‘Protecting God’s Children’

Diocesan Safe Environment Program marks 1,000th training session

by Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

On Tuesday, Feb. 24, the 1,000th training session of the diocesan  Protecting God’s Children Training for Adults program was held at St. John the Evangelist Church in New Hartford. The Protecting God’s Children program educates and trains adults about the dangers of sexual abuse, the warning signs, the ways to prevent it, the methods of properly reporting suspicions of it and responding to allegations of it.

In October 2003, the diocese launched its Safe Environment Program in response to article 12 of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In order to protect the faithful in the future, the article states: “Dioceses/eparchies will establish ‘safe environment’ programs. They will cooperate with parents, civil authorities, educators and community organizations to provide education and training for children, youth, parents, ministers, educators and others about ways to make and maintain a safe environment for children. Dioceses/eparchies will make clear to clergy and all members of the community the standards of conduct for clergy and other persons in positions of trust with regard to sexual abuse.”

Since then, the diocese has been committed to ongoing training (through VIRTUS, a program of the National Catholic Risk Retention Group). The three-and-a-half hour Protecting God’s Children training is required for all clergy, religious, employees and volunteers who work directly with youth and is open to all who are interested in attending. The training is delivered by a volunteer staff of trained VIRTUS facilitators who have received over 15 hours of training. They facilitate the training sessions through schools, parishes, Catholic Charities and other programs.

“Our diocese has trained and background checked over 20,500 participants in the Protecting God’s Children sessions and we re-certified over 3,700 in the fall of 2008,” said Safe Environment Program administrator Jackie Schiano. “We are building a full barrier system to keep our children and youth protected from those who would do them harm.”

Schiano said the people that were first trained in 2003 and 2004 are now being re-certified through a training session that is scheduled throughout the diocese. Keeping the Promise Alive is a one-hour session that includes a brief video and a group discussion to remind participants of the warning signs of child sexual abuse, the steps to take to monitor it and how to report it.

Mickey Bruce, diocesan employee of the secretarial support department in the Chancery offices in Syracuse, participated in the Keeping the Promise Alive course in September 2008, along with a dozen other diocesan employees. “It was a good recap of the first training course that I took in 2003,” said Bruce.

“Our policy is to update criminal background checks at least every five years — this is part of the re-certification process as well,” said Schiano. “The training and retraining has become part of our diocesan culture.”

The diocese is committed to providing assistance to those who have been abused by a member of the clergy, religious community, employee or volunteer of the diocese. Nuala Collins, diocesan victim assistance coordinator, said that the first step in reporting sexual abuse by a member of the clergy, religious, employee or volunteer of the diocese should be to contact her at (315) 470-1465.

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