Each year, I provide awareness training to new and returning lifeguards to help them become aware of potential sex offenders.
As we train new and returning guards, we need to recognize that in today’s society, they are providing much more than a safe activity for young and old. The public demands that guards ensure a safe, healthy environment. This training also will help them become more alert to their total surroundings, and may be that important link to preventing tragedy.
Before introducing this in-service program, it’s a good idea to get permission from the head of your recreation or facility management. Also keep in mind that many organizations provide awareness training of this type and may be very helpful in the delivery and structure of such a program.
My training program starts with some simple observation techniques. To avoid confusion and overwhelming them with too much data, I divide the session into three groups of potential predators:
Teenage: (12- to 18 years old)
Typical profile: The individual is familiar with the area and is known by the staff.
Observation triggers: Individual is behaving out of character. For example, asking about the times that kids’ swim lessons begin; seems to hang more around the playground and outdoor bathrooms.
Dress code: Individual’s dress is complementary of what others are wearing in and around the water. Dress would not be attention-seeking.
Adult (mid-teen to 21 years old)
Typical profile: Individual is not familiar with the area and is not a known face to the staff.
Observation triggers: Individual is interested in knowing swim times, staff ages. Person is frequently in and out of aquatics facility, especially at high usage times.
Dress code: Very conservative shorts and shirt.
Camera: Possibly carrying a camera or taking photos with cell phone. Individual isn’t far from children’s gathering areas, swim area, playground, boat slips and groups of kids using the facility, usually with young counselors.
Familiar adult (21 years old or above)
Typical profile: Individual is known to the majority of the staff. He’s knowledgeable of the whole environment, water area, grounds, out buildings.
Observation triggers: Individual usually “volunteers” to assist in swim lessons of all ages, but availability trend may lead to young ages. He has knowledge and history of the area, is involved in a variety of city or town functions. Again, often focuses on activities that involve younger kids.
Dress code: The person blends in with current dress attire of area. Noting attire would not bring attention to this individual. Conversely, the individual’s presence would be one of routine and go unnoticed.
For each observation, we talk about the pros and cons of being an observer. We discuss questions such as, when does observation outside the water become part of the job? It’s extremely important that the staff understands that the observation and vigilance techniques used to keep kids safe in the water also can be used to keep them safe outside the water. For instance, we know preventive intervention is always the best approach to water safety. These same learned observation techniques could keep children safe from mental, physical or emotional damage.
When discussing issues in and around the aquatics facility, the staff must be able recognize a difference in someone’s attitude, disposition, posture and general response to the activity in the area. We continuously build the lifeguards’ understanding of recognition and how to respond. The predatory awareness in-service provides them with some basic tools for recognizing suspicious behavior as outlined in the observation techniques.
Then we go over how to respond to such behavior. First, guards are instructed to bring their concerns to the supervisor or facility manager/director. They’re encouraged to discuss specific concerns about this behavior.
Managers are trained to review the information for clarity, and make sure it is fact-based. It should be stressed that any communication about behavior must remain strictly confidential and should be addressed only by the administration. If suspicion is confirmed, the administration will follow the chain of command to deal with the situation.