by MICK LLOYD-OWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n an ongoing effort to ensure the safety and well-being of its children, the Catholic Diocese of Spokane has overhauled and reinvigorated its child sexual abuse training program for all clergy, employees and volunteers who work with children. The diocese has even produced a new video, "Entrusted to Our Care," which introduces the viewer to the basic concepts of the Diocesan Code of Conduct. The video, which features coaches, parents, teachers and priests from the parishes, sends a clear message about the moral responsibilities of all adults who supervise or work with children in any capacity.
"It's all about awareness," says Duane Schafer, Secretary for Diocesan Education, "so that people's eyes and ears are open."
In addition to fingerprint FBI background checks, all employees of Catholic schools in the diocese are required to spend several hours of training on child sexual exploitation and the Code of Conduct. They learn the characteristics of both predators and victims and are taught how to behave appropriately, even in difficult situations.
"It's something that I would want somebody else to go through if they were going to be around my kids," says Kathleen Olsen, parent of two and a volunteer "room mom" at St. Thomas More School. "It's a good review, and very logical: what you're supposed to do with kids, and what you're not. It feels like a very safe environment that we send our kids to," she says.
Olsen's response is apparently shared by many in the Catholic community. "The vast majority say they understand [the need for the training], and want to do what we need to do to protect kids," Schafer says. He believes the classes and background checks have lowered parents' anxiety levels about their children's safety.
Mary Butler, the diocese's victim assistance coordinator, says that there is a distinct minority of people in the Catholic community who don't think that's necessary. She says a few volunteers have asked why, after so many years of service, they suddenly require a background check through the Washington State Patrol. Many are themselves parents.
Butler says other churches may follow the Catholic lead. "I think the other denominations in town are looking at us and saying, 'How can we learn from you?' Because mostly everyone knows it's not just a Catholic thing," Butler says. "Maybe our experience -- this heavy, huge experience that we're going through -- will have positive outcomes," she says. "That's our prayer, our hope, our dream."
The curriculum for students was adopted from VIRTUS Online, an organized effort of the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc., to ensure efficiency and consistency in training on a national level.
Beginning in kindergarten, the children are taught the rudiments of "good touch/bad touch" -- in age-appropriate language -- as a part of their religious education program. "Recent research indicates that when kids go through this kind of training, they are more likely to disclose," Schafer says.
Butler says that the few parents who don't want their children taught about appropriate physical contact are required to sign a waiver stating that they want their children exempted from the program.