Earlier this month, the Diocese of Burlington in Vermont hosted the sixth annual National Safe Environment Leadership Conference. The chair of the USCCB’s Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane addressed the conference attendees. In his talk, Bishop Cupich told us that people ask him when the issue of safe environment was going to be over. In other words, people would ask him when dioceses can just move on and not pay so much attention to safe environment. This clearly upsets Bishop Cupich who says that these people are missing the mark. “We will never finish with creating safe environments,” he says, “because this is what Jesus wants us to do.”
Establishing and maintaining safe environments for the children entrusted into our care is a Gospel mandate. The protection of children is indeed what Jesus would ask each of us to do. Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these (MT 19:14-15). The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of ministering to the poor, to women and to children.
The recent and very tragic story of Skyler Kauffman from Souderton, Pa., is a painful reminder to each of us that we must always be vigilant in the protection of children. Details from what happened are still being revealed and already there has been some confusion. This 9-year-old girl had been inside the alleged murderer’s apartment a few weeks before her murder. Did the alleged murderer lock her in or not?
What is clear is that Skyler was sexually assaulted and murdered. It appears very clear, too, that she was lured into the apartment a second and final time.
Kenneth Wooden is an international personal safety expert and the founder/author of “Child Lures Prevention/Teen Lures Prevention.” He says, “This little angel joins too many other fallen victims in what the American Medical Association calls ‘a silent, violent epidemic.’ (According to the AMA, sexual assault continues to represent the most rapidly growing violent crime in America, claiming a victim every 45 seconds.) From this tiny Pennsylvania town to colleges and universities, U.S. Armed Forces, National Peace Corps Association, schools and faith-based organizations across the United States, sexual assault continues to occur at alarming rates. Everyone must do their part to help face this epidemic as a national priority.”
For several years, the Diocese of Camden has used “Child Lures Prevention: Think First & Stay Safe” as the safe environment program for our children in the parishes. This same program is used by over 40 other dioceses in the United States. The program teaches that predators use lures on children.
Perhaps the most famous lure is that of the lost puppy. A predator will approach a young child and ask the child to help him find his lost puppy. Because children are especially susceptible to puppies, they wander off with the predator who intends to get them alone. Teaching our children the lures predators use teaches them to be safe.
Bishop Joseph Galante requires every parish catechetical program to implement “Child Lures Prevention: Think First & Stay Safe” each year. Parish catechetical leaders inform my office when they have completed the program. The idea is to educate children about a different lure each year. The goal achieved is to provide our children with the tools they need in order to be safe.
Jennifer Mitchell and Rosemary Webb, co-presidents of “Child Lures Prevention/Teen Lures Prevention” wrote regarding the tragedy of Skyler: “Our hearts go out to little Skyler Kauffman, her family and the community of Souderton, Pennsylvania. Parents, please take some quiet time today to talk to your children about their personal safety. Given that the same lures are used generation after generation to entice youngsters into unsafe and abusive situations, it is essential to teach youngsters how to recognize and steer clear of these lures.”
Our responsibility on the safe environment issue never ends. And neither does our desire to follow Jesus and to do his will. We will continue to background check all adults in regular contact with children, we will train these adults in safe environment and will teach our children to be safe and aware of potential dangers. Without a doubt, it is what Jesus wants us to do.
Rod J. Herrera, LCSW is director, Office of Safe Environment for Children, Youth and Adults, Diocese of Camden.
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