Diocese Continues Efforts to Protect Children

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Column by Cindy O’Connor
Director of Children and Youth Protection
Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown

Happy Spring!

The year 2019 is going by quickly as we find ourselves in the middle of the second quarter already!

During the month of April, community organizations recognized and promoted Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness Month with educational programs, blue ribbon and pinwheel campaigns.

Prevention efforts within the diocese included:
· Professional development opportunities for diocesan staff, clergy and volunteers regarding prevention efforts, assisting victims/survivors of abuse and guidance on how to respond to disclosures and how to report suspected abuse or neglect.
· Diocesan schools continue to address tips provided to the Safe2Say Something anonymous reporting system. This youth violence prevention program is run by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General.  Each tip is appropriately addressed and resources are provided to support the needs of each situation.
· In early April, Religious Education leaders throughout the diocese were provided an opportunity to meet in person, receive updated information and understand current policies and protocols to ensure they are providing the best programming for their parish families.
· Suggested prayers and petitions for victims/survivors, bulletin inserts and tips for parents/ caregivers were shared to parishes for distribution.

Looking ahead at future prevention opportunities for our diocese includes:
· Elementary Schools in Cambria County will be partnering with Victim Services, Inc. to provide age-appropriate personal safety prevention and awareness sessions.
· Pilot Safety Committees in our Parishes will begin to form allowing the congregations to assess the physical safety of the parish properties.

We are all stakeholders in the well-being of our youth, families, and our faith communities.  It is our duty to be educated and attentive to findings on effective, ineffective, and harmful practices, and prevention programming efforts.

Our past painfully reminds us that prevention was not often considered or the importance of providing prevention education was not understood.

Many lacked the knowledge of recognizing signs in suspected child abuse and neglect.

Little attention was focused on how to reduce risk factors and strengthen protective factors for youth programming and activities.

Policies of accountability were limited or nonexistent.

Words cannot describe or take away the hurt, betrayal and loss of so much innocence and missed opportunities.  No doubt that hard lessons were learned and we continue to tirelessly pick up the broken pieces.

Today, prevention and awareness efforts to protect our children and the vulnerable are embraced.  The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown welcomes opportunities for continuous improvement.

Educational information shared by experts, researchers, programming specialists should be taken seriously.

We cannot allow the past to define who we are today. Please join with the many who pray for wisdom and a brighter future for our community of faith.

For inquires on youth protection and safe environment efforts within the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown please contact Cindy O’Connor at (814) 695-5579, extension 2621 or via email at coconnor@dioceseaj.org.