Catechists, coaches, youth ministers will be trained to report abuse

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, April 10, 2011

Coaches, catechists and youth ministers will soon join the ranks of archdiocesan staff and volunteers who are trained to report any suspected child abuse, said Mayra Flores, coordinator of the archdiocese’s Safe Environment Office.

Flores discussed the changes at the beginning of April, which has been designated Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The archdiocese has already trained more than 13,600 priests, deacons, teachers and school staff, social workers and others who are required by state law to report suspicions of child abuse, Flores said. The new groups — who are often volunteers — are not covered by Illinois law, but the archdiocese expects them to act to protect children, Flores said.

Because most are volunteers, and their numbers fluctuate by the time of year, Flores could not say how many new people will be trained, but expects it to be in the thousands.

Mandated reporter training now will be available in Spanish and Polish, and will be available online in English, Flores said.

According to the Department of Children and Family Services, 65 percent of the more than 111,000 reports of child abuse and neglect it received in 2008 were made by mandated reporters — that is, people who are required to report suspicions of child abuse.

In addition, all volunteers and staff who are “in a position of trust” are required to take Virtus: Protecting God’s Children training. So far, the archdiocese has provided Virtus training to 124,982 people, Flores said.

In addition to providing training for staff and volunteers, the Safe Environment Office provides training for children on how to stay safe and keeps track of background checks and other requirements of the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth, which was first approved in 2002. The Safe Environment Office is part of the archdiocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, which was created in response to the charter.

To observe April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, the office e-mailed resources from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to all of the archdiocese’s elementary and high schools.

The materials include posters and brochures that can be printed out and duplicated, special prayers, liturgy resources, tips to protect children and training messages.