By Carolyn Shipp, Director of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance
The month of April marks a special time of celebration in the Church while we journey through the Easter season. As we rightly focus on the joy of Christ’s resurrection, we also honor this month as both Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As a Church, we can never tire in our efforts to repair the harms done in the past, or in our commitment to protect our children, youth and all who cross the thresholds of our parishes and schools. The Office of Safe Environment leads our efforts in creating and implementing this culture of protection. In fiscal year 2022, the Diocese of Fall River processed 5,765 background checks and provided safe environment training to 2,743 adults. In addition, the Office of Safe Environment oversees implementation of the Diocesan Policy for Protecting the Faithful and partners with local agencies to enhance training on mandatory reporting and child protection. These policies and efforts are essential now more than ever, because, among other things:
• Every 10 seconds a child abuse report is made in the United States (childhelp.org).
• In 2021 Massachusetts Department of Children and Families received 74,355 reports of child abuse (DHHS Children’s Bureau Child Maltreatment Report 2021).
• 90 percent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known to the child — often someone in a position of trust (cdc.gov).
• 1 in 6 children will experience online sexual abuse before the age of 18 (Crimes Against Children Research Center 2022).
With these sobering statistics in mind, how else do we work to protect children and young people in the Diocese of Fall River? Children and youth enrolled in Faith Formation programs in our parishes or attend one of our Catholic Schools are offered age-appropriate safe environment education through a curriculum called Circle of Grace. Circle of Grace teaches children and youth important safety skills including recognizing appropriate physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries; identifying trusted adults; and taking action, if boundary violations do occur.
As we honor April as both Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, all are invited to join Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., as he leads us in a Prayer Service for Healing, on April 25, at 10 am at Holy Name Church in Fall River. While no single statement or event can make up for the painful abuse of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, as believers we know that in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we find hope beyond measure as we move towards a brighter future.
If you have any questions, contact Carolyn Shipp, Director of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information and resources visit: https://www.fallriverdiocese.org/office-of-safe-environment/