Safeguard the Children Oversight Committees Share 'Best Practices'
The Tidings [California]
November 3, 2006
In response to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' aggressive implementation of education programs to prevent child sexual abuse over the past four years, hundreds of parishes have formed Safeguard the Children oversight committees.
Members of these committees, including clergy, religious, school staff and parishioners, meet regularly to discuss ways to improve children's safety in their particular church community. Thanks to the dedicated work of these volunteer committee members, many parishes have made changes in their policies, procedures and physical plant to keep children safe from sexual predators.
St. Anastasia in Westchester was one of the first parishes to establish a Safeguard the Children committee back in the summer of 2004. Following the committee's recommendation, St. Anastasia School parents are required to complete the three-hour VIRTUS "Protecting All God's Children Awareness Session for Adults" before volunteering in the classroom or playground. "They can't help out unless they do it," said principal Rosemary Connolly. No prospective parent volunteer, she added, has ever complained about investing the time to take the VIRTUS training.
At St. Paschal Baylon in Thousand Oaks, safety-related improvements were initiated four years ago when new windows were cut into parish meeting room doors. "Everybody knows where everyone is," explained Kathleen Brown, DRE of the pre-K-8th grade English-speaking children's classes and one of the founding members of the parish Safeguard the Children committee.
According to Brown, the goal of St. Paschal's religious education ministry is to have two adult volunteers in every classroom. If that is not possible, teachers follow a policy of leaving their classroom door open for impromptu visual inspection.
Brown always carries a roster of her 135 religious education volunteers listing each name followed by a code: "FPVG." The code signifies whether a volunteer has been fingerprinted (FP), VIRTUS trained (V) and/or completed the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Guidelines for Adults Interacting with Minors at Parish or School Activities or Events (G).
St. Louise de Marillac's Safeguard the Children committee in Covina standardized parish safety policies to create consistency in its school and religious education programs. Two years ago, the committee developed and implemented a "photo ID" system for all paid staff and volunteers. Part-time volunteers check out a numbered "Volunteer" badge at the office.
Currently, the committee is in the process of coordinating fingerprinting of all parent volunteers with 135 parents fingerprinted to date. By next September, no volunteer can work with schoolchildren unless they have been fingerprinted, said Elizabeth LaDou, school principal and VIRTUS facilitator.
"I've seen people's eyes opened during the VIRTUS training," noted LaDou. "They see in the video how the perpetrators look like regular people. Grandparents often comment, 'I wish I'd known this.'"
According to Cruz Sadowski, DRE at St. Anthony Church in Oxnard and a parish Safeguard the Children committee member, the VIRTUS training taken by her volunteer catechists has been well worth the time investment. "The catechists have become very much more aware of child safety," said Sadowski.
She requires her religious education teachers and volunteers to review and sign the required archdiocesan guidelines annually, as do many of her fellow DREs in the archdiocese. Before accepting new volunteers, she makes sure their names are not listed on the Megan's Law website of registered sex offenders in California (www.meganslaw.ca.gov/).
Under Sadowski's leadership, the 800-student religious education program at the parish is moving towards having two adults as well as a teen helper in each classroom. The catechetical staff is so attuned to the importance of child safety that over 20 adults have volunteered to attend a training session next month for K-12 catechists who will be implementing the VIRTUS Teaching Touching Safety program, one of two children's sexual safety curriculums approved by the archdiocese for use in the parish.
The topic of child safety was recently addressed at a St. Cyril of Jerusalem School parents' education night in Encino where school principal Mike Muir, a Safeguard the Children committee member, presented an overview of the Good Touch/Bad Touch program, the other archdiocesan-approved curriculum for children. Before Christmas, according to Muir, all the students will have completed the three-session program.
"I am so proud of our Safeguard the Children Parish Committees and what they have been able to accomplish through their vision and commitment," said Joan Vienna, Safeguard the Children Coordinator. "The examples in this article are just a few of the many ways the people of God in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are working together to keep our children and youth safe."
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