April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It shouldn’t hurt to be a child. Childhood should be a time of joy and discovery. It should be a time of emerging from the womb of the family filled with wonder and innocence. The unfolding lives of our children are in our hands. We are the guardians of their journey.
Creating a safe environment for this to occur in the parishes, schools and institutions in the Diocese of Dallas is the responsibility of our Safe Environment Office. Of course, the family is most responsible for nurturing and protecting children, but it is incumbent upon our Catholic community to support and supplement the family’s responsibility.
As a first step, all those who work with children or vulnerable adults in our parishes and schools must receive initial training in providing a safe environment, which then must be updated annually. All volunteers, diocesan and parish employees, educators, priests, deacons, seminarians and candidates for the diaconate are required to receive this ongoing training. In addition, initial criminal background checks are made on this key group and are repeated every two years.
Incorporated in our Safe Environment Program is a “Ministerial Code of Conduct,” which provides a set of normative standards of conduct for all clergy, employees and volunteers in dealing with children and vulnerable adults.
Every parish and school has a Safe Environment Director who facilitates training and other programs specific to ministry needs. All children attending Catholic schools and faith formation programs receive age-appropriate education in safe environment practices and awareness. More than 60,000 children in the Diocese of Dallas received such training in the past year in addition to 2,116 diocesan/parish employees, 12,179 educators, 344 priests and 90 seminarians and deacon candidates.
Parishes, schools and other appropriate institutions are audited bi-annually by independent auditors to insure compliance with diocesan and national policies. In turn, the Diocesan Safe Environment Office is audited annually by an independent auditor to insure that the Diocese of Dallas is in compliance with the requirements of the Charter for the Protection of Children of Young People signed by the Bishops of the United States in 2002.
Our children are precious. We, as a diocese, are committed to insuring that they experience the secure and happy childhood they deserve.