| Safe Environment project promotes
the power of prevention
Childhood is a short season meant to be filled with things that are joyful, happy, carefree, life-giving and nurturing. It is also a time for learning with a bit of the spice of consequences for misbehavior tossed in. What childhood should never include is abuse of any kind. Yet we have learned that, in fact, abuse has been very much a part of the lives of thousands of children, young people, and, yes, even adults.
Our work of preventing abuse continues and is vitally necessary. The only path to a future free of abuse of all kinds is the path to creating that future. This does not mean changing our society but rather converting society: moving from reacting to the realities we experience to proactively cultivating a culture of mutual care and concern and shared values for the good. Our collaborative work in the Safe Environment Project in the Diocese of Oakland has as its mission the implementation and overseeing of our full response to the call of the Charter for the Protection of Children (USCCB, 2002) with the goal of transformation, creating a future in which the season of childhood is a good, positive, safe time in the life of every child.
Experience shows that in any child-serving organization a pedophile is likely to be there. It is vitally necessary that there be adults in these same organizations who are trained to recognize the signs of abuse and of an abuser and know the protocols for reporting. It is equally important that the children and young people in these organizations are empowered to recognize and report abuse. This helps create that future society with zero tolerance for abuse of any kind, a culture that proactively addresses the issue rather than always reacting to a terrible incident after the fact.
In our diocese the office of Safe Environment actively background screens and trains clergy, religious, parents, employees and volunteers; empowers children and young people through education; oversees parishes and schools in their compliance with the project mandates; and helps to organize annual audits and communicates the audit results.
We are called as people of God to be ever-vigilant in our commitment to the protection of children, young people and vulnerable adults in our communities. Our shared vision is a future society rooted in a healthy, stable, nurturing culture where families are strong and children thrive. This vision can be realized when proactive efforts prevent abuse from happening in the first place.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to confirm our Gospel call and response to the horrible crime of abuse of all kinds. We believe that all life is sacred; each person is created in the image and likeness of God; that violence, anger and abuse is unacceptable. We proclaim our commitment to work for the end of all abuse.
(Marilyn Marchi is coordinator of the Safe Environment Project of the Diocese of Oakland.)
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