Whenever children at my parish leave Mass to go to Children’s Liturgy of the Word, I look at the adult leader and I wonder if that person has been background checked and is in safe environment compliance. I wonder not only because I’m the director of the Office of Safe Environment, but because I am a parent and because the safety of my children is paramount to me. Then, because I’m the director of this office, I wonder how many other parents all around the diocese are making sure their children are safe in the hands of the adults who are ministering to them.
What is the Diocese of Camden doing to protect its children?
• Every adult in regular contact with minors is required to have a criminal history background check done by the diocese.
a. In our Catholic schools, every employee
has a clearance letter from the New Jersey
Department of Education. Parents have a
right to know that all employees are
adequately cleared. Our schools must
comply with New Jersey state law and the
policy of the diocese.
b. Every volunteer catechist in our
parishes will also have a clearance letter
from the diocese. In every parish, a safe
environment coordinator is responsible for
ensuring all adults have passed a
background check even before they enter
• Every adult in regular contact with minors attends a safe environment training workshop. Our workshops are presented by the New Jersey Child Assault Prevention project. In its 25th year of service, CAP trains adults in empowerment strategies which reduce children’s vulnerability to abuse, violence and bullying. CAP 1 is an introduction to the issues and CAP 2 zeroes in on bullying awareness and bullying prevention.
• Every Catholic elementary school each year brings in CAP to teach our children and to empower them. Any child in any Catholic school will tell you the CAP motto: All children deserve to be safe, strong and free!”
• Our Catholic secondary schools use a variety of safe environment programs from bullying awareness to Internet safety to discussion of personal boundaries.
• In our parishes, every year catechists present Child Lures Prevention: Think First & Stay Safe, a nationally recognized program that teaches children the lures that predators use to harm children. Knowing these lures keeps our loved ones safe.
Parents have the right to know everything that the Diocese of Camden is doing to keep our children safe. But there’s more. The abuse of children is not a Roman Catholic problem. It is not a priest, deacon or church employee problem. The abuse of children is a societal problem in which the overwhelmingly vast majority of abuse occurs in the home and by family members.
Parents must be vigilant and protective of their children. Parents must listen carefully to their children, especially if they express some discomfort with an adult, even if that adult is an uncle, a stepmother, a cousin. Parents must be more involved in their children’s lives, in their school and neighborhood activities. Parents must be involved with their children when they are on the Internet, Facebook, instant messaging, chat rooms or online gaming.
The Diocese of Camden will continue to be committed to doing everything it can to protect the children entrusted into our care. But the diocese cannot do it alone. We want all parents to be partners with us, to hold all schools and parishes accountable for what is required, to be vigilant and to be actively and prayerfully involved with their children.
Then I won’t have to wonder so much anymore about whether or not that particular adult leading the Children’s Liturgy of the Word is background checked. I’ll just know. Better yet, let me go ask the parish catechetical leader.
Rod J. Herrera, LCSW is director, Office of Safe Environment for Children, Youth and Adults.
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