Safe Environment Series, Part 7
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
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,
“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
“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
“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