Safeguarding the Children: an Ongoing Commitment

By Ellie Hidalgo
The Tidings [Los Angeles CA]
July 11, 2003

In an ongoing effort to increase, among all people, their awareness of sexual abuse by adults, the nearly 300 parishes of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are establishing "Safeguard the Children" Committees.

The process - part of an archdiocesan-wide effort to address the issue of clergy sex abuse and broaden it to include all forms of physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children by any adult - means that each parish will offer an educational program aimed at child abuse prevention at the parish level, through its committees.

"What we hope to do is raise the consciousness of the community as a whole, so that people are aware that this is not something to sweep a case under the rug," said Father Francis Colborn, pastor of St. Andrew Church, Pasadena. "It's about overcoming the reluctance of people to face up to the realities of what can happen and does happen to children."

St. Andrew's Safeguard the Children Parish Committee is chaired by a parish staff social worker and includes six members. The committee has offered training to parish staff, the school principal, priests and religious education leaders on child abuse prevention and intervention. Additional training will reach out to parents and teachers, including Spanish-speaking parents.

Father Colborn is working with the committee to see how priests can incorporate some of the education work in their homilies, which offer opportunities to reach many people at once with core messages. Through these efforts, Father Colborn is hopeful that parishioners and ministers will learn to be alert for signs of abuse and take action when they suspect a child is being hurt.

Working together

Parishes from the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region recently met in Santa Barbara County and Ventura County to inform each other of their efforts. Ideas were exchanged, handouts shared and new parish policies for working and ministering with youth were explained, said Maggie Stapp, administrative coordinator for the office of Santa Barbara Region Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry.

In establishing their committees, churches have sought out parishioners with expertise - nurses, police officers, counseling professionals, doctors and parents. Stapp noted that some parishes are discussing even broader safety issues - such as lighting in the parking areas, playgrounds and other environmental concerns.

"This is really spurring a lot of good hard looks at the environment the children are in," said Stapp. "There's a positive spirit and a lot of enthusiasm about what we're doing in terms of education."

Bishop Curry will be working with the deaneries to assist parishes further along to assist those just getting started.

The Archdiocesan Catholic Center, in conjunction with the Department of Catholic Schools and the Office of Family Life, has designed a planning notebook that parishes can order for $5. The manual includes a child abuse prevention handbook and intervention guide from the California Attorney General's Office, a list of additional resource websites, and videos offered by the Office of Religious Education.

The broad goals of each parish committee, said Msgr. Richard Loomis, coordinator of the Safeguard the Children Program, are to inform all parish groups of archdiocesan policies and guidelines on reporting child abuse and neglect; collect and inform parish staff, ministries and volunteers of available resources through their Safeguard the Children Parish Committee; and encourage all parish groups to learn about all aspects of child abuse and neglect and prevention.

In designing their specific educational programs, each parish is given the latitude to assess their particular needs considering the ethnic, cultural, language, civic and geographical makeup of their local community, he said.

Parishes are encouraged to find out about resources in their local communities dealing with child abuse prevention. Civic organizations or nearby universities often offer speakers, presentations or trainings, he added.

"This is a call to parish staff and parents to become involved in this effort on the grassroots level," said Msgr. Loomis. He hopes that as a result of parish initiatives, "there's an awareness on every level that child abuse is a societal problem, and we all need to be vigilant and work to keep children safe."

To order a Safeguard the Children Planning notebook, call (213) 637-7541.


Child Abuse Prevention Resources - The National Catholic Risk Retention Group identifies "best practices" programs designed to help prevent wrongdoing and promote "rightdoing" within religious organizations. Offers a certification training program. - A child abuse prevention curriculum designed for children in preschool through the sixth grade. - Online safety precautions for families and children by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

- /crisisnumbers/councils.html - Contact your local Child Abuse Prevention Council. - Order online the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and Essential Norms adopted by the U.S. bishops and approved by John Paul II. - Search "respecting the boundaries" to see online the brochure developed by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to educate parishioners and parents on the problem of sexual abuse.

To order a Safeguard the Children Planning notebook, call (213) 637-7541.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.