By virtue of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was slightly revised 2011, each diocese in the United States must guarantee that all parishes and Catholic schools abide by basic procedures that help guarantee a "Safe Environment" for all children and youth who participate in our programs.
Foremost among these, at the parish level, is a two-pronged approach--and actually, it's become more of a three-part approach--that parishes are required to take without exception:
1: Vetting, training, and surveillance of all parish staff and volunteers who work with children. On a practical level, this means the following:
__ All new volunteers receive a background check. For volunteers who are in a position to also chauffeur children to parish-sponsored events, this may also include their driving record.
__ A 2-hour training/certification course that may be offered at any number of registered parishes. To learn more, ask your parish Safe Environment Coordinator (typically, somebody who works within the Religious Education office) and/or create the necessary account for yourself at www.virtus.org (all tracking of training is through this website; it also continually offers helpful info for parents and volunteers alike).
__ Ongoing surveillance is simply the parish's obligation to see that all volunteers abide by very simple Safe Environment guidelines as required by both parish and diocese--such as children not having adequate supervision, being exposed to potentially harmful situations, etc.
2: An annual "Safe Environment" lesson taught to all children who are enrolled in the parish's school or religious-education program. Age-appropriate lessons at the parish are not intended to duplicate what many children are already receiving at public school, from home, or from other organizations they may be a part of. Rather, they are to stress the spiritual component that's unique to our children's Catholic faith--such as the inherent dignity they have as God's children and our Christian commitment to show love and care. Because such lessons are a diocesan requirement--and use diocesan-sponsored materials--HMC presumes that parents who enroll their children in HMC's Faith Formation program are thereby consenting to have their children present for the required Safe Environment lesson for children; such that, it's entirely possible that Faith Formation staff might not send out advance notification of the upcoming lesson unless children are new to this procedure, there's been a change to the procedure or materials, or there's some other special circumstance unique to the child. Nonetheless, it is always possible for a parent or guardian to have their child "opt out" of the required children's Safe Environment lesson each year by submitting a signed "opt out" form with the parish religious-ed office.
Within the Diocese of Madison, parishes are urged to conduct the child/youth lesson annually during "Safe Environment" week, in November. However, because of various scheduling issues on the parish level, religious-ed programs may opt instead to combine the children's lesson with a topic that students will already be learning about at a later date; or some parishes, for example, hold this lesson during April for "Child Abuse Prevention Month."
3: For parents of the parish, additional background and resources on the importance of Safe Environment policies, ways of keeping children safe, and an awareness of how the church remains committed to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. As such, we at HMC invite you as parents or guardians to check out any number of helpful sites that have been endorsed by the Diocese of Madison Safe Environment Office:
Diocesan Office of Safe Environment, general info.
Diocesan Office of Safe Environment, "Safe Environment" children's lessons and requirements for parish volunteers.
Diocesan use of the Virtus Program, to train parish volunteers and help educate parents.
Basic Safety Tips for Parents, to help keep children and teens safe.
Madison Diocese's "Code of Pastoral Conduct" involving children and families.
To help accomplish the above objectives, the Diocese of Madison has subscribed to a commonly used and comprehensive national program called "Protecting God's Children" (sometimes called "PGC" for short), created by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group and offered partially online at www.virtus.org. As such you may hear parish personnel refer to both "Safe Environment" and "Protecting God's Children" (PGC) interchangeably.
USCCB: Why Children Need to Hear from the Church about Abuse Prevention
USCCB: Office of Child and Youth Protection
USCCB: Safe Environment videos
Questions? Concerns? Please contact HMC's Faith Formation office to speak with one of the Directors of Religious Education.