Know the Five Steps to Protect God's Children

The Tidings [Los Angeles CA]
July 14, 2006

The VIRTUS® Protecting All God's Children Program outlines five basic steps parishes and schools can take to prevent child abuse.

This is the program adopted by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to ensure safe environments in all parishes, schools and archdiocesan programs. More than 30,000 adults --- clergy, deacons, principals, directors of religious education, youth ministers, teachers, catechists, employees, parents and volunteers --- have participated in these training sessions. The VIRTUS training is mandated for all adults working with or around children.

The focus of the training is to increase awareness about the nature of child sexual abuse. VIRTUS, using awareness sessions, videos and online training bulletins, educates the adults on how to recognize the warning signs and what to do when they suspect a child or youth may be a victim of abuse.

All adults should be coached on the importance of not being alone with a child in a secluded area, such as a closed room or in an area that cannot be readily viewed by others.

The five concrete steps parishes and schools can take to prevent child sexual abuse include the following:

STEP 1: Know the Warning Signs

Adults who are made aware of the indicators of inappropriate behavior between a minor and an adult can help stop potential abuse before it begins. Some warning signs are:

---The adult always wants to be alone with a child.

---The adult goes overboard touching, tickling and/or wrestling with children.

---The adult gives gifts to the child without the parent's permission.

---The adult wants to take the child on a vacation or camping trip alone.

---The adult uses bad language or tells dirty jokes to children.

STEP 2: Control Access

Adults need to be extraordinarily careful about determining who can work with children and youth. This sends a message that all children and youth programs are going to be closely watched.

For the adults or volunteers working with or around children, all references must be checked, interviews conducted and criminal background checks completed.

It is the responsibility of the supervising adult to inform the adults involved in children and youth programs of the standards of appropriate boundaries, both physical and emotional.

STEP 3: Monitor All Programs

Careful supervision of all activities is mandatory. A child should never be left unattended with only one adult present. Furthermore, adults need to be aware of where the children and youth are at all times. This involves having an adequate number of adults in all programs.

All adults should be coached on the importance of not being alone with a child in a secluded area, such as a closed room or in an area that cannot be readily viewed by others.

STEP 4: Be Aware

Adults should be observers of children --- talk to them, listen to them, watch them. A change in a child's behavior or personality may indicate something is causing the child to feel uncomfortable.

Teaching children the correct anatomical names for their private parts empowers children to seek help and to report inappropriate touching to another adult. Teaching children to say "stop it" to an adult who may want the child to do things he/she does not want to do is imperative for the child's protection.

STEP 5: Communicate Your Concerns

Be alert to situations in which you observe inappropriate behavior between an adult and a child.

In a parish or school situation, the supervisor should be notified or the child abuse hotline and/or the police called. Communicating your concerns includes paying attention to your feelings and intuitions about what you observe.

Being aware of these five steps creates a positive plan to protect children and youth from being the victims of sexual abuse. All adults, whether or not they are involved in a church program, should be schooled in these basic steps. It is estimated that there are 40 million adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the United States. It is time to put an end to this crime in our homes, our schools, our parishes, and our communities. VIRTUS Protecting All God' Children provides a positive plan to address the problem of sexual abuse of children and youth in society.


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