Archbishop Robert J. Carlson has approved a change in policy for the archdiocesan Safe Environment Program to require all employees and volunteers to update their training every five years.
An online system, Virtus Online, will be used. The course, which is estimated to take about 45 minutes, offers flexibility and can be taken at the employee or volunteer's convenience, at home if preferred.
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.
New employees and volunteers still will be required to attend the "Protecting God's Children" workshop offered at various locations in the archdiocese.
Clergy, in addition to other training, already take part in a monthly educational effort.
The training update will be implemented in phases. Employees and volunteers will be contacted when it is time to renew their training. They will receive a certificate showing their completion of the initial course and renewal. The certificate is helpful if they move to another diocese or work or volunteer at a private school not linked to the archdiocese's system.
The archdiocese is audited yearly by an independent secular auditing firm to ensure compliance with the bishops' charter. The online system is in use in several other dioceses across the country.
"This is a priority of the archdiocese to protect kids and continue to make sure that our volunteers, clergy and employees are aware and keep this at the forefront of their ministries," said Sandra Price, director of the archdiocese's Safe Environment Program.
Parents with younger children especially welcome taking the workshop, Price noted. "It's kind of the norm now. ... Even though I have an undergraduate and master's degree in social work and have had extensive training on these issues, I remember going to this program ("Protecting God's Children") when I coached my daughter's volleyball team, and those interviews with perpetrators (on film) stayed with me just as much as the other training I had."
Participants learn valuable lessons at the workshops, including warning signs that indicate someone might be a child predator. The Virtus website notes that it reinforces points made in the workshop, with features designed to increase public awareness about child sexual abuse and to provide adults with the knowledge and tools they need to help prevent and, if necessary, to respond appropriately to child sexual abuse.
The program is working, Price noted, evidenced by the phone calls she receives from people about their concerns, how to run a program in the safest possible way and more. "I feel people are applying this to their ministry and their lives. It's a good thing."
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month nationwide. In the last 10 years, more than 100,000 adults have taken the training. The archdiocese has some 40,000 employees and volunteers working with children.