By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
In catechism classes and Catholic school classrooms across the Archdiocese, age-appropriate lessons about child abuse and its prevention are part of the curricula.
“Personal safety training for children is mandated in Article 12 of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” said Evelyn Brannan Tarpey, safe environment coordinator of the archdiocesan Office for Child and Youth Protection.
“The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” is a comprehensive set of procedures established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in June 2002 for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The charter also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of future acts of abuse.
During an academic year, nearly 120,000 students across the Archdiocese receive safe environment training. That number, Tarpey said, is part of the national audit conducted by the USCCB. All parish elementary schools and religious education programs, as well as archdiocesan high schools, submit the data to the Office for Child and Youth Protection for inclusion in the audit.
“The sexual abuse of children is not an easy issue to discuss, but we must talk about this with the children entrusted to our care,” Tarpey said.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, but in the Archdiocese, safety measures for youngsters are addressed throughout the year.
The personal safety lessons taught in the parish schools, programs of religious education, archdiocesan schools of special education and high schools are designed to equip students with knowledge that can help to keep them safe, Tarpey said.
Those same lessons, she added, “supplement the conversations parents are having with their children.”
Deborah Bachor, assistant superintendent for elementary educational services in the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education, agreed.
“We as teachers appreciate the fact that parents entrust us with their most prized possessions,” she said. “The parents are the first teachers. We realize that our job is to help them deliver information that will help their children to be safe.”
At the same time, “we understand that we are the trusted folks that the students see every day – they become comfortable with us and come to us for help,” she said.
“These lessons just open the door to discuss – privately – things that may trouble them,” Bachor continued. “Our teachers understand the grave responsibility they have as mandated reporters; that is, they report any instances that are questionable to a child’s health and welfare to child and youth protection agencies.”
Tarpey commended the teachers in the Catholic schools and the catechists in the parish religious education programs “for their courage and commitment in presenting the personal safety lessons to their students. This is yet another way in which they demonstrate their concern for the well-being of their students.”
Ann Menna, director of parish elementary religious education in the archdiocesan Office for Catechical Formation, received affirmation that the lessons are working when she answered a telephone call earlier this year from a guidance counselor who teaches safe environment lessons at a public school in Chester County.
“When she began the lesson with the second grade,” Menna said of the guidance counselor’s account, “one student raised her hand and said, ‘We already had this lesson.’
“Knowing that no other faculty member was assigned this task, she questioned the child as to the ‘where’ of the lessons. The little girl promptly replied, ‘At our religion school.'”
Continued Menna: “The guidance counselor found out that the child was Catholic; thus, her phone call. After our conversation about our approach to safe environment, she simply said, ‘I applaud your efforts. This is wonderful that you are helping children in this way.'”
For more information about the safe environment curricula in the Archdiocese, visit the web site www.catholicschools-phl.org/parents/safeenvironment.
For more information about victim assistance and safe environment programs throughout the Archdiocese, contact the Office for Child and Youth Protection at (215) 587-2466 or visit the web site listed above.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free brochures available
“Creating a Network of Prevention and Protection,” a brochure detailing the policies, programs and services that are part of the Archdiocese’s Safe Environment Program, is available through the archdiocesan web site, www.archphila.org. Access the brochure by clicking the icon titled “Victim Assistance and Safe Environment,” located on the bottom right of the web site.
The brochure also provides parents with information and resources that support their daily efforts to keep their children safe. Parents, whose children are enrolled in archdiocesan high schools, parish elementary schools, schools of special education and programs of religious education, will receive a copy of the brochure through their school or religious education program.