May26ThuMay 26, 2016
The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC) in Toronto has always been like a family. It educates the public about the history and contributions of Japanese-Canadians and provides a place for Japanese Canadians to meet and participate in cultural activities. The centre runs dozens of classes weekly, ranging from flower arranging to calligraphy and numerous martial arts classes.
Recent growth has brought changes to the centre. They’re small things: signs posted around the building showing a man and woman holding a child’s hands to remind people to watch for unsupervised children; some new times for classes; standardized name tags for volunteers at festivals. But these reflect a larger concern: the centre’s growing commitment to make sure everyone who comes knows how committed the organization is to abuse prevention and protection, especially for children and seniors.
“A lot of people still have that family mentality of the centre that, ‘You know this is family. It’s where we hang and it’s a safe place,’” said Sandy Chan, executive director of the centre. Some people may misinterpret the policies as showing suspicion or a lack of trust, she said.
But the policies are to show why the centre is trustworthy. The JCCC had always been committed to protection and abuse prevention, and had procedures for making complaints or reporting suspected abuse. But things were handled on a case-by-case basis. Growing membership meant the JCCC needed a standardized system for all programs and a way to communicate their commitment to protection and safety to stakeholders. So, in 2014, it contacted Plan to Protect®. Plan to Protect® provided tools for the JCCC to make more comprehensive policies, including drop-off and pick-up procedures, washroom guidelines, protection of personal information and enhanced volunteer screening.
Most changes have been seen in the martial arts classes. Times have been shifted so drop-off and pick-up procedures can be followed properly. These classes are one of the reasons the organization realized the need for stronger policies.
“Martial arts is always tricky,” partly because of its physical demands, explained Chan. Some parents, Chan said, may consider some exercises to be too strict and demanding, or mistake some disciplinary routines, such as running laps, as punishment.
Participants and instructors are expected to follow the JCCC’s code of conduct. It mentions that “respect and discipline are key elements of martial arts training,” and one of the class goals is for participants to understand the importance of respect and discipline. The challenge was finding a response that “addresses (parents’) concern” while remaining “faithful to martial arts,” said Chan.
The JCCC needed an organization that could help create policies suitable for the centre’s unique situation. “When people think abuse prevention, it’s always children-related,” Chan said, noting many consulting companies focus on specific organizations, like sports leagues or religious groups. Community centres are different. “At the JCCC, we have such a wide range of stakeholders and membership that we can’t go with a program that only caters towards children.”
Plan to Protect® understood this and prepared staff to support everyone who uses the centre. This included learning about how to report suspicions of elder abuse, and strengthening the screening process for volunteers. All volunteers, regardless of how long they’ve been with the centre, complete the same application. The hundreds of volunteers who help run multiple one-day festivals during the year complete a sign-up process so printed name tags are available on the day of the event that clearly identify them. A check-in procedure ensures the JCCC has a clear record of who volunteered when and what their responsibilities were. Lead volunteers, who supervise other volunteers, undergo a screening process including an application, interview, reference checks, vulnerable sector check, and training.
Some staff and instructors experienced backlash from members when the changes were first made. The staff and board are “asking them to go out there and fight for us,” Chan said, describing the volunteer instructors as the organisation’s frontline workers.
But the renewed focus can only benefit the centre, said Chan. She’s hopeful for the day when procedures like standardized drop-off and pick-up routines become “second nature.”
“We don’t want to be at any risk of being caught up in any allegations that would risk the reputation of this place,” she said.