MARY JANE DOERR
Over the years, we have learned a lot about how to keep our children safe. As the New Year begins and resolutions are made, let’s use that knowledge. Let’s be heroes in the lives of our children, and protect them from those who would hurt them.
Make protecting your children your most important resolution.
In 2002, the bishops promised that Catholic churches would protect children—a promise they mean to keep. Safe environment training has become an integral part of what Catholic parishes and schools do. Leaders train parents, volunteers, and employees on how to prevent child sexual abuse. They evaluate the backgrounds of employees and volunteers so those who have harmed children in the past cannot get jobs that would give them access to children. All done in order to protect our children.
What are some of the things you can do to make protecting your children a priority?
* Make sure your safe environment training is up to date.
* Identify which team members and volunteers need to go through training for the coming year.
* Review your diocese’s training program to make sure you have the most current materials and forms.
* Schedule training sessions in early spring, during summer, and at the start of the school year this fall to give your catechists ample opportunity and flexibility to attend.
Review the signs of grooming behavior with your key leaders.
Your children are relying on you to know what behaviors to look for and what to do if something isn’t quite right.
Remember: Most offenders do not randomly grab children off the streets and molest them. Offenders spend time grooming the child, family, and community so they are perceived by parents and others as people to be trusted. But they are not. A knowledgeable adult—like you—can and should spot signs of a grooming process and put a stop to it by remembering important warning signs.
The signs of grooming behavior by a molester are:
* always wanting to be around children instead of adults and discouraging other adults from participating in those activities
* giving children gifts without getting parents’ permission
* allowing children to break family/church rules
* giving children alcohol or drugs
* showing children pornography
* using bad language or telling dirty jokes to children
* touching children excessively, including tickling or wrestling with children they barely know
* acting as if the rules do not apply to them
It is never acceptable for an adult to do any of the above activities with children. Adults who see any of these signs should ask the person why he or she is behaving in that manner or report the behavior to a supervisor.
If that person indeed is grooming a child, your questions put the person on notice that people are watching. If the adult thinks tickling is just teasing or giving gifts is being generous, he or she needs to understand that such behavior could be making it easier for a sexual offender to groom and harm a child. The more serious behaviors, or course, should be reported immediately.
Teach and enforce rules with your children.
Children are taught by trusted adults to follow rules for their own safety and protection. Make sure they follow the rules. Adults who routinely allow children to break the rules set a dangerous precedent and confuse them. Molesters count on that confusion. They count on a child not knowing what do even if the child senses something is wrong.
As we start another New Year, add to and keep these resolutions. Make it a priority to keep all the children in your life safe by putting to use the safe environment training you receive. It could mean the difference between a lifetime of happiness and a lifetime of pain for a child now and an adult later. Be that hero in the lives of your children.
Mary Jane Doerr is the Associate Director in the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, December 2010.
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