Greater Wichita YMCA addresses concerns after arrest of former employee

The Greater Wichita YMCA Tuesday night released a letter to its members concerning the arrest of a former employee, accused in the rape of a four-year-old girl at the YMCA's downtown location.

In a letter to members, signed by Greater Wichita YMCA President and CEO Ron McMahon, the organization touches on screening new employees, safety measures and its cooperation with the Wichita Police Department as the investigation into the charges against former employee Caleb Gaston continue.

The full letter is as follows:

Dear YMCA family –

Thank you for your continued prayers and support as we all continue to struggle with the allegations last week against a former YMCA employee.

As I mentioned in my message on Saturday, we will continue to share as much information as we can, as quickly as possible.

Today, I am reaching out to answer a couple of frequently asked questions and provide some additional support.

How did this happen?
We are cooperating fully with the Wichita Police Department as they seek the answer to this question. At this time, the Y does not have all the details regarding this alleged incident. However as the WPD completes their investigation, we are reviewing the Y’s internal policies and practices to see if there are opportunities to further strengthen our existing procedures.

What does the YMCA do to screen new employees?
Prior to hiring, the Y currently utilizes rigid employment checks including:
*Comprehensive county, state and federal criminal background checks
*Social security traces

*National sex offender registry (SOR), global watch and nationwide alert list checks

*Multiple professional and personal reference checks, each looking for potential child abuse and extremes in behavior, including the question,

*Have you ever heard or observed anything about this candidate that would make you reluctant to recommend him/her for a job with children?

--In addition to reference checks, the Y conducted regional background checks and national SOR checks on Mr. Gaston when he was hired in 2013. Because criminal background checking systems do not flag concerns until formal charges are filed, any organization would have received clean criminal and SOR background checks on this individual prior to last week.

--Beyond screening processes, all YMCA staff undergo a variety of required trainings, including sexual abuse prevention, before they can begin their first day of work.

What safety measures does the Y have in place?
In addition to initial hiring and training practices, the Y has a large number of safety protocols in place. In Kid Zone, that ranges from toy selection and employee review processes to cleaning products and check-in procedures. A few additional practices include:
*Buildings designed for high visibility into program spaces with lots of windows and partial walls

*Security cameras recording whenever there is activity

*Staff trained in first aid and choking prevention

*Ongoing trainings in areas of expertise and safety

*A safety calendar with refreshers to keep skills sharp

What is the Y changing?
As I mentioned, the Y is continuing to review policies and practices for opportunities to further strengthen our procedures. I would like to share with you an enhancement that is already in the works as part of a nationwide partnership with YMCA of the USA.

Starting this month, we are implementing daily sex offender registry (SOR) checks. Although SOR status does not change until an individual has been convicted, we are in the final phase of launching an automated SOR check system that will notify us daily of any staff, member, guest or participant with a change in their status. If a sex offender match occurs, the YMCA reserves the right to terminate employment, cancel membership, end program participation, and remove visitation access.

I recognize that a trust has been broken, and I apologize for the anger, sadness, and loss of security you are experiencing as a result of this allegation. Please know that we are here to support you in any way we can. You may still visit our website for information on talking to your kids and a link to our letter to Kid Zone participant families. This letter also includes additional contacts if you have any questions.

Thank you again for your continued prayers and support for everyone in the Y family.

Ronn McMahon
President and CEO, Greater Wichita YMCA