Leslie Davila

As the new school year begins, parents and guardians across the five-county Archdiocese of Philadelphia are preparing to send their children back to the classroom. While this time is often filled with excitement and hope, it also brings a heightened sense of responsibility to ensure safety and well-being.

At the Archdiocesan Office for Child and Youth Protection (OCYP), we believe that every child deserves a safe and nurturing environment to learn, grow, and flourish. As we embark on this back-to-school journey together, I’m sharing some essential insights and tips that can empower parents to safeguard their children against abuse and neglect.

First and foremost, make daily conversations a priority in your home. Open communication is the cornerstone to building a trusting relationship in which children are more likely to tell you if something is upsetting them. Sit down and discuss their feelings about returning to school. Encourage them to share any worries or concerns they may have, and assure them that you are always there to listen and support them.

Additionally, teach your child about personal boundaries and empower them to say “no” to any uncomfortable situations or interactions. Knowledge about their rights and autonomy can help children recognize when a situation isn’t appropriate and give them the confidence to speak up.

Equally important is fostering a close and trusting relationship with your child’s teachers and school staff. Take an active interest in their academic and social lives, and attend school events whenever possible. By establishing strong connections with school personnel, you create a supportive network that can identify and address any red flags that may arise.

Educating ourselves as parents and guardians about the signs of abuse is crucial. Be vigilant for any sudden changes in behavior, unexplained injuries, or unusual secrecy. Don’t hesitate to seek help from professionals or reach out to child abuse prevention organizations like ours if you suspect any form of maltreatment.

While we as adults aim to protect our children, it’s essential to teach them about personal safety too. Encourage your child to confide in a trusted adult if they ever encounter a situation that makes them feel uneasy. Empower them to recognize and report any incidents of bullying, harassment, or mistreatment at school, within their peer social networks, and within their broader community.

We must also stand united against child abuse and neglect. We must be proactive in supporting child abuse prevention programs and initiatives. At OCYP, we continue to advocate for strong policies that protect our children and ensure those who perpetrate harm face appropriate consequences. We are committed to providing resources, support, and education to parents, guardians, and educators. Together, we can create a culture where every child feels safe, loved, and valued.

As we embark on this new school year, let us reaffirm our dedication to protecting the well-being of our children. Together, we can build a brighter future for our community, where every child can grow up free from the shadows of abuse and neglect.

For more information about the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office for Child and Youth Protection’s efforts and resources available please visit www.childyouthprotection.org
Leslie J. Davila, M.S., is the Director of the Archdiocesan Office for Child and Youth Protection.