Safe Environment Series, Part 7

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The Diocese of Manchester, N.H., needed to find a curriculum that satisfied the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ requirement that every diocese have a program to prevent sex abuse. None that they looked at seemed appropriate.

The diocese wanted something that incorporated parents into the program and was rooted in the Catholic faith.

So-called safe environment programs, designed to help children identify and resist potential abusers, have come under fire by some parents for the graphic nature of instruction and the fact that they place the burden on children to resist abuse. The Register has been examining them one by one.

The Catholic Medical Association has recommended that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops no longer require dioceses to have safe-environment programs for children and adolescents and discontinue all “child-empowerment” programs for preventing sexual abuse.

The Manchester Diocese came up with two unique companion programs on its own — one an optional musical theater production called “Safe and Sound All Around,” and the other a program integrated into Catholic classrooms called “Circles of Care.”

The musical theater show was created in 2005, in collaboration with Plymouth State University’s Theatre Integrating Guidance, Education and Responsibility (Tiger). According to Diane Murphy Quinlan, diocesan chancellor and associate delegate for ministerial conduct, a number of Catholic schools had hosted musical theater programs developed by Tiger, and those programs had been well received.

Patricia Lindberg, artistic director for the theater show, said the development of the program went through various stages. Early on, the Diocesan Safe Environment Council decided that the word Tiger would be used in the theater production and would become an acronym for “Tell an adult; I say No; Go someplace safe; Exit when necessary, and Respect yourself and others.”

With the help of the diocese, Plymouth Sate University’s program gathered the writings of children from Catholic schools.

“We gave the children writing prompts, asking them about the particular issues we wanted to have in the play,” said Lindberg. “We read through all the children’s writing and mined for the gems, pieces that would work well in a theatrical setting. We looked for poems that might be inspirational.”

Then, incorporating the writings of Catholic school children and the ideas of Manchester Bishop John McCormack — including the idea that parents are the best resource for teaching their children to become aware of both their right and responsibility to safeguard their own bodies, and for teaching their children that they will support them when they say “No” — members of the Diocesan Safe Environment Council (most of whom are parents), catechetical leaders, Catholic school teachers, youth ministers and others involved in the education of children and young people, the “Safe And Sound All Around” musical was created for children in grades K-6.

Performed by a quintet of professional actors, the musical has been offered in 12 locations throughout the diocese. It is normally performed at a large school, such as a Catholic high school. Catholic parents and children from the region are invited to attend the theater production together.

Sister Laura Della Santa, a Religious Sister of Mercy and principal at St. Joseph Regional School in Keene, N.H., attended the musical program at St. Joseph’s when it was offered for all parishioners and families in the region. She was so impressed with the show that she convinced two donors to cover the cost of having the performance done at her school during Catholic Schools Week. Tiger did a bullying program for students in the afternoon and presented the safety program to parents and grandparents at night.

“We received very positive feedback,” said Sister Laura. “It’s a musical drama with a purpose behind it. It’s not just entertainment. It teaches children how to be aware in stores and in public. And it gives ways for children to talk to their parents if they feel uncomfortable. It’s all done in an entertaining way, and respectfully.”
The “Safe and Sound All Around” program is designed to be presented in parishes and Catholic schools on a request-only basis.


‘Circles of Care’

“Circles of Care” is a required aspect of the curriculum for Catholic schools and religious education programs in the Diocese of Manchester. Officially launched in October, it was developed with a personal safety lesson for every grade from pre-K through 12th grade.
All of the lessons encourage children and young people to speak to their parents about concerns they have for their personal safety or the safety of other minors.

The catechetical guidelines found in the General Directory for Catechesis (No. 226) and the National Directory for Catechesis (Chapter 8, No. 54 C, p.234) uphold the role of parents as the primary educators of their children, and that served as the foundation for the development of “Circles of Care,” said Mary Ellen Mahon, director for catechetical formation.The program provides that parents be informed about the curriculum through meetings and letters that highlight the outcomes of each grade level lesson and be invited and welcomed to participate in the lessons with their children. It also provides that lessons be sent to the parents who choose to do the lesson(s) with their children at home and that take-home sheets be provided for parents who have children in pre-K through Grade 3.
Parents in other dioceses have objected to being ignored in the process of creating and establishing safe environment programs.

Parent resource pages have also been developed that list additional ways parents can develop a safe environment for and with their children.
All lessons have prayers. For example, the lesson for Grade 1 concentrates on teaching children that they are special. Teachers read from the book Incredible You by Wayne Dyer, as well as an account of the sixth day of creation. Together, the children recite a prayer, “God Made Us Special,” and take home a page for parents called “Tell a Trusted Adult.”
Cathy Smith, director of religious education for St. Michael Parish in Exeter, N.H., is pleased with how “Circles of Care” integrates the Catholic faith into its safety lessons.

“There are readings from Scripture for all grades,” she said. “We implement how we are all created in God’s image and likeness and in each of the classes we try to get across how Jesus showed us how to love each other.”

Mary Ann Sullivan writes from

New Durham, New Hampshire.