|Kimberly Svevo-Cianci, chief executive officer of Changing Children’s Worlds Foundations and founder of the International Child/Parent Development Program, was a featured speaker at the National Safe Environment and Victim Assistance Coordinators Leadership Conference, held in Nashville May 4-7. Photo by Theresa Laurence|
Safe Environment and Victim Assistance Coordinators from Catholic dioceses across the United States met in Nashville this week for their annual conference that featured speakers and workshops focusing on protecting youth and preventing abuse.
The conference provided an important opportunity for Safe Environment coordinators to gather, share, and go back to their dioceses refreshed and ready to work, said Deacon Hans Toecker, Nashville Safe Environment Coordinator and conference organizer. “It’s a validation of why you’re in this work and that it matters,” he said.
The National Safe Environment and Victim Assistance Coordinators Leadership Conference, held at the Hutton Hotel May 4-7, was primarily sponsored by Selection.com, which helps create and maintain safe environments in Catholic churches around the country. “As a faith-based business, we have a vested interest in protecting children in church environments,” said Selection.com president James Boeddeker.
Selection.com asked conference participants to complete an on-line questionnaire about policies and procedures currently in place in their diocese. “This questionnaire will help Safe Environment coordinators identify what their colleagues are doing. From there, individual dioceses can identify best practices and improve upon their current policies,” Boeddeker said.
Every parish, school and religious education program has a Safe Environment coordinator appointed by the pastor of a parish or principal of a school to assist in ensuring that the diocese’s Safe Environment policy is fully implemented. Victim assistance focuses on reaching out to people who have been victims of abuse within the church.
The Diocese of Nashville has a Safe Environment program in place that includes training for recognizing signs of abuse, contacts for reporting allegations to civil authorities and diocesan officials, and a Diocesan Safe Environment Committee.
The diocese encourages anyone who knows of or suspects that abuse has taken place to make the proper reports to civil authorities and to diocesan officials if the potential abuser is an employee or volunteer of the diocese of one of its institutions.
For more information on the program, click on the Safe Environment link on the diocesan website www.dioceseofnashville.com.
The National Safe Environment and Victim Assistance Coordinators Leadership Conference featured a full slate of nationally recognized speakers from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and others who addressed conference participants on a variety of issues.
Some of the topics included: “Merging the role of ombudsman in the office of child and youth protection”; “Major characteristics of people abused by authority figures”; and “Heart stream journey: A healing retreat experience for survivors of sexual abuse.”
One of the featured speakers was Kimberly Svevo-Cianci, chief executive officer of Changing Children’s Worlds Foundation and founder of the International Child/Parent Development Program. She spoke and gave a workshop on “Empathy-based adult-child interaction,” and gave a talk on “Rights to protection and well-being: Global best practice (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child).”
There are many principles included in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that Safe Environment coordinators could be using, Svevo-Cianci said. “There are so many possible applications for what could be best practices in the Catholic Church,” especially in reaching out to vulnerable populations. “Faith communities have such an opportunity to really contribute to child protection,” she said.
The Convention document contains a list of rights that all children have, including a right to a quality education, health care and protection from abuse, among others.
Svevo-Cianci noted that the Vatican was one of the first signatories of the Convention almost 25 years ago, while the United States is one of the few countries in the world that has still not signed onto it. “It’s challenging, but it’s gold,” she said.
A few conference participants expressed skepticism of the UN in light of a UN committee’s recent criticism of the Vatican, which suggested it change church teaching on contraception, homosexuality and abortion.
There is room to disagree with the UN on those points but still take away a positive message from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Svevo-Cianci said. “This exists to help guide our kids in the best possible way,” she said.
The Convention, like the Safe Environment conference itself “continues to raise awareness of how children’s rights are respected,” Deacon Toecker said.