The Athlete Assistance Fund

Time: 2019 – present

Services Provided: Consultation, Training, Curriculum and Material Development, Program Evaluation

Partnership Overview:

In response to the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal that sent shockwaves through the gymnastics community and the United States, the Athlete Assistance Fund (AAF), an independent, not-for-profit,  has been dedicated to educating the gymnastics community on how to best keep gymnasts safe and providing free counselling services to those who have suffered sexual abuse within the sport.

In 2019, AAF enlisted The NYSPCC to support their efforts to make changes within the sport to prevent further victimization. The NYSPCC conducted focus groups with former athletes, club owners, coaches and parents, to better understand the complexities and risk of abuse within gymnastics. The insights and knowledge gained helped to inform a child sexual abuse prevention curriculum for coaches and gym owners that was facilitated at USA Gymnastics’ Regional and National Congresses throughout Summer 2019.  A handbook of best practice policies and procedures club owners could implement to best keep their athletes safe was also published.  With the desire to have an even greater impact within the sport, AAF and The NYSPCC launched the Children First initiative in 2020 in an effort to eradicate child sexual abuse in the sport of gymnastics. The Children First model is designed to support the entire gymnastics community by ensuring club staff and coaches, athletes and parents all have access to quality child sexual abuse prevention education. Using a three-tiered approach to prevention, this model helps to ensure children and the adults in their life will receive the necessary education and support to stay safe from child sexual abuse. In addition, the Children First model helps to connect clubs with local child protection experts to provide in-person training and to serve as an on-going support resource if needed.

Beginning as a pilot project set to launch in early 2021, the Children First prevention model will be tested in the State of New York. Through a competitive Request for Proposal (RFP) process, child advocacy centers and child welfare organizations were selected to be trained on the curriculum and provide the trainings throughout the State to the gyms. The NYSPCC is currently in the process of developing age-appropriate, research informed eLearning courses for athletes and parents. At the conclusion of the project, an evaluation will be conducted to inform the feasibility of scaling the model across the nation.