One of the best things the Archdiocese is doing to combat child sexual abuse is our safe environment program, which includes criminal background checks, safe environment training for adults, and educational resources for children and youth. Thus, I thought I might share a summary of these efforts by including portions of an excellent story by our editor of The Record, Marnie McAllister, included in the Report to the Catholic People. For the full story and the report, see here.
In the last 15 years, more than 48,000 people have been trained by the Archdiocese of Louisville to spot child abuse and learned that they are required by Kentucky law to report their suspicions. They also have been background checked and have promised to adhere to a detailed code of conduct. These are steps the Archdiocese of Louisville has taken to help safeguard the children in its care since 2003.
Since these policies were established, all priests, deacons and church employees, as well as volunteers who work on a regular basis with children have been subject to these requirements. They are scrutinized every five years via Selection.com, which conducts a background check covering national, state, and county records. Every quarter, their identities are checked against “America Reports,” a national database that includes the sex offender registry and the no-fly list.
The Archdiocese’s two-hour safe environment training program, called “Honor Thy Children,” is offered several times each month for new employees, clergy, and volunteers. The program has three main points, said Martine Siegel, who teaches the program and coordinates assistance for victims of abuse in the Archdiocese:
- “We teach people how to recognize abuse,” she said. “We want everybody to watch for signs that a child is being abused.”
- “We want them to understand what childhood sexual abuse is — how a child deals with being sexually abused mentally and how an adult deals with it if they were abused as a child.”
- The class also teaches “How to report it, when to report it, and what the state of Kentucky requires, so there’s no misunderstanding. Siegel said. “We are a mandatory reporting state.”
“By the time they leave the two-hour class, they know what to look for, what it does to a child or adult, and how to report it,” Siegel said. “They’re also given my name and number. We want them to know they are fully supported by the Archdiocese. They can call me anytime. They can run a situation by me about what to do.”
Siegel noted that some people arrive at the class feeling frustrated that they have to attend. “They never fail to leave, saying, “I came in thinking it was a waste of time; what I learned was phenomenal.”
The training classes are taught by Siegel and two school counselors, Laura Probus of Holy Trinity School and Jim Higgins of Saint Xavier High School. It is typically offered several times a month and reaches locations all over the Archdiocese of Louisville.
“Continuing education for safe environment practices is offered in a monthly newsletter, which is sent to all principals, counselors, pastors, and parish staff, who are expected to share it,” Siegel said.
Training is also provided to children in Catholic schools. Those in kindergarten through sixth grade take “Speak Up Be Safe,” a program offered by Childhelp. Children in seventh and eighth grade can also take this program or may be offered another appropriate program.
Speak Up Be Safe focuses on four things:
- What the “grooming” process looks like.
- Body safety and privacy.
- Uncomfortable touch.
- How to report.
“The purpose is to give them knowledge and a voice,” said Siegel. “We want them to be comfortable with this topic, so comfortable that they can say, ‘This isn’t right.’ For the ones who have gone through this program, it’s not a taboo topic.” She added that high schools choose their own curriculum. Religious education programs in parishes offer a program called Safe Sheep.