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Update on Virtus’ Protecting God’s Children programme

Participants at the December 1 Virtus session at Our Lady of Lourdes RC Church, Maraval.

From the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission

Virtus’ Protecting God’s Children (PGC) is a four-hour introductory workshop designed to raise awareness about the reality of child sexual abuse.

Through videos and facilitated group discussion format, the session helps participants become more familiar with the issues and myths surrounding child sexual abuse; signs of sexual abuse in children; behavioural patterns of perpetrators; steps the Church is taking to prevent future abuse; and a plan of action for adults to remain watchful for would-be perpetrators.

PGC is not a punishment or an accusation against volunteers. On the contrary it illustrates how, through increased awareness and vigilance, all adults can become part of the solution to stop child sexual abuse.

If we want to prevent predators from gaining access to our children, we need to know what to watch for, how to spot and handle situations before they escalate, and how to report suspected abuse.

The following adults are required to attend Protecting God’s Children:

—All parish, school and diocesan employees, regardless of their level of contact with children

—All clergy and applicants to clerical formation who serve in the diocese

—Every volunteer in a school, programme or ministry for children and youth, regardless of their level of contact with children

—Volunteers for other parish programmes or ministries who have been delegated care, custody or control of children.

The Virtus PGC  programme begins with a face-to-face, four-hour interactive session which includes:

* Two awareness videos

* Presentation from the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (CATT) on current statistics, laws, reporting and resources available for the participants.

All clergy and lay people who are in leadership positions, along with persons who work with children within the Church are required to complete monthly, online Virtus training. Re-certification is required every three years.

Since its launch on March 29, 2011 to September 2018, there have been 37 Education and Awareness sessions with a total 2,180 participants—priests, deacons, religious communities, parish administrators, parents, some principals, some primary and secondary school teachers, administrators and staff of orphanages, catechists, volunteers, and community members.

At the annual meeting of Virtus Programme Coordinators in the United States in September, an updated version 3.5 of the Virtus PGC training videos was released.

The Church’s Response

* The 2014 guidelines and procedures for clergy and laity on handling child sexual abuse were shared as to what the Church has in place and what more needs to be done.

* Archdiocesan email: protectingchildren@abpos.org to report any complaints of sexual abuse and recommendations on how a safer environment can be created for our children.

* Mandate from Archbishop Gordon in letter to priests dated September 14. See ‘Conversations with Archbishop J’ Catholic News, September 16.

* Each parish must identify a few, trusted lay persons to work towards ensuring your parish is safe for children, youth and young adults. This team should be responsible for first completing, and then implementing the Virtus PGC programme in the parish. Every person who ministers to children, youth and young adults in any way, must complete the programme and be certified, and commit to doing the annual refresher sessions.

* First Friday Devotions initiative from October 2018 to September 2019 encouraging the entire Archdiocese to pray for the victims of all forms of abuses.

Upcoming sessions

Virtus Parish Team Coordinators Training session: Once Virtus Parish Team coordinators have been identified to coordinate, implement and continue the Virtus PGC programme, a training session will be offered at an Archdiocesan level in February 2019.

Sessions will be held at the vicariate level, with a minimum of 20 and maximum of 50 persons. Dates and venues for other vicariates will be forwarded soon.

Persons MUST pre-register online before attending. In order to cover the cost of materials, a contribution of $25 per person will be taken up.

Southern Vicariate: Saturday, January 19, 2019 St Benedict’s RC Parish Hall, La Romaine, San Fernando Eastern Vicariate: Saturday, January 26, 2019, Malabar Parish Hall, Malabar

For more information contact: Tricia Syms at the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission:             Phone/WhatsApp: 299-1047;
Email: familylife.commission@gmail.com; Website: aflcrc.org