The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is approaching the end of its mandatory reporter training program aimed at educating more than 24,000 clergy, staff and volunteers about how to identify and report child abuse.
The training, which began on June 28, is scheduled to finish by the end of the year, according to Mandy Mundy, director of education and training at the Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA). The archdiocese contracted with the non profit to conduct the trainings.
Last Monday, staff at St. Bridget School in East Falls met at Archbishop Ryan High School for the training and received a sharp reminder of the responsibility of reporting child abuse under the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.
“I feel like they do care and they want us to be more aware, with more and more [people] coming out with these stories we need to be ready for anything. Because we’re with them every day, all day long,” said Jessica Meyers, St. Bridget’s 7th grade teacher for math, science, social studies and religion.
The training program comes months after February’s scathing grand jury report that accused the archdiocese of a widespread cover-up of abuse scandals by priests.
Meyers underwent the three-hour mandated reporter training, which not only focused on child sexual abuse but also on serious physical injury, serious mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, imminent risk, serious physical neglect and student abuse.
“The majority of signs and symptoms are going to be behavioral symptoms, such as fear of a particular person…frozen watchfulness, age inappropriate knowledge,” Mundy said.
According to NOVA, child sexual abuse “encompasses different types of sexual activity, including voyeurism, sexual dialogue, fondling, touching of the genitals, vaginal, anal, or oral rape and forcing children to participate in pornography or prostitution.”
Meyers said the training provided information that the teachers had heard before, “but this was good because it gave you who to go to, what steps to take, gave us phone numbers.”
She found the training informative, but expressed concerns that she and her colleagues share in regard to reporting.
“I would feel comfortable because I know that they have our back,” Meyers said of the Archdiocese. “I do think I would be able to get to the bottom of this. The only fear I would have is what if I’m wrong? If I go to the principal and we’re wrong, how’s the parent going to think of me? …The person I’m accusing, how would they look at me after that?”
She said her colleagues who sat with her during the training worried about the same. “That would be our biggest fear,” Meyers said her colleagues commented.
Mundy, from NOVA, said the comment was “a very realistic concern and realistic possibility” and added that mandated reporting comes with challenges. “They must remember what the barriers are.”
She added that reporting is first and foremost about protecting the child, not the offender. “If they fail to report, first of all, they are breaking the law and they are failing to protect the child.”
Under the Child Protective Services Law, any mandated reporter who fails to report a suspected child abuse case faces a misdemeanor of the third degree for the first violation and a misdemeanor of the second degree for another violation. This information and more was presented on a PowerPoint slideshow during the training.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 93-percent of the time, the child knows his or her abuser, and in any given year, it is estimated more than 650,500 of our nation’s children will become the victim of child sexual abuse. That could fill about 15 Citizens Bank Park stadiums, according to NOVA.
“We want them to know they’re safe and we want to help them,” Meyers said. “I would want to do everything to help the child to get them out of the situation.”
A mandated reporter is any professional who comes into regular contact with children. Among the extensive list are: physicians, optometrists, school district police and security officers, teachers, firefighters, dentists, animal control officers, coroners, funeral directors and probation officers.