US bishops’ new child protection program aims to create culture of mindfulness

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After years of research, the U.S. bishops are rolling out a new training program that takes some of the best risk-management practices from other industries and applies them to child protection in the Church.

The new program, entitled “Creating a Culture of Protection and Healing,” is being piloted in several dioceses and will eventually be available to any diocese by request.

The principles of the program, which will add to the existing trainings and protections already in place, borrows tools and techniques of HROs (highly reliable organizations) from industries in the secular world that also frequently deal with high-risk situations, such as hospitals or airlines.

These HROs are in industries in which, when accidents do occur “it’s rather volatile, it costs lives,” Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA.

“For example in the airline industry when a plane crashes or something like that,” it can be very costly in terms of loss of life, he said.

“So the industry is looking at ways to make sure that even the lowest person on the chain of command – if they see something that’s untoward, they speak up, they say something, they report it. They know how and what to do when they come across a situation that could cause a problem in the future.”

That’s the same attitude and level of awareness that the bishops are hoping to create in dioceses who implement this new program, he said.

“We’re trying to create this mindfulness, a change in culture, so safe environments can be not only established but indeed maintained, because that’s the key. We have to constantly be on our toes, on our guard, with no room for complacency.”

This kind of training has been in the works for several years, said Nojadera, who has a military background and therefore prior experiences with HRO practices.

Since most of the information about HRO practices are tailored to specific industries, the bishops decided to partner with Ascension Health, the largest group of Catholic hospitals in the U.S., which uses HRO principles with a theological perspective.

“So we’re taking something that the hospitals have been using for 20 some years or so and making it applicable to us,” Nojadera said.

For example, if an incident or a near-miss occurs, the Church can ask the same questions that hospitals ask, albeit in a different context: “What went right? What went wrong? What do we do to improve and make sure it doesn’t happen again?”

The new program isn’t meant to replace the current practices, but to add an extra layer of awareness and thoroughness, Nojadera said.

Since the clergy sex scandal of the early 2000s, the Church has put into place numerous policies and practices to protect children from sexual abuse, including the USCCB's Charter for Child and Youth Protection.

The charter, implemented in 2002, obligates all compliant dioceses and eparchies to provide resources both for victims of abuse and resources for abuse prevention. Each year, the USCCB releases an extensive annual report on the dioceses and eparchies, including an audit of all abuse cases and allegations, and recommended policy guidelines for dioceses.

Kelly Venegas is the bishop’s delegate for sexual misconduct in the Diocese of Gary, which is one of the pilot dioceses for the new HRO training program.

She said that the new training was divided into two sections, with the first focused on anticipating and diagnosing near-misses.

“We’re making sure that near-misses don’t indicate a symptom of a worse problem,” Venegas told CNA.

“So rather than just looking and saying, wow, that really could have been a big issue, good thing it didn’t cause any harm – instead we say wait a minute, this was a near-miss, could there be worse problems? Let’s dive into this deeper.”

The second section of the training focused on containment of harm in the case that an incident does occur, Venegas said.

“That means we’re making sure that we learn from our mistakes, that we focus on how we can make things stronger, and making sure that we have decisions with input from multiple people involved in the process,” she said.

While some of the concrete details of the application of the new program are still being worked out, Venegas said she was excited that the Church was learning from the best practices of other successful industries.

“I think that in the business world there’s been quality assurance programs (in existence) for years, and this is really a way of taking some of the expertise that’s been learned in the secular world and applying it to something that’s very important and close to our hearts,” she said.


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