In an effort to continue at the forefront of maintaining safe environments for children and minors, the Diocese of Little Rock has changed the training program used by the Safe Environment Office as well as who is required to go through training.
Since July 1, the diocese is partnering with CMG Connect, a safe environment training program for adults produced by Catholic Mutual Group, and Circle of Grace for youth. Those required to go through the program are all parish, school and diocesan employees as well as volunteers who have routine contact with minors.
Those who have already been certified through Virtus will not have to recertify with CMG Connect until five years after their original Virtus certification.
The diocese has used a program called Virtus from the National Catholic Risk Retention Group since 2001, when the sexual abuse crisis came to light in the Church. Deacon Matt Glover, chancellor for canonical affairs, said at the time, Virtus was the only program available.
“You go around our diocese and it’s very commonplace for people to say, ‘Have you done Virtus, did you do Virtus training, what kind of Virtus training do we have to do now?’ But we don’t do Virtus. We never did Virtus. We do safe environment,” Glover said. “I do hope one of the fruits of the change is that we’ll start talking about safe environment and not so much about what program do we use to create and maintain safe environments.”
The diocese learned of the CMG Connect program when insurance coverage for sexual misconduct switched entirely over to Catholic Mutual Group about two years ago. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops requires each diocese to have a safe environment program in place and training for both adults and children, a requirement that’s been ratified by the Vatican.
CMG Connect (cmgconnect.org) is an online program that requires employees and volunteers to watch three, 25-minute videos and answer an accountability question at the end of each. The training can be done on a person’s own schedule and no in-person training is required. It is available in English and Spanish. If a volunteer or employee does not speak either language, it will be up to the safe environment coordinator at the parish to translate, Glover said.
“The video training components focus more on what kind of warning signs to look for and a little bit less on trying to shock people into awareness,” Glover said.
Susan David, safe environment coordinator, called the program “seamless,” saying that each step of what is required is clear. David and Glover both said the website’s content was more user-friendly, updated and visually appealing.
Unlike Virtus, which Glover said had its positives and negatives like any program, the background check is done through the CMG Connect site. The same company still provides the background checks, but “once you enter your information in CMG Connect, you don’t then have to go to a separate website to re-enter it for the background check portion. It’s all seamlessly integrated.”
Glover added that only he and David see the results of the background check and no other data entered is seen or shared.
After five years, employees and volunteers must do a re-certification on CMG Connect, which includes more videos. There will be no other regular reading materials or training for the average volunteer.
“We do have to do some continuing education as a diocese, but we’re doing that through group specific trainings. We’ll do catechists and youth leaders, school teachers, principals, just plugging into ongoing training they already have organized. We’ll go present one hour at something like that,” Glover said.
Circle of Grace, created by the Archdiocese of Omaha, is the youth component of safe environment training that Catholic Mutual Group promotes.
The program includes age-appropriate materials that religious education programs and schools will use in kindergarten to 12th grade.
“There’s even a wonderful prayer and a demonstration. So it incorporates both the spiritual and the physical in a prayer setting with the teacher leading it, as far as embracing the circle of grace around you,” David said.
It is replacing Virtus’ Touching Safety program. Glover stressed it is not sex education nor set up to “scare kids into stranger danger.”
“It’s a lot more focused on virtue, building a positive relationship with God,” Glover said. “... If I’m a child of God, what does that mean in terms of appropriate protections for myself and boundaries for myself and having respect for myself and building up virtue in myself.”
Glover and David both agreed that it’s easy for a diocese to get in a rut regarding what kinds of programs are offered and safe environment is no exception. These new training tools will continue to create safe environments in parishes and schools.
“The diocese is very transparent as far as our accountability so I think it’s easy, like Deacon Matt said, to become stagnant and I feel like CMG Connect is fresh and we’re ready for the change,” David said. “If you don’t change, you stand still. And we’re not standing still.”
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