The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses with territory in the state of Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington. We submit this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 613, which would require public and nonpublic schools to provide mandatory training to their employees on preventing, recognizing and reporting child sexual abuse.
Like many other institutions serving children, all Catholic parishes, diocesan schools and youth programs observe stringent child protection measures. Our institutions conduct mandatory criminal background checks on all employees and volunteers who work with children, provide comprehensive awareness training to educate adults and children on how to recognize predatory behaviors, and promptly report all suspected incidents of child sexual abuse. The attached materials outline in greater detail these diocesan programs.
While most child-serving institutions likely observe similar procedures, SB 613 creates an important assurance that all schools in Maryland will have access to – and will be required to follow – consistent, up-to-date, and standards-based guidelines for training their employees about this critically important issue. Those guidelines would be created with the input of a variety of state agencies and organizations with expertise in child sexual abuse.
Increased punitive measures to address the scourge of child sexual abuse may be warranted in some instances, but these measures do nothing to prevent child abuse from happening in the first place. What SB 613 seeks to accomplish is to more fully raise awareness among school employees, parents, and our wider communities about how to protect children from situations that could lead to sexual abuse, how to recognize the signs of a child who may be the victim of abuse, and importantly, how to properly report incidents of suspected or actual abuse. When fully implemented, SB 613 offers a promising opportunity to genuinely create safer environments for our children, and a better alternative than continually addressing the problem of child sexual abuse after it’s too late to save a child from this terrible harm.