In what will be marked as a win for those concerned about the lack of training, awareness, sensitivity, or poor optics regarding the way leaders engage with children and youth, today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a new required training for youth leaders and other leadership aimed at protecting youth from abuse.
That’s right. Required. Using one’s Church login, the training can be accessed at the not-succinctly URLed ProtectingChildren.ChurchofJesusChrist.org, where completion will be recorded. There’s no mention of what happens if one fails to complete the training, however. The following individuals are requested to take the training:
- Stake and district presidencies, bishoprics and branch presidencies
- High councilors
- Stake, district, ward, and branch Primary, Young Women, Young Men and Sunday School and Relief Society presidencies; elders quorum presidencies
- Secretaries, teachers, advisers, camp leaders, activity day leaders, music leaders, pianists and others serving in positions in the Primary, Young Women and Young Men organizations
- Teachers of youth Sunday School and seminary classes
“We take Jesus Christ’s teachings about children and youth very seriously,” said Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president. “He welcomed them into His presence and gave stern warnings against abusing, bullying or hurting them in any way. Jesus said of children, ‘Of such is the kingdom of God’ [Mark 10:14]. His deep concern for children and youth must continue to be our deep concern.”
According to the Church Newsroom,
“The training is designed to increase awareness, highlight policies and identify best practices for supervising and interacting with children and youth. It also helps leaders know how to prevent and respond to abuse. Leaders and specialists from child protection organizations, family therapists and other professionals participated in the creation and evaluation of the new training.”
The training takes 30 minutes and includes slide shows and even a video that for some reason is narrated by erstwhile President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer. Students are then presented with and quizzed about various scenarios regarding appropriate actions with youth. For example, “Sister Brimley is about to start her Sunday School class, and there is only one young woman present. What should she do?” with two options available: “Go ahead with the class if both teacher and student are the same gender” or “Combine with another class, or invite another adult into the class.” The guide then asks that the respondent read the policy as found in a handbook or other Church material.
Sam Young would be proud to see that in the training, the Church states openly that leaders should opt to have three people present at all times and avoid lengthy one-on-one conversations with you.
There’s another example where a male leader is on a church-sponsored campout with his son. Before turning in for the night, one of his son’s friends asks if he can sleep in the tent with them. What should be done?
Inappropriate touching is also discussed, and has become a more prominent issue in recent years both within and outside the Church. Even when touching is meant to be benign, the other party might not appreciated being touched in such a way, and it’s important to become aware of that and moderate your own behavior.
A large section focuses on abuse itself and its many forms. We naturally gravitate toward tales of sexual abuse or bishop’s interviews that are more probing than is likely necessary, but we also forget that abuse can also come from neglect or be rooted in emotional and verbal matters. Thankfully, the training even has a callout for “teen dating violence,” which is deplorable in every way. In all areas, the Church stresses the importance of believing the abused and not thinking he or she is just looking for attention.
But how should leaders actually respond to abuse? What if one of your youth shows up to mutual with a bruise and says it’s from a parent? Here’s the clear charge:
Anyone who knows or has cause to believe that a child has been or is a victim of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse has a solemn responsibility to do something that can ensure protection for the child.
If you are a bishop or stake president in the United States or Canada, you should contact the abuse help line about every situation in which a person may have been abused or neglected. In other areas, bishops who learn of possible abuse should contact their stake presidents, who will seek guidance from the area office.
If you are NOT a bishop or stake president and you learn of abuse, you should immediately contact legal authorities. Also contact your bishop for counsel and direction.
Abuse is real, and we are all in a place to stop it. Make sure your ward takes part in this training.