Monday, April 16, 2018
Jan Rayburn - Archdiocese of Miami/Safe Environment
In 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gathered to create a manifesto for protecting children and vulnerable adults, whose lives are reverenced. The bishops’ efforts culminated in what is now the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. It is the cornerstone of the bishops’ “Promise to Protect and Pledge to Heal.” Today, and in the nearly 16 years since, the Archdiocese of Miami has promulgated and adhered to the Charter through its own Safe Environment Policy.
As Catholics, we are called in baptism to look out for each other, especially when talking about children and vulnerable adults. This is often not easy or convenient or entirely understood. Sometimes parents are taken aback when told they need to comply with the Safe Environment policy. They may feel it unnecessary if they are only trying to participate in school events with their own child; or they may feel that giving of their time and talents should be enough. However, if this participation also gives them access to other children, then compliance is required. We need every set of eyes and ears trained to help protect all children. Volunteering is a solid foundation on which our churches and ministries are built. However, volunteering is a privilege, not a right, and it comes with responsibilities.
One component of compliance is safety training, where we learn, sadly, that there are those who wish to harm children. There is evil among us. As threatening as the subject of that last sentence is, hope prevails because of the last two words: “among us.” We can do something about it. Child sexual abuse is a preventable crime.
Through the Virtus Protecting God’s Children program, we learn five steps to protect our children. They are small steps, but when multiplied by the hundreds of thousands trained in our archdiocese, and millions across the country, they have a big influence in changing the culture with regard to the crime of child abuse.
- Know the warning signs of inappropriate behavior. Paying attention to these behaviors and interrupting them anytime they are present can make a real difference in the health and well-being of children.
- Control who has access to children and vulnerable adults. This means establishing and implementing an application and screening process for employees and volunteers that helps to preserve the safety of children.
- Monitor all ministries and programs. Establish practices like administrator drop-ins, windows on doors, and drop-off/pick-up procedures. Also encourage parents to monitor their child’s after-school activities and programs.
- Be aware of child and youth behavior. The first three steps help us identify inappropriate people and situations before they become a danger to our children. Being aware is a reminder that regardless of the good efforts we make to eliminate risky adults from our lives, sometimes predators slip through the obstacles we impose. As a result, we need to continually be aware of what’s going on with our children and maintain and expand our communication with them, especially as technology and communication tools and apps advance. One way is through the Virtus’ Teaching Boundary Safety lessons for children.
- Speak up! Communicate concerns and report abuse. While this is perhaps the most difficult step, keep in mind that predators count on adults who have difficulty communicating concerns. They know that the reluctance to speak up provides them the opportunity to escape detection when their behavior raises suspicions. Adults must be willing to speak up to interrupt inappropriate behaviors exhibited by others and to report suspected abuse to authorities.
Following the Virtus live training, participants create an online account where their training continues in the form of monthly bulletins, which take about three minutes to complete. The bulletins are an opportunity to increase safety knowledge in a way that is timely and topical. They are written by experts in the field and serve as a great resource for those with children and/or vulnerable adults in their lives. The knowledge gained from each bulletin strengthens the safety net around children. It’s a brief monthly commitment to positively affect behavior and increase safety literacy.
Recently, we merged Virtus accounts with the Pledge to Promote Safe Environment. You may have noticed when you logged into your account you were prompted to electronically sign the Pledge. It is a required form, like a code of conduct, that lets everyone know what behavior is acceptable — or not — of themselves and others. Merging it with the Virtus account makes compliance more readily verifiable and minimizes paperwork. Again, it was a small update that makes a big difference on accountability and best practices.
Additionally, all employees of the archdiocese — even if their job does not involve children — and all volunteers with access to children and/or vulnerable adults must successfully pass a fingerprint background check in the archdiocesan data base. These checks have proven to be a successful tool in keeping predators away from our children. It’s such a small thing to do when you consider the risk of not doing so.