Catholic Program Is Helping Protect Kids

By Denise Kaspar
Relish [North Carolina]
February 9, 2006

From the moment we learn that a child is expected, a switch goes off and a parent begins to focus on how to protect that child.

For many years, parents prepare their children to face the world with courage. They also want them to flourish and succeed. It's a daunting task.

The most threatening predators are people who seek children and prey on their naivete, vulnerabilities and insecurities. Preventing the sexual abuse of a child takes more than just a parent's awareness. Children need to be educated and prepared.

Holy Family Catholic Church is working with parents to safeguard children with a Toughing Safety Program.

The program stems from the controversy that rocked the church when news reports emerged in 2002 that priests in Boston who were accused of abusing children and teenagers were shuffled from parish to parish rather than being removed from their positions.

The program introduced to more than 325 children what areas of their bodies are private (all areas were covered by a bathing suit). It reviewed how to identify that "uncomfortable" feeling that occurs when someone invades your personal space and the different ways to say "no."

Identifying 'safe' adults

Students stood toe-to-toe on carpet squares to identify what it feels like to be "uncomfortable" with someone else. They then identified such safe adults as family, teachers and church members, setting apart such special adults as doctors and parents.

Boys and girls in the first- through fifth-grades participated in the program last week. Although some children were absent from the weekly faith-formation classes, only three decided not to attend because of the subject matter, said Marguerite "Peggy" Schumacher, the director of faith formation.

The class also discussed lures such as gifts that predators use and how they often make requests that secrets be kept from parents. Students discussed the difference between such surprises as birthday presents and special events, and secrets that should not be kept from parents.

"This (program) is the end product of the deep commitment of the diocese of Charlotte - which includes Clemmons - to righting a wrong," said David Hains, a spokesman for the diocese. "The Catholic church has recognized what happened and is taking the appropriate actions so it never happens again."

Reinforcing home lessons

Tina Fox, a Clemmons parent, said that the program helped reinforce what she hopes her children are learning at home. "The more we talk about it, the easier it will be for (our children) to talk to someone if they need to," said Fox, whose 9-year-old daughter participated in the class. "I think that the more you bring it up, the more they know there is someone they can go to."

The program is designed in a three-year cycle and is presented in small, informative "bites." When Schumacher heard about the program, she said she had one initial response: "It's about time for a program like this." She said that it was unfortunate that it took a scandal of such magnitude to bring this topic to the forefront.

For more information about the program, developed by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, visit the Web site

• Denise Kasper can be reached at 775-5653 or at


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