Who’s Watching Out for Minors on College Campuses?

Five questions aimed at improving youth and teen protection in higher education


College administrators charged with protecting the safety and well-being of undergraduate students may be unaware of a large and vulnerable segment of the campus population: Minors. Some are undergraduate students, but most are not.

Instead, children and young adults are invited to participate in a variety of educational, athletic, and cultural activities that colleges and universities offer. They’re building robots, attending sport training camps, learning to play the piano, and more. Wherever you look, minors are on campus, and they require special protection.

High-profile cases of child sexual abuse at colleges in recent years have caused higher education leaders to explore how to enhance campus security for visiting minors. Several institutions have developed practices designed to protect young people who participate in university- or college-sponsored activities. Protecting youth from sexual abuse and other risks they face on a college campus requires special attention. Below, we offer five questions that can help you assess and  improve your institutional youth protection efforts. 

1. How many minors are on our campus each year?

This question seems simple, but it can be tough to answer. Many universities who undertake an assessment quickly discover that they don’t have a good system for tracking programs and activities that serve youth. 

“If you do a full assessment of the activities that go on at colleges, you’ll find that you have more minors on campus than what you think,” said Jordon Eicher, a risk control specialist with Brotherhood Mutual. 

Several universities that were able to get an estimate were surprised—even shocked—to realize that they actually served far more minors than university students.1 One survey found that about 150,000 minors participated in youth programs at Penn State, compared to 90,000 undergraduates.2

When doing an inventory, remember to look beyond summer camps. Consider how youth may be involved in ongoing fine arts, research, and medical programs on campus. Plus, assess how often student organizations invite young people to participate in formal or informal activities. 

2. Who’s supervising the youth on campus?

Sexual predators do not generally stand out in any particular way. They generally match societal norms regarding education, employment, and social status. Robust background screening policies are essential for minimizing the risk of a sexual predator gaining access to minors. Its importance cannot be overstated. 

Simply put, screen all employees, volunteers, and university students who will have access to children or youth in your programs. Interview your staff and volunteers. Check their background through criminal history and reference checks. Pay close attention to who gets the privilege of working with children and youth during university-sponsored activities. 

3. How closely do supervisors follow safety and youth protection measures?

Your institution’s youth protection policies should clearly identify what you expect from staff and volunteers who interact with minors. Training is an essential part of a youth protection program. It’s important for supervisors to know how to prevent sexual abuse and avert other possible problems. Supervisors need to be trained about behaviors that are appropriate and those that are not. Policies should include rules for avoiding the appearance of impropriety and safety check procedures for keeping track of minors. Policies should clearly indicate what discipline is appropriate—if any—and should also clarify how to report discipline issues. 

4. What’s the process for reporting injuries or allegations involving minors?

There should be a clear process for how to report suspicions of sexual misconduct or abuse involving a minor. Mandatory abuse reporting laws can vary widely state to state. In developing a process for your institution, an attorney in your area can help you become familiar with your state’s mandatory reporting laws. We’ve compiled links to each state’s mandatory reporting information to help you get started.

5. How well are youth protection policies communicated to supervisors, parents, and the community? 

Take time to consider how your organization will communicate your abuse prevention policy to youth program leaders, parents, and students. These people can be valuable advocates for your youth protection programs and help spread your message. If parents understand the reasoning behind a policy or procedure, they’re better able to spot and report any troubling behavior they may observe.

Review Youth Protection Measures Regularly

No plan stays current forever. Review your youth protection measures every year or two and update them whenever necessary. Providing a safe experience requires leadership and constant vigilance to ensure that institutional youth protection policies and procedures are enforced.

Policies, procedures, and a robust screening program designed to protect youth from abuse are important components of providing a rewarding on-campus experience for children and teens. When implemented in a comprehensive way, an abuse prevention system maximizes child safety and helps defend the university’s reputation. 

Posted on October 13, 2020

1. “Six Lessons Learned in Managing the Risk of Minors on Campus.” URMIA Journal. 2014. University Risk Management and Insurance Association. https://www.higheredcompliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Collins_Dangel_Lundberg_2014URMIAJournal.pdf
2. “Camps on Campus – Safeguarding Youth Programming in Higher Education.”  https://www.higheredprotection.org/s/Copy-of-20150208-ACA-Camps-on-Campus-Presentation-jm8a.pdf