Teaching Safe Environments to Volunteers

By Sherry Wachtler
Ralston Recorder [Nebraska]
November 6, 2006

More than 125 volunteers at St. Gerald's School and its youth organizations have taken classes in Safe Environment training. It's a requirement by the Archdiocese of Omaha as part of a revised policy for anyone on staff or volunteering with children.

There are no exemptions for any reason - not if you were voted Mother of the Year or you're a teacher with a doctorate in psychology. As long as you plan to volunteer in the Catholic schools in which children in kindergarten through 12th grade are involved, you have taken Safe Environment training.

"Our staff has been certified and through our newsletters, we've kind of warned our parents and others that they need to be certified," said Principal Dave Garland.

What is this training all about?

Safe Environment training is a part of a program put together under a policy by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to inform volunteers and paid personnel in Catholic schools and youth organizations about physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse - what to look for and what to do if you spot it.

St. Gerald's certainly isn't the only school facing this new requirement. Every school and church organization in the Archdiocese is required to have all paid staff members - teachers, administrative, coaching staff and volunteers - be certified in the training.

The program, which has been in the works for the last three or four years is part of a concentrated and sustained effort by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to address the crisis involving sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church.

The bishops are taking every precaution and making sure that when children are under the care of the Catholic Church, they will be safe and secure.

Additionally, all prospective personnel of the Archdiocese who will have regular contact with children in the name of the Church undergo a criminal background check and as part of the normal screening, interview and hiring process, will submit references for their character, work history and performance, according to the Archdiocese's Web site,

The three-hour Safe Environment training sessions have been offered in all parishes and re-certification is in effect. Certification training is good for three years. Several volunteers have taken the one and one-half hour re-certification classes.

According to Mary Beth Hanus of the Archdiocesan Chancery office, more than 10,402 adults have taken the Safe Environment training and 3,177 have been re-certified within the archdiocese.

The Catholic Church is not alone in seeking remedies to a growing societal problem. Other organizations - both church and civic - are requiring training for their volunteers.

"Not only is it a requirement, it's also an eye opener for some of those attending," said Garland. "They are kind of surprised. You don't expect to see some of the situations that are discussed, but they could happen."


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