Church works with parents and schools to protect our children
While our Church and schools are integral to the education and formation of children, parents and other family members play an irreplaceable educational role. We know that parents are the primary educators and formators of their children.
Parents are especially positioned to understand their children’s unique temperaments and personalities to help form them in virtues, equip them for life, and help prepare them for life’s uncertain and sometimes dark periods.
One of the strengths of the Protecting God’s Children for Adults® program is to focus on the awareness of child and youth behavior. All children and youth attending Catholic schools, or who are involved in youth programs through the Diocese of Fort Worth, receive age-appropriate safe environment training. It is essential that children are given tools by which they can protect themselves and parents and family members know the friends, activities, and organizations involved in their children’s lives. Meeting all of your child’s teachers, coaches, or adult leaders is important since those are the persons with whom your child spends a significant portion of his or her day.
It is only through consistent, loving, and frequent conversations with our children that we can truly know what’s going on in their lives and therefore not only protect them from danger, but also guide them in their decision-making of their moral and spiritual journey. It is never too early nor too late to begin speaking with children about sexual abuse and bullying.
Discussing the rules and informal social norms about lunch time, school bathrooms, and locker/changing rooms is also important in setting expectations not only for their conduct, but in their understanding that if anything makes them uncomfortable it should be brought to your attention.
Additionally, young people need to be educated about the possible dangers of programs, technology, and electronic devices with internet access just like we would discuss the dangers and safety procedures of driving with teenagers getting their driver license. Those who would abuse children, seek to isolate children outside of the presence of others — whether through the internet or technology, or in a location where they are alone with a child.
Most importantly, children must know they can talk to parents, family members, teachers, and other trusted adults about anything. Patient, non judgmental, and compassionate listening will increase communication, and better enable us to discern when our child may be in danger.
Parents, families, schools, and our Church share the common goal of helping lead our children on the path to a happier, holier life. This is best accomplished through steady guidance, a listening ear, and concrete wisdom.
Our focus must always be on increasing the awareness and vigilance of teachers, educators, administrators, staff, and volunteers in our schools and parishes. A key element is focusing on prevention and education through mandatory safe environment certification of all who serve in diocesan ministry. But the diocese goes beyond that by screening prospective employees and volunteers and requiring them to: submit an application with (non-family member) personal references who are contacted; pass criminal and sexual offender registry background checks; and sign and adhere to the Diocesan Code of Conduct and Behavior Standards.
Richard Mathews is Director of Safe Environment for the Diocese of Fort Worth. A former prosecuting attorney, he also served as the General Counsel for the Boy Scouts of America and for Trail Life USA.