The diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection has released its 11th annual report outlining its support and commitment to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The Charter is a comprehensive set of procedures established in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to deal with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. It also provides courses of action for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention/education to prevent future acts of abuse by any person in the diocese.
The diocese’s dedication to promoting safe environments has been fortified by an updated certification training, compassionate outreach to those affected by abuse and continued education of young people.
The diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection consists of Diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator Jacqueline Bressette of the Office of Victim Assistance and Jackie Farrell, Diocesan Safe Environment Program Coordinator of the Safe Environment Office.
The Safe Environment Office coordinates and administers the initial VIRTUS training, an adult awareness program which is required for all clergy, religious, diocesan employees and volunteers who have contact with children and youth. All attend recertification courses and undergo an updated criminal background check every five years.
“We are one of the few dioceses that offer a face-to-face recertification program,” commented Bressette.
“We feel very strongly about educating and updating people on current information such as social media,” said Bressette. According the Annual Report, “In fall 2013, the Syracuse Diocese Office of Victim Assistance and of Safe Environment collaborated to write, produce and distribute the updated Safe Environment recertification program, ‘Entrusted to Protect, Dedicated to Restore.’ An audience of over 4,500 was ready to recertify for the first time and many for the second time since 2008.”
In 2013-2014, 2,800 people were trained through the recertification program. Over the past 11 years, a total of 32,000 people have been trained in child and youth protection.
Bressette said the new program has been very successful in continuing to teach people how to create safe environments for children. The Annual Report stated, “The training video depicts cases adapted from those actually handled in the office within recent years, revealing abuse still occurs, but moreover, how concerned and courageous people are reporting suspicions and saving lives.”
The updated training includes stories depicting how the offenders groom their victims and families. “The stories show people that they need to remain vigilant in keeping our children safe,” Bressette explained.
Bressette added that the training program also teaches people who work with youth to be careful while using social media. “We have to be aware of predators who are cunning and deliberate,” she said. “We don’t want our children to be harmed, as the scars are everlasting.”
As a result of the training, Bressette continues to receive and review allegations of sexual abuse and boundary violations of minors by adults. She also receives reports of suspicious behaviors of priests, deacons, members of religious communities, diocesan employees or volunteers or members of the diocesan community. It is important to note that anyone with an allegation of current abuse is asked to call 911 or contact the New York State Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-342-3720.
The diocese has also endeavored to teach children and teens to keep themselves safe through the “Circles of Care” curriculum that was introduced into the context of faith formation/religious education in parish programs two years ago. In addition, Catholic schools teach similar tactics through the safe environment educational program, “Child Lures Prevention: Think First and Stay Safe.”
According to the Annual Report, nationally “Only one in 10 sexually abused children disclose their abuse.”
Bressette and Farrell stated their intentions and hope for all when they collaboratively wrote in the Annual Report: “We, as concerned, caring adults and protectors of children, are called to build and maintain safe environments for His children. Above all, we must remain vigilant and we need to listen to our children. We still have much work to do.”
For questions or concerns, contact Farrell at (315) 470-1421 or Bressette at (315) 470-1465.
A copy of the report can be found at www.syracusediocese.org/our-commitment-to-child-and-youth-protection.