Do you have safe environment information readily available?

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Safe Environment

Have any of you ever walked into a home of a friend or family member, place of business, or school, and all of a sudden noticed a wall hanging, sign or picture and asked, “When did that get placed there?” Many times, when I notice something, the item has actually been there for months, if not years. But for some reason I just happened to notice it at that time.

In our parishes and schools there are a lot of signs, notices and bulletins posted to which many of us have not paid much attention. Sometimes with so much information we tend to not pay attention and miss out on events, opportunities or important notices.

To promote a safe environment in the Archdiocese of Anchorage there is plenty of information that one should have access to, such as training materials, faith formation curriculum materials and policies and procedures. One very important sign that should be in every parish and school. It states: “If you have been abused or victimized by someone representing the Catholic Church” call our victim’s assistance coordinator at (907) 297-7786.

Not every sign or poster may have the exact wording but similar, and it should be posted in a visible place, such as a parish hall, bulletin board, bathroom, classroom or entryway.

When the U.S. bishops promulgated the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, it included the requirement that each diocese designate a specific person to serve as an advocate for anyone who has been a victim of abuse as a minor or vulnerable adult by someone representing the church.

The role of the victim’s assistance coordinator (VAC) is to be available to assist someone in making a formal complaint of abuse to the diocese/eparchy, in arranging a personal meeting with the bishop or his representative, and for obtaining support for specific needs. The VAC role is to also provide support in assisting a victim to make a report to law enforcement and when needed, encourage long-term mental health care for healing and recovery.

There are a few other aspects of safe environment, such as ensuring that each parish and school has a safe environment coordinator and catechists to teach safe environment training.

Similarly, the archbishop needs to have a review board to advise him and the archdiocese must have a director to coordinate policy implementation and compliance.

The victim’s assistance coordinator for the Archdiocese of Anchorage currently is Heidi Carson. The Archdiocese contracts with Heidi to respond to anyone who calls 297-7786. Besides what has already been stated, Heidi will offer resource information to try to assist the caller.

I encourage everyone to find your safe environment poster or information pamphlet in your parish, school or Catholic institution. If it is missing or needs to be replaced, contact your parish safe environment coordinator. When we make an effort to notice something, we often will notice quickly if it is missing.

The writer is director of the Anchorage Archdiocese’s Office of Safe Environment.


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