Friday, January 11, 2019

Child abuse training should be mandated by law

The disclosure of sex abuse scandals that besieged the Buffalo Diocese and its parishioners for decades has dominated water cooler talk and reporting in Western New York for almost a year now.

The issue has hit home for a lot of people as the Diocese, under pressure, has released the names of 80 confirmed abusers and the press reports that the real number of accused priests and nuns is 111. With numbers that great, names that well-known, and abuses having taken place in communities large and small, everyone in WNY, it seems, has some sort of connection to an accuser, an accused, or a church where it happened.  

There’s been a lot of handwringing over this. Everyone has wondered the following: How did the community not know this was happening? How could trusted and beloved people and churches hide, even allow, this? How does the Church attempt to make the abused whole again?

It’s been rare, though, that I’ve heard this question posed: How do we prevent this from happening again?

The scandals should be a wakeup call not only for the Catholic Church, but every Church and every organization that serves youth -- as well the parents who entrust their sons and daughters to them. That would run the gamut from paid to volunteer, schools to day cares, little leagues to varsity sports teams, theme parks to summer camps, and music clubs to scout troops.

Every single entity that is of service to minors should ensure that standards are in place to identify, prevent, and report all forms of abuse that happens within and without their non-profits, businesses, and government agencies. They all exist to better the lives of children, and those kids look at those places as safe havens….we have to ensure they are.

Unfortunately, most of the youth-supporting enterprises in the state don’t train their employees and volunteers in that regard. If they do, it’s inadequately-done with perhaps a cursory handout and no interactive education.

That doesn’t cut it when we’re talking about the safety of minors.

The Boy Scouts of America addressed this in the 1980s when they adopted Youth Protection Training (YPT) after some conniving bad seeds infiltrated scout troops to get access to kids. Now, every staff member, volunteer, and scout is required to have some form of YPT.

Whereas the youth receive 3 Rs training (Recognize, Resist, Report) every year that could take a good 30 minutes, the adults – who also receive background checks in order to be accredited – have to receive biannual training that is incredibly in-depth, an hour-and-a-quarter of professionally-done and well-developed training that identifies the causes, symptoms, signals, means, and reporting of physical and mental abuse, sexual abuse, and bullying, while addressing the policies and procedures Scouting has in place to prevent abuse within the organization.

That form of training so critical that I took the BSA’s style of YPT and recently tailored it to outside groups, giving a nearly two-hour class to two local Lutheran churches and their youth volunteers so they could ensure that they could prevent abuse within the any outlets of the churches (Sunday School, vacation bible school, youth group) while also empowering them to identify and help kids who might be abused at home, in school, or elsewhere. Kids, like adults, see churches as a place to be safe, to go for help – you have to make sure that it is a safe place and also a venue through which they can reach out if unspeakable things are happening in their home lives.

What made that training perhaps even more effective than the BSA’s excellent module was the fact that I had a lot of horror stories to relay to the trainees, an outcome of being a member of the press and also knowing people in law enforcement and education. Those stories gave teeth to the training.

This all brings me to this point – everyone who works for and volunteers for youth needs detailed and effective Youth Protection Training. Childhood is too precious, too fleeting; every one of us as caring adults have to ensure that it is free of horrible experiences which then lead to a lifetime of nightmares, depression, insecurity, and, in some cases, that individual unleashing upon children what had happened to him. Children are, for the most part, defenseless…we have an obligation to protect them from the perverts and abusers who want to take advantage of that and do them harm.

I encourage state officials, on the heels of the Buffalo Dioceses scandal which is a tragedy and also a learning moment, to address this and work with psychologists, social workers, law enforcement, and the formerly-abused to develop a YPT system, something similar to that used by Scouting, that can be administered to all who work with minors, either by an online training module, properly educated trainers, or the local Sheriff’s office. It should be a legal requirement -- not some feel-good suggestion that’s not mandatory -- for teachers, coaches, leaders, camp counselors, and the like.

Similarly, every year, school students should be educated on what constitutes all forms of abuse and what they can do to prevent it, report it, and seek help.

Last year, as an outcome of the #MeToo movement, the state put to law that sexual harassment policies and interactive training need to be provided at all workplaces and to all employees annually. If we as a just state can do that to protect adults it only makes legal and moral sense that we can train adults to protect children, too.     

From the 14 January 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News       

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