Religious institution-focused training in child abuse prevention now available

Lonely child sitting on play park playground bench
Training is available to help adults who work with children to pick up on signs of abuse.

Did you know mandated reporters are people who are required by law to report suspected child abuse? To tell them about their obligation, the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance provides child protection and Mandated Reporter Training.

Recently, the PFSA began offering religious-based institutions specialized training materials for their mandated reporters of child abuse.  Reverend Kathy Nice of the Presbytery of Kiskiminetas had requested these materials to better meet their training needs.

We spoke with Reverend Nice and Angela Liddle, MPA, President and CEO of Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance about MDT and the need to tailor the training for the religious community.

What is MDT and do most institutions have someone trained?

AL: Mandated reporters are people who are required by law to report suspected child abuse. They make more than 75 percent of the calls to ChildLine, the state’s 24-hour hotline to report child abuse. They are often the only link between a child and safety from abuse. It is vitally important that mandated reporters understand how to recognize child abuse and how to make reports that are timely, complete, and accurate.

Mandated reporters generally are people who come into contact with children as a part of their employment, practice of their profession and, sometimes, as volunteers in child-serving programs. PFSA’s face-to-face and online training, Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse, is one program available to that meets this requirement. Besides Mandated Reporters, there are many everyday Pennsylvanians who care about children who would benefit tremendously from this kind of training.

Why did you request a more religious institution-based child abuse prevention materials? 

KN: Our church officers and volunteers are required to be mandated reporters under Pennsylvania law. Because we feel so strongly about child protection, our denomination’s constitution also calls for church officers to be mandated reporters. However, many do not see the need for training, as communicating their responsibilities has been haphazardly handled. Many have groaned about a three-hour training that they think should only apply to school teachers, social workers, and doctors.

With a religious institution-based material, we can show “church” examples pulled from headlines and edited to protect the identities. When folks realize that the examples we use sound like settings and situations they are familiar with, their whole demeanor changes. The trainees ask very good questions, based around potential situations they may face. So now we have a group of very passionate advocates within our system telling others to get this training and quickly!

How was the training modified for religious organizations?

AL: Our new tailored training materials take into account the specific concerns religious-based groups have about their interactions with children. Religious leaders in all denominations are committed to protecting children who worship, participate in youth activities, enroll in child care, and attend classes in their religious programs.

The simple truth is that child abuse does not know any faith-based boundaries. In fact, some of the worst abuse documented in the commonwealth has occurred in religious settings. We have written several case examples of how children might present signs of either abuse or neglect in a faith-based setting and how the religious and lay members should react to those kinds of situations to best protect kids. We believe this training will bring added clarity to the cause of protecting children from abuse in religious settings.

Do you think religious institutions will be more receptive to this training? 

KN: I know that initially, people in the church setting where I am were not happy about a mandatory training, and many have said they will not attend as they do not see the value or purpose. Once we began using the religious institution-based curriculum, word is spreading about how important this material is for everyone to know. It is still a challenge to get some folks to attend because of a life situation such as not being able to drive at night when the class is offered or they are unwilling to travel to the various locations we are using to centralize the training at this time. But more and more are anticipating a good use of their three hours. It’s much easier for me to “sell” the training to fellow churches in our judicatory when they see that it is actually church-related.

What has the response been like?

AL: We have just started to spread the word that these training materials are now available through PFSA. As churches, mosques, parishes, synagogues, and temples become aware of the training, we expect to see an uptick in requests for our faith scenario-based MRT. Under Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Service Law, clergymen, priests, rabbis, ministers, Christian Science practitioners, religious healers, or spiritual leaders of any regularly established church or other religious organization are mandated reporters so it is imperative that they understand their obligations under the law.

What should someone do if they suspect child abuse?

AL: The single most important thing anyone can do if they suspect child abuse or think that a child is in threat of being harmed is to call ChildLine at 800-932-0313 and make a report. You do not have to know with certainty that a child has been harmed and you can make the report in confidence. Everyone must play a role in child protection. We like to say at PFSA that each of us can be PA Blue Ribbon Champions for Safe Kids. Because every kid needs a champion.