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CURRENT ISSUE:  October 9, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 17Oakland, CA

On-line training is user-friendly

“Shield the Vulnerable,” a new, 90-minute on-line interactive class, teaches priests, diocesan employees, parish and school staffs and volunteers how to recognize, report and prevent child abuse.

Even computer-phobics will love the user-friendly question and answer format. It’s designed so that it doesn’t have to be completed in one sitting. People can sign off as they choose and when they return, they can pick up on the page where left off.

The program begins with identifying and describing the different types of abuse – emotional, physical and sexual, and then moves into information outlining procedures for making a report to authorities for suspected abuse.

The program provides specific information for both mandated reporters – clergy, teachers and other school personnel, counselors, health care providers, social workers who by law must report suspected abuse – and for ethical reporters who are not required to report by law, but fall into a category of those who nonetheless are concerned about the safety and wellbeing of children. Falling into this category are school volunteers, family members, friends, neighbors and bystanders who suspect that a child is being sexually, physically or emotionally abused, or is suffering from neglect.

The computer program offers real-life scenarios, such as a museum field trip or an overnight camping jaunt, and leads participants to consider possible situations of abuse.

For example, one scenario asks how a chaperone might react if one of the overnight camping charges looks listless, sad, and unkempt? Confides that she hates herself?

Might these characteristics be the tip- off to emotional, physical, sexual abuse, or negligence?

"Outright neglect, as well as physical and emotional abuse, are much more prevalent than sexual abuse,” said Ralph Yanello of LawRoom.

As soon as the participant marks his or her response, a statement appears on screen indicating whether the answer is correct. If an incorrect answer has been given, the screen gently prompts, “Try again,” along with an explanation of why the answer isn’t correct.
The scenarios are revisited several times as the course material is developed. At the beginning, one little boy named Charlie who seems to be the picture of health and well-being, remarks that “last night I watched some ants crawling across the ground.” A curious kid, honing in on nature, right?

By the end of the course, one learns that life is not quite as happy it seems to be. It is horrible, in fact. His dad’s favorite disciplinary technique is to lock the child in the garage overnight where Charlie whiles away the lonely hours watching the ants on the floor.

To help participants review the material they’ve just absorbed, the course offers a brief crossroad puzzle for viewers to complete mid-way through the 61-page program.

When the course has been concluded, the web site congratulates the participant for successful completion and offers them a way to print a personalized graduation certificate. The certificate is also recorded on-line for purposes of diocesan record keeping.

The course also offers participants an opportunity to ask questions. Most answers are provided the same day.

Since the web site debuted Aug. 25, more than 900 comments, most of them favorable, have been received. “Overall, the response has been stunning,” said Yanello.

But several people complained that the course examples are geared too exclusively to elementary school children and needs to be expanded to the high school level. Yanello and Nancy Libby of the Safe Environment for Children Program say that concern will be addressed in the next installment.

They are currently at work on several new computer programs – one dealing with high school students, as well as several age-appropriate classes for children on how to recognize potential predators.

Also in the planning states is a segment which teaches adults how to speak with children whom they suspect are being abused, so they will have a better idea if they need to contact Child Protective Services.

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