I got a note last week from a friend in the neighborhood who swims with her two young daughters at the downtown YMCA. Finding the family changing rooms occupied, she decided to use the regular women's locker room, only to be told that children between the ages of four and fifteen can't enter the locker rooms of the Y, even accompanied by their parents. She and her two children waited in vain for ten minutes for one of the two family restrooms to open up
An email exchange with Bryan Huffman, executive director of the Durham YMCAs, revealed the following thinking:
Our primary goal is to prevent any potential of sexual abuse or misconduct from occurring to children. Protecting our youngest members is our utmost importance. While no known misconduct has occurred at the Downtown YMCA, we are not willing to take that chance. Statistics show that locker rooms, specifically shower areas, are one of the leading public locations that child sex abuse occurs. By allowing children and adults to shower side by side is inviting predatory behavior to occur. The YMCA cannot tolerate that risk. We care too much about children to allow it.
We are currently exploring a more complete solution, which is to build several more family locker rooms as well as add restrooms to the Downtown YMCA. At this time, I do not know when these additions will arrive as our Board of Advisors is currently evaluating all three of the Durham YMCA facilities and their needs. I am expecting a recommendation from this group by November, which should include the new additions at Downtown. Unfortunately, the decision can not arrive sooner as their recommendation deals with a much larger issue – the future of the Lakewood YMCA as a whole.
Apparently, this new policy -- about ten months old -- has raised a hue and cry from a number of downtown Y members who've brought their kids to the YMCA for years and taken them into the regular locker rooms to get changed. Four new temporary changing stations have been added on the pool deck, too, but none of these contain showers or other bath facilities.
Our correspondent suspects the policy may be in place due to concerns from older, childless members who don't want to hear young children being, well, young children in close proximity to them. And she points out that her children would always be accompanied in the locker room, not left on their own.
On the other hand, a bulletin from The Redwoods Group (a major insurer for YMCA facilities) outlines at least one of the risks of having kids in locker rooms (whose bright idea was the camera phone, anyway?) And at least one other YMCA has been going through a similar, if much more public, debate.
I'm curious what the parents out there think -- has this new policy impacted you? Have you switched away from the Y as a result, or are you okay with the current workarounds?
For my part, I'm wondering if this is a unified policy across the Triangle YMCAs, or something unique to the Durham facilities. It's also concerning to imagine (by the time recommendations are finished, fundraising accomplished, and construction completed) parents having to wait, what, two, or possibly three years from the time the policy was enacted until additional restrooms and family showers are added to the facility downtown? (All in the shadow, of course, of the brand-new downtown Raleigh YMCA's grand opening.)