April 7, 2017


Protecting children and young people

It is a conversation parents or guardians need to have with their children at an age-appropriate time.

And it helps when teachers at schools and in religious education programs affirm what is being taught to the young people.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. It provides an opportunity for parents, teachers in schools and religious education programs, and priests and other leaders in parish settings to plant seeds, share lessons of life and faith, and remind our children of what is appropriate—or not appropriate—in regard to safe and unsafe boundaries of their personal space.

In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, children are taught about their “Circle of Grace,” a personal space given to them by God that others may not violate without permission.

The Circle of Grace religious education program has been implemented in schools and parishes throughout the archdiocese, and is designed to educate children and youths about the value of positive relationships, and protecting themselves from negative ones.

“The program empowers children to understand their sacredness, and gives them the skills and language to protect themselves in situations that might be risky,” said Providence Sister Cathy Campbell, coordinator of the archdiocese’s Circle of Grace program, in a 2015 interview.

“Children have to be able to recognize who they are in the eyes of God, and then to be able to protect themselves by knowing what are safe boundaries and unsafe boundaries.”

Circle of Grace is a direct response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” The curriculum combines safety tips and relationship building with the teachings of the Catholic faith. It is meant to be taught in conjunction with parish schools and religious education curricula.

The archdiocese has also developed an in-house version of the Circle of Grace program for persons with special needs, according to Ed Isakson, human resources director and “safe environment” coordinator for the archdiocese.

Another key initiative is the “Safe and Sacred” program, the archdiocese’s online, safe-environment training that is required for adults who interact with children and youths in Catholic settings.

“We’ve trained over 38,000 people through Safe and Sacred, which is tremendous,” Isakson said. “That began in 2013. What we found is that we can get the criminal background checks and the training done that much faster. People used to be trained soon after they would begin work. Now through Safe and Sacred, we can train people before they start.”

The Safe and Sacred training program has also broadened the archdiocese’s approach to protecting children and young people.

“With our prior program of Virtus, the training was about child sexual abuse, which remains and always will be a key component of the training,” Isakson said. “But we’ve added physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect as areas where we provide training. Our belief is that we want to protect children from harm in all of those areas.”

For more information on the Circle of Grace program, contact Providence Sister Cathy Campbell at 317-726-5285 or ccampbell@archindy.org.

To make a report about possible child abuse, contact Carla Hill, the archdiocese’s victim assistance coordinator, at 317-236-1548 or 800‑382-9836, ext. 1548, by e-mail at chill@archindy.org or make a report online at www.archdioceseofindianapolis.ethicspoint.com. You do not have to give your name.

As the U.S. bishops remind us in addressing Child Abuse Prevention Month, “Throughout the Gospel, Christ calls his followers to care for the most vulnerable among us, especially children. Our faith also calls us to uphold the value of human life and the dignity of the human person. The protection of children is the responsibility of the entire Church, including the faithful.”

We pray that our children know of our concern for their well-being. And we strive always to provide safe environments for them.

—Mike Krokos

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