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The Catholic New World
Child abuse prevention month

By Michelle Martin

Child abuse prevention month Parishes and schools all over the Archdiocese of Chicago once again will distribute blue ribbons in April and encourage worshippers and students to think about ways to prevent child abuse and to remember its victims.

The effort helps remind everyone-clergy, staff and parishioners-that the church works year round to protect children, said Jan Slattery, director of the newly reorganized Office for the Protection of Children and Youth. The office, which is housed outside the Pastoral Center at 737 N. Michigan Ave., includes:

  • the Safe Environment Program, which trains staff, volunteers and children to prevent situations that could lead to child abuse; conducts background checks on staff and volunteers; and trains staff who are mandated to report suspected child abuse and neglect to civil authorities
  • the Office of Assistance Ministry, for support and assistance to victims/survivors
  • the Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review, formerly the Office of Professional Responsibility

"We all work to keep children safe," Slattery said, explaining the rationale in bringing the offices together. The office started the Children Matter Network, a partnership of diocesan, civil and nonprofit agencies dedicated to promoting and protecting the dignity of children. That network, in turn, is promoting Child Abuse Prevention Month with its blue-ribbon campaign.

The blue ribbon has served as a symbol of child abuse awareness since 1989, when Bonnie Finney, a Virginia grandmother who lost a grandson to child abuse, tied a blue ribbon to the antenna on her car as a symbol of her commitment to fight child abuse. She chose blue, she said, to remind her of her grandson's bruised body. The story is posted on www.childrenmatternetwork.org, along with a list of warning signs that a child may have been abused and list of "words that help kids."

One of the partners in Children Matter Network is the Chicago Children's Advocacy Center, which provides children and their families with resources to begin healing after experiencing abuse.

Parishes can help by collecting "Change for Children" in April to support the center, Slattery said. Parishes also can express their commitment by including announcements in their bulletins, distributing or displaying blue ribbons, holding prayer services or including prayers for abused children in the prayers of the faithful at Mass or blessing their children at the end of Mass.


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