August 16, 2021
Last week the Times of Israel published reports of sexual abuse in USY and how they have been handled. The experiences reported absolutely do not reflect in any sense the values that we represent as a Jewish institution or as leaders and educators committed to the safety, dignity of and respect for every person, all the more so, participants in our programs. As one of our key partners in ensuring that USY continues to be a successful and vibrant organization, we wanted to provide you with some important clarifications about USY policies, as well as reaffirm our commitment to those policies.
In response to the accounts in the article, we are already in the process of:
- Third-Party Reporting: Engaging a third party agency to take over our reporting hotline operations, ensuring further accountability.
- Staff and Volunteer Accountability: Suspending staff or volunteers who were named as possibly knowledgeable of these actions and who did not take appropriate action.
- Independent Review: Engaging an independent investigator to review and further investigate all the information we have received, to determine what happened and any current staff or volunteers involved. We will follow up immediately upon receiving recommendations from the independent consultant.
We will continue to communicate updates in the days and weeks to come to describe the next actions taken on the above items.
Current Health and Safety Policies:
As USY returns to limited in-person programs, and as we make plans to return to overnight programs this fall, we want to make sure that all of you know the policies and procedures to protect participants that reflect the very best practices of counseling, reporting, and response. These are constantly reviewed and updated, including this summer. They include:
- Staff Training: USY has a Youth Protection Manual and associated training for every staff member, and the policies and procedures in this manual were updated again as recently as this spring. Additionally, all full-time and part-time USY staff employed by USCJ received mandated reporter training, and, since the most recent revisions to the Youth Protection Manual, any volunteer staff member working with a USY member will be required to receive mandated reporter training.
- Youth Protection Officer (YPO): A youth protection officer is assigned at every USY event. The YPO phone number and email is given to every participant at every USY event to report child abuse or any incident which may cause them to feel uncomfortable.
- Background Checks: USCJ conducts over 800 background checks per year, including all staff, volunteers, guest speakers, and educators at USY events, whether in-person or online.
- Staff Supervision at USY Events: At USY overnight events, we practice “Two Deep Leadership” in which no adult is ever alone with a USY participant behind closed doors. Overnight bed checks are done with two same gender staff, and room doors are always kept open during the check. Additionally, our programs include strict transportation protocols, including requiring multiple staff on all buses.
- Outside Program Interactions with USYers: USY staff employed by USCJ may not host USYers overnight in their homes.
How to Report Allegations to USCJ or USY:
USCJ maintains a confidential reporting hotline so that any person with an allegation can safely and discreetly share information. Callers should rest assured that they and their information will be treated with the utmost respect and sensitivity. We encourage anyone with relevant information to inform the hotline by calling 212-533-7813 or emailing [email protected].
More than anything else, the safety and dignity of every participant in our programs is our top priority and we are working hard every day to ensure the quality of our program experiences.
Last week began the month of Elul, a prelude to the Season of Repentance. The Shaarei Teshuvah teaches that repentance requires that we “hear the words of the one who reprimands them, and accepts upon themselves…to do as he is taught” (2:10). USY hears the words of victims in the article last week and commits to running programs that meet the very highest standards of health and safety.
Both tasks are ones we take seriously, and will continue to communicate that with our key stakeholders.
Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal
Rabbi Joshua Rabin
Senior Director, USY/Teen Engagement