Swift Current's Safe Places

In 1997, eight years after the Swift Current Broncos hosted their first and only Memorial Cup Championship, our small city wasn’t braced for the impact of Sheldon Kennedy, a star player for that Championship team, disclosing to the world that he had long suffered sexual abuse at the hands of his former Broncos coach, Graham James.

Written by

Kelly Schafer
Community Recreation Coordinator, City of Swift Current

In 2015, we received news of a more recent case of sexual abuse in the neighboring Town of Cabri and during this time, it became quite apparent that the topic of sexual abuse remains a taboo subject. We felt it was time to take action, to not only raise awareness of abuse, but to implement a program that demonstrates that we value the safety of children in our community. At that time, we looked to Sheldon Kennedy and his Respect Group - founded to create awareness and assist in helping victims of sexual abuse - for their guidance. 

Looking more specifically at our own community, it became evident that there were gaps in the requirements of coaches, leaders and trusted individuals allowed to work with youth. Many large, established organizations do have education, training and vetting processes in place that individuals must complete before they are able to work with youth. However we also find that those same organizations welcome untrained or un-vetted people into their youth-friendly environments - probably because we remain trusting and appreciative of extra hands or expertise to help out. 

Many smaller agencies, individuals and private entrepreneurs offering services for children have little or no policy in place and are able to self-regulate. Every time we allow someone to make contact with a child and that individual has not gone through appropriate training, education and vetting procedures, we run the risk of increasing or creating opportunities for trusting relationships between abuser and victim and a grooming process to begin.
In today’s society, at what cost are we prepared to overlook the safety and quality of service we are providing to children? 

In January 2016, Swift Current officially launched ‘Safe Places’, an initiative that we understand to be the first of its kind at the community level in all of Canada.  

“I am so proud of the City of Swift Current for taking this leadership with the Safe Places – Youth Certified initiative. It truly is an important and unique approach to community-based child protection and I applaud all partners who are involved. It has put Swift Current ‘on the map’ in terms of being the first Canadian city to strongly promote screening and training for all community-based organizations/individuals working with youth. Congratulations!” 
– Sheldon Kennedy, Lead Director – Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre and Co-Founder – Respect Group.

Safe Places – Youth Certified Program is aimed at service providers such as coaches, leaders, tutors, public servants, volunteers and trusted individuals – all who have a responsibility to care for our kids. Our Youth Certification process comprises of criminal and vulnerable sector checks and completion of Respect in Sport training, which addresses bullying, abuse and harassment. Upon completion of the training and background checks, individuals may apply for a Youth Certified Card allocated by our RCMP Detachment. We believe that our initiative provides a baseline standard of training that aims to improve the quality of support, safety and programming for our youth. Our goal is simply to better identify red flags, weed out repeat offenders, and most importantly, give good people the tools to be even better. 

We have partnered with a number of local organizations who now endorse this program – making it a requirement of their staff and volunteers. As our community begins to adopt Safe Places, we begin to recognize a standard that easily verifies certified individuals in good standing, eliminates multiple background checks for those working with various different events and organizations, and provides training for those not affiliated with a governing body. To date, we can boast that over 800 people are Youth Certified in our community. 

For more information on Safe Places, visit: 

This article was previously featured in the Spring 2017 issue of DIRECTION Magazine, "Supportive Environments". Original publication date: March 2017.