The St. Louis Archdiocese is committed to keeping children safe from abuse.
Since 2002, when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in response to what the bishops' blog calls the "horrific crime" of child sexual abuse, the archdiocese -- and the other dioceses across the country -- established thorough training and prevention programs to protect children and youth from sexual and other abuse.
The archdiocesan Safe Environment Program, begun in 2002, includes mandatory training workshops for all employees and volunteers -- clergy, religious and laypeople -- who work with children, along with background checks and committing to the Code of Ethical Conduct. All children in Catholic schools and parish schools of religion participate in age-appropriate Safe Touch programs to learn how to protect themselves from being abused.
The archdiocesan program is audited yearly by an independent secular auditing firm to ensure compliance with the bishops' charter. The St. Louis Archdiocese and nearly all other U.S. dioceses are totally compliant, according to the 2011 annual report on the implementation of the charter. Most allegations reported today, according to the annual report, occurred in the past, with only 3 percent (or 21) allegations nationwide in the 2011 report coming from current minors.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Church still had to remain watchful and "must do all she can never to let abuse happen again."
Locally, the Safe Environment Program continues its mission to protect children.
"The impact and the ability of the archdiocese to prevent child abuse is huge," explained Sandra Price, director of the archdiocesan Safe Environment Program. "Just look at the numbers of people being trained."
In 2002, the Safe Environment Program held 13 Protecting God's Children workshops with 841 participants. In 2011 there were 329 workshops with 7,326 participants. In the last 10 years, 2,532 workshops held throughout the archdiocese with more than 96,000 adults taking part.
"We will be over 100,000 by the end of the year," said Price, who became director of the program in August 2011. "The vast majority of these workshops are taught by volunteers."
There are more than 200 current Child Safety coordinators at parishes across the archdiocese, including some who are among the 175 facilitators who lead the workshops. Both employees and volunteers spend hundreds of hours a year providing training and compliance for the Safe Environment Program.
When the Safe Environment Program began 10 years ago, it was not uncommon for people to complain about having to attend the mandatory two-hour workshops. That has changed over the years, Price said, after many participants reported learning valuable lessons at the workshops, including warning signs that indicate someone might be a child predator.
"People are much more accepting of this now, because they really see the value of it," said Price, a clinical social worker who managed two St. Charles County sites for the St. Louis Crisis Nursery before coming to the Safe Environment Program.
"I really love working here in this role," Price said, "because I feel the impact and ability to prevent child abuse is so great. Just look at the numbers of people being trained. It's a huge honor to do child abuse prevention for the Church." She praised her predecessor, Terry Edelmann, saying, "Terry did a phenomenal job." After retiring from her role as director of the Safe Environment Office, "Terry still is in a consultant role" and still works with some parishes, Price said.
Price is a native of Perryville and graduated from St. Vincent Grade School and High School there. She earned her undergraduate degree at Southeast Missouri State University and her graduate degree at St. Louis University. She and her husband, Chad, and their three children are members of Sts. Joachim and Ann Parish in St. Charles.
During April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month nationwide, the coordinators and facilitators will be honored by the archdiocese at the Cardinal Rigali Center in Shrewsbury. A dinner and discussion will be held for workshop facilitators Wednesday evening, April 18. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will celebrate Mass on Thursday, April 19, for the Child Safety coordinators, followed by a luncheon. Paul Ashton, a psychologist/therapist/counseler with expertise in child sexual abuse prevention and healing, will give presentations at both events