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 House Bill 72, which would require public and nonpublic schools, in consultation with the State Board of Education, to develop and implement a program of age–appropriate education on sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention.
Like many other institutions serving children, all Catholic parishes, diocesan schools and youth programs observe stringent child protection measures. Our institutions provide comprehensive awareness training to educate both adults and children on how to recognize predatory behaviors, conduct mandatory criminal background checks on all employees and on certain volunteers who work with children, and promptly report all suspected incidents of child sexual abuse.
In our parishes and schools we have developed a comprehensive approach to child sexual abuse awareness, education, and prevention that incorporates recommendations made by leading experts in the field of abuse prevention. This “whole community” approach involves parents, alternate caregivers and concerned community members who serve as partners in reducing the risk of child sexual abuse. Over 60,000 children annually receive safe environment education in the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington. Programs that have been described as successful are presented over several days, are integrated into curricula, teach basic skills and concepts, provide opportunities for modeling and rehearsal, and encourage parent participation/engagement.
While most child-serving institutions may observe similar procedures, HB 72 will help to ensure that all schools in Maryland have in place programs that help to fully raise awareness among students, in an age-appropriate manner, about how to protect themselves from situations that could lead to sexual abuse. Such training is an important first step that we hope would also lead to training for all school employees, parents, and our wider communities about how to prevent abuse, 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, HB 72 offers a promising opportunity to genuinely create safer environments for our children, and a better alternative than addressing the problem of child sexual abuse after it’s too late to save a child from this terrible harm.