By TAMI QUIGLEY
The welfare and safety of children is paramount in the Diocese of Allentown, and is highlighted during April, which has been designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The month highlights the fact that one of every four girls and one of every eight boys “suffers with the terrible experience of being an innocent victim of an adult who uses force to discipline, sexual actions to harm, verbal insults to shame and many other forms of hurt that bring emotional, physical and psychological injury to the child,” said Sister of St. Joseph Meg Cole, diocesan safe environment coordinator.
Sister Meg noted that recently Pennsylvania launched commercials on TV that portray very sad children begging to be noticed, and encouraging adults to intervene and call the Pennsylvania ChildLine number 1-800-932-0313. The commercial also states that the adult, who fortunately has noticed a child is being mistreated, can make an electronic report of abuse, and this information can be found at www.keepkidssafe.org.
“It is not easy to be a mandated reporter. When an adult has the suspicion that a child may be experiencing some type of abuse or neglect, the witnessing adult may find this very troubling. The adult may feel conflicted as to think they are making too much of something, or that they have second thoughts because making a report can have consequences for the child,” Sister Meg said.
“Also, the adult who needs to make the report may worry about the future quality of relationship they will have with the suspected perpetrator, if they find out who made the call, then the witness often backs off and convinces him/herself to wait until the next time. Please do not do this.
“The Diocese of Allentown urges all adults who suspect that a child is being verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually abused to contact ChildLine, either electronically or by phone.”
Sister Meg said the diocese is committed to educating adults within the diocese about the many possible signs associated with child abuse and neglect. Some signs of abuse, of course, are more noticeable than others.
In addition, Pennsylvania has a three-hour online training in English and Spanish at www.reportabusepa.pitt.edu, which allows a person to learn more about abuse and become more alert and informed, so as to aid in reporting the abuse of a child.
“Every adult who comes into direct contact with children should take the time to take this course and obtain the certificate at its completion. If there is not the opportunity to take the online course, there are onsite mandated reporter trainings at several parishes and schools in the diocese,” Sister Meg said.
These trainings are listed at www.allentowndiocese.org on the left side of the home page under “Events.” The diocesan website also contains a listing of Protecting God’s Children workshops. All adults who come into direct contact with children in the Diocese of Allentown must also take the Protecting God’s Children training.
In addition to the mandated reporter training, the commonwealth or diocesan policy requires three background clearances. The Pennsylvania Child Abuse Clearance and the Pennsylvania Criminal Check are provided by the state at no cost. The forms are available online, from parishes or schools, and the local safe environment coordinator.
The third requirement is for each individual to be fingerprinted. The application for this process can be obtained from the local safe environment coordinator. If the individual would like to take responsibility for this process themselves, they can go to Cogent website https://pacogentid.3m.com/index.htm and follow the directives there.
“The Diocese of Allentown is committed to keeping children safe. It is understandable that all of us want to protect and provide the safest environment possible so that all children can grow in a healthy way,” Sister Meg said.
“These new directives can be off-putting for some adults. There can, at times, be a tone of resentment that this burden is being placed on them to become either visible or invisible intervenors in the welfare of a child.
“However, as I was told recently at a conference on this topic: it is no longer a choice as to whether you should report suspected abuse or not; there is no discernment about this decision, it is not a decision, it is an obligation.”
Sister Meg said the diocese encourages all adults to report suspected child abuse. More information about the diocese’s guidelines can be found at www.allentowndiocese.org in the top right corner blue tab for Youth Protection. “Please review all the aspects of the Diocese of Allentown Youth Protection protocols on this page,” she said.
“A great deal of attention is being given to the safety and well-being of children. Taking on the obligation to be a mandated reporter can be seen as an overwhelming task. Nonetheless it must be done.
“At times, the assumptions of these trainings is that the individual who comes into contact with a child is going to be on the alert and then have to make the report.
“But another aspect of this mandated reporting is that as a caring, understanding and committed adult, a child may tell you about the abuse that is happening in his or her life. A child can have a very keen sense of who to trust and who to share information with when they are sad, confused and hurting from a troubled life.
“There could be adults or even other children who are abusing and hurting them, and you, as a person the child sees as someone who displays kindness and is interested in them, may be the child’s way of seeking refuge and understanding.
“Should this be the case, once the child tells you something, you must report the abuse. You, as the mandated reporter, do not have to know who the alleged perpetrator is. You, as the mandated reporter, did not have to see the incident. You must use the ChildLine number and the electronic method to communicate the information that has been given to you by the child.
“Again, this is an obligation, not an option.
“The diocese appreciates all the efforts that are being made by all those who come into contact with children to create and maintain safety. The diocese depends on your taking responsibility to report. And most important, the hurting child is depending on you to find a way to get them to safety.”
In the Diocese of Allentown, there were 20 trainings with 644 people trained in 2015, and in 2016, there were 25 trainings with 542 people. These numbers reflect the amount of live trainings and those who have done their training by computer.
There are 56 volunteer facilitators throughout the diocese conducting the Protecting God’s Children workshops along with Sister Meg. In 2015, approximately 1,775 people were trained in 95 workshops. In 2016, approximately 1,900 people were trained in 93 workshops.
The USCCB urges people to pray, participate and promote during Child Abuse Prevention Month. Resource booklets, prayer resources – including a rosary guide for healing and protection booklet – posters, brochures and infographics are available on the USCCB website. Some resources are available in both English and Spanish.
For more information and resources to promote Child Abuse Prevention Month from the USCCB, visit http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/child-abuse-prevention-month.cfm.