April was designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Diocese of Providence, among other dioceses, schools and youth organizations across the country have shown their commitment to safety through raising awareness during April and beyond.
The Diocese of Providence has been committed to safety, justice and healing for children and young people for over a quarter century, in accordance with the teachings of this month. As April came to a close this week, it’s instructive to reflect on this initiative championed by the Diocese of Providence and many other Catholic parishes and schools across the United States.
National Child Abuse Prevention month was established to raise awareness of and root out abuse in the most vulnerable populations in our society. Since 1983, April has been a month for diverse organizations and communities to come together to increase awareness, provide education and support through resources and strategies to prevent abuse. Each year, the White House and many states issue proclamations to raise awareness and encourage communities to take specific steps to provide safety, justice and healing for children. The hashtags #promisetoprotect and #NCAPM (National Child Abuse Prevention Month) are used on social media to encourage conversation on this topic, and many organizations are using social media to further facilitate education and awareness.
In 1993, the Diocese of Providence took a firm approach in preventing abuse with the creation of the Office of Education and Compliance. This office, now known as the Office of Compliance, fully investigates all abuse allegations brought to them, strengthens and develops new diocesan protection policies, and processes over 4,000 background checks annually for all volunteers throughout the diocese.
Kevin O’Brien, a 23-year veteran of the Rhode Island State Police has led the Office of Compliance since 2015. He has focused on maintaining the office’s level of transparency in their investigative work. The office reports all cases of abuse to the Rhode Island State Police and in 2016, established reporting protocols with Rhode Island Attorney General’s office, a standard that exceeds state law requirements.
“When I signed on as the director of the diocesan Office of Compliance I knew the history of the abuse crisis and because of my experiences as a trooper, detective and detective commander, working with the former director, I was cognizant of the dependable and trustworthy reputation established by the Office of Compliance since 1993,” O’Brien said.
The diocese’s Office of Outreach and Prevention works in tandem with the Office of Compliance to secure healing for victims of abuse. Dr. Michael Hansen heads this office and has been a practicing psychologist in Rhode Island for 26 years.
Dr. Hansen responds immediately to new cases of abuse that are reported to the Office of Compliance, and ensures that victims receive support and referrals for counseling as needed. In addition to responding to new cases, Dr. Hansen coordinates comprehensive Safe Environment Training for all members of the clergy, diocesan employees and volunteers who work with children. Training includes extensive information on awareness of abuse, a clear code of conduct, and a strict reporting process. Most importantly, Dr. Hansen works with the Office of Compliance to maintain a database to track all clergy, staff and volunteers who have received training. All training must be renewed every three years.
Children and young people also receive annual training to understand what conduct is appropriate and to make them aware of boundaries, what to do if they feel uncomfortable, and how to report inappropriate conduct.
“It is important that it be widely known that we have a well-established office of outreach. It reflects a strong commitment that individuals are listened to and supported, particularly when individuals may not have been listened to very well in the past,” said Dr. Hansen.
While April has been designated as National Child Abuse Prevention month, the Diocese of Providence takes these issues seriously year-round.
To learn more about the work of the Office of Compliance, visit dioceseofprovidence.org/office-of-compliance. To learn more about National Child Abuse Prevention month, visit www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/preventionmonth.
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