organization. I've " just been there" for my little for 9 years, and will continue to do so.
Posted by strangel00p on February 20, 2012 at 9:31 PM · Report this
16
The whole thing starts with the Seattle Adult Child. Once you get a 34 year old "woman" walking around using web language and saying "everyone thinks I'm 22" its not too far from the next step where she's got her hand up a GS uniform.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on February 21, 2012 at 1:26 AM · Report this
lythea 17
This certainly makes sense from an organizational standpoint, for normal interactions. And for the particularly close bonds, there's no need for the organization and its little rules at all. My boyfriend has never met his father and hasn't seen his mother for ten years, but he still sees his old Big Brother at least once a year. The guy is practically his dad - helped him out financially in a big crisis recently, always there for him, but doesn't quite absorb that he's all grown up already. And my boyfriend's 34! It's kind of awesome, really. But that's not really the way things turn out normally, I gather.
Posted by lythea on February 21, 2012 at 1:52 AM · Report this
Irena 18
@10: We're on to you, Soupytwist. You and your molester's eyes.
Posted by Irena on February 21, 2012 at 10:07 AM · Report this
Soupytwist 19
@11, @18 - It's time for all of us to come out of the closet, you guys. I mean, seriously, you guys, this closet is full of molesters.
Posted by Soupytwist http://twitter.com/katherinesmith on February 21, 2012 at 12:30 PM · Report this
21
My Husband was sexually abused by a volunteer in this program, they knew of overnights within the first week of pairing and sleeping in the same bed, this was all documented by their organization, which we hold all the documents. page after page and DCFS even stating abuse by this volunteer by another boy and saying BBBS needs to terminate this relationship, that BBBS is held legally responsible. This abuse started within the first week and went on for years and many victims/now survivors were abused by this volunteer because of their lack of concern for the children, they wrote down and documented all what was going on, and there concerns and teachers concerns that contacted the program at the time of all this happening,, and nothing the program did to protect my husband, nor his brothers and all their friends,, NOTHING they did, they swept all under the rug and allowed the abuse to continue. I am sure there is good in this program, but the abuse my husband endured has left nothing but wounds that have been cleaned out through a lot of therapy and now he lives with large scars. I have not had anything good to think of this program nor say of this program, just like Jerry Sandusky who opened up his own organization the Second Mile that was similar to BBBS.. These programs are supposed to help not take away children's innocence, and destroy families. BBBS has policies like every other company around, unfortunately they failed time after time, page after page of documentation, they failed to enforce their policies at the expense of innocent children, who are left with the aftermath.
Posted by rxyrox on August 4, 2014 at 9:24 AM · Report this

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