APRIL: NATIONAL CHILD ABUSE PREVENTION MONTH
By Kristin Leandro Special to the Herald
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. First established by presidential proclamation in 1983, it is an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge the importance of families and communities coming together to prevent child abuse and neglect, as well as promote the emotional and social well-being of families. It is also an optimal time to review the ongoing efforts of the Catholic Church to protect our children and youth.
The Diocese of Honolulu is committed to creating and maintaining the safest environment possible for our youth when they are in our care. Our Safe Environment policies, governed by the mandates of the U.S. Conference of Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth,” outline standards to provide an effective response to allegations of sexual abuse.
One of the key areas addressed in our Safe Environment policies and training curriculum for adults is the requirement to report when you have a “reasonable” suspicion that a child may be a victim of abuse. If you suspect a child has been or is being abused, ask yourself, “would a person with average judgment, who saw or heard what I did, suspect child abuse?” If the answer is “yes,” you have a reasonable suspicion. Remember that your role is not to investigate nor prove that abuse has happened or is happening; that is the responsibility of the civil authorities.
In Hawaii, certain professionals in fields such as child care, education, healing arts/health related occupations, law enforcement, social and other services, and recreational/sports activities are considered mandatory reporters and are required by State law to immediately report their reasonable suspicion(s) of child abuse to the civil authorities. Mandatory reporters are guilty of a crime and may be subject to $1,000 in fines and 30 days in jail if they fail to report child abuse they reasonably suspect while performing their professional duties.
If your profession or field is not listed here, you are considered an ethical reporter. This means you are “encouraged” (but not required) to report your reasonable suspicions of child abuse to the proper authorities. Hawaii law provides immunity for reporters of child abuse; if you make a report in good faith (based on a reasonable suspicion), you cannot be sued or prosecuted. This immunity applies even if your suspicions are not confirmed by the civil authorities’ investigation.
When a report of abuse has been made to a member of the clergy and/or an employee or volunteer with the Catholic Church, once the proper authorities have been notified, all allegations of abuse involving minors must be reported to the Office of the Bishop (808-585-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org). If parish pastors, heads of school and/or other supervisors first receive the allegation, they must promptly forward the matter to the Office of the Bishop for handling. This reporting is in addition to and not in place of mandated reporting to the proper civil authorities.
We as adults have a moral responsibility to report suspected abuse. When we are diligent and report our reasonable suspicions, we begin to create a large network of eyes and ears to help prevent abuse. Keeping our children and youth safe is everyone’s job. The Diocese of Honolulu affirms our commitment in continuing to work diligently to prevent the sexual abuse of minors.
Many thanks to all of you who generously give of your time to work with our youth and God bless all of you for your efforts to ensure that every child is given the opportunity to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment.
To learn more about the Diocese of Honolulu’s Safe Environment efforts, contact Kristin Leandro, Diocesan Director of Safe Environment, at 203-6719 or email@example.com.
Kristin Leandro is the director of the diocesan Office of Safe Environment.