Safe environment changes now effective

Published: March 18, 2016

En Español

Changes to improve and simplify the Diocese of Little Rock’s Safe Environment Program became effective March 1. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor explained the changes in his Decree of Changes to Safe Environment Policies and Procedures for all diocesan, school and parish employees and volunteers, when it was issued in February.

The policies, which were put in place in 2002 after the U.S. Catholic bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, were re-evaluated under the direction of Matt Glover, chancellor for canonical affairs. Four changes will be made:

  • Initial Training — Training is now available online in English and Spanish. Classes were taught around the diocese with materials from Virtus: Protecting God’s Children for Adults. Live, in-person training will be available as an option based on need.
  • Background Checks — In the old system, parishes and schools mailed screening release forms and background check information was handled and stored by the diocese. After the initial background check, the employee or volunteer was rechecked every five years. 

With the new system, adults enter their information into a new background check system through the Virtus site and “certain key databases” will be rechecked automatically four times a year. The diocese is notified if there are any changes in the databases. The decree noted that this is more secure since the diocese isn't storing personal information on employees and volunteers.

For those who already have a Virtus account, there is no need to resubmit background check information now, Bishop Taylor said. Melissa Jackson, safe environment coordinator, will determine when the five-year background check is due and contact the employees and volunteers to input their information online through their Virtus accounts.

  • Virtus Bulletins — Reading monthly Virtus bulletins is no longer required as part of continuing education. Instead the Safe Environment Program will create and distribute quarterly newsletters in English and Spanish that parishes and schools can use for bulletin inserts, handouts or website postings. The first newsletter will be published in June.

Because the newsletters will be coming directly from the Safe Environment Office rather than from Virtus, there will be no “tracking” of the newsletters like there was with the Virtus bulletins. Jackson will also be offering in-service training to the clergy, youth ministers and religious educators about safe environment topics.

  • Virtus Accounts — All employees and volunteers who did not have a Virtus account were required to create one by March 1. The background checks and other communications, such as changes to the Laity Code of Conduct and Policy on Sexual Abuse of Minors and the quarterly newsletters, are now handled through the Virtus account.

The Chancery Office oversees the Safe Environment Program which educates clergy, employees and volunteers on how to prevent child sexual abuse, how to recognize sex offender behaviors, and how to create safe environments for children and young people in our parishes, schools and community. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is a comprehensive set of procedures established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002 for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. To learn more, visit the Safe Environment Program. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail Melissa Jackson or call her at (501) 664-0340, ext. 332.