Bringing safe environment issues to light through awareness and training

In the past thirty years, many of us have been exposed to Public Service Announcements (PSAs). Some of a certain age can remember PSAs from the 1960s and 1970s, especially related to campaigns against smoking, preventing forest fires and bringing awareness to care of the earth through littering prevention efforts. The message was to improve people’s lives by providing important information and scientific facts about a problem or danger that society faces.

Possibly one of the most shared memories of public service announcements has been NBC’s campaign called “The More You Know.” This campaign has been sponsored by the National Broadcasting System (NBC), partnering with non-profits and governmental agencies to educate a broad audience on national issues by having celebrities as the messenger. Some may recall specific attention being placed on literacy with Betty White, drinking and driving with Robert Stack, and Jerry Orbach on domestic violence, to name a few.

The purpose of a PSA is to raise awareness of an issue that would lead people to action. The goal is to show the importance of a problem or issue by providing information and emphasizing to viewers that they have a role in creating positive change by their actions and can make a difference.

Safe Environment Training within the Catholic Church holds a similar objective. It is designed to provide awareness of the facts, show ways to prevent and respond to child abuse, and emphasize how each person can truly make a difference in the lives of individuals and both our local and faith community. By all of us working together to ensure the protection of all of God’s children and our most vulnerable, we help to ensure confidence and trust in our church communities and our commitment to living out the Gospel message.

In 2002 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops developed the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. In the document, article 12 states that dioceses are “to maintain safe environment programs to provide education and training for minors, parents, ministers, employees, volunteers and others about ways to sustain and foster a safe environment for minors.”

The work done by educators, ministers, social workers, parents, caregivers and community members to prevent child abuse is guided by research on effective preventative measures. Over the past years, a wealth of information has been learned through the dedication and courage of individuals, families, educators, and mental health professionals directly and indirectly impacted by child abuse. Information is a vital part of prevention and protection by identifying and understanding an issue.

How can Safe Environment Training for both children and adults be effective?

Darkness to Light, a non-profit dedicated to end child sexual abuse throughout the world, offers “5 steps to protecting children” as effective means through training and action:

  • Step 1, Learn the Facts. “If we don’t understand child sexual abuse, we can’t end it.”
  • Step 2, Minimize Opportunity. “Safe Environments can help reduce the risk for abuse.”
  • Step 3, Talk about it. “Talking openly breaks down barriers and reduces stigma. Children often keep abuse a secret, but talking openly, can encourage children to share and feel safe.”
  • Step 4, Recognize the Signs. “Signs of abuse aren’t always obvious, but they are often there. Emotional or behavioral changes are often the most common signs, rather than physical evidence.”
  • Step 5, React Responsibly. “It’s our responsibility to react appropriately to suspicion, disclosure or discovery of abuse.”

By simply following these steps, each person can be an instrumental part of preventing the abuse of all vulnerable people.

The Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau provides training opportunities and information to prevent child abuse for all members of our churches, schools and faith communities.

Training for adults is available online and can be accessed through the archdiocese website aoaj.org.

This program is created by Proud to Protect and the Safe & Sacred Environment Training Program is designed to assist Catholic dioceses in providing information to clerics, laity, employees, volunteers and parish and school communities on understanding the facts, how to identify when someone is being abused, and the best approach on how to respond. This training is required every two years for all clerics, employees, and any volunteer who has contact with minors or vulnerable adults where it could be unsupervised and could create a personal relationship.

Training for children and parents is provided through a program from the Archdiocese of Omaha called Circle of Grace. This is a holistic approach that serves “the dual purpose of educating and informing children and youth about the value of positive relationships with God and others.” The archdiocese requires that this training be offered to all children in faith formation programs and schools yearly.

The Circle of Grace program is designed for adults to “assist children and youth to recognize that each of us lives within a Circle of Grace that holds our very essence in body, mind, heart, soul, and sexuality. Children and youth are taught to identify and maintain appropriate physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual boundaries; recognize when boundary violations are about to occur; and demonstrate how to take action when boundaries are threatened or violated. Circle of Grace is … grounded in the Catholic tradition. Its strong parent component means parents can actively participate in their children’s education and formation.”

To learn more about how you can be a part of prevention efforts to ensure all vulnerable people are protected, you are invited to complete the archdiocesan safe environment training for adults. Also, I encourage all to learn more about Circle of Grace which can be accessed by visiting the archdiocesan website, aoaj.org.

Additional training resources can be found through:

AlaskaChildrensTrust.org, Darkness To Light (www.D21.org) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops USCCB.org. or by contacting the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau Office of Safe Environment at jmichaelson@caa-ak.org.

My prayer for our church and specifically for the Mission of Safe Environment in preventing abuse in all its forms is that we will be a light in the darkness of abuse where healing and justice reign through continued greater awareness. A petition from Ash Wednesday reminded me of what the impact of participating and being open to learning through training can be: “May we be the leaven that brings peace and justice to the world.”


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