Have you taken the Protecting Children and Youth training yet? Even if you’re not a Primary teacher, you may want to check it out. Here are a few things to know about it.
Jesus Christ was always gathering children, protecting them, and blessing them (see 3 Nephi 17). It makes sense, then, that Christ’s Church on earth would also place great importance on protecting innocent and precious young souls from abuse.
“The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form and that those who abuse are accountable before God,” the Church’s Counseling Resources manual reads. This is a phrase and a sentiment found on many pages on the Church’s website. Most recently, a strong statement was published by the Church in connection with this topic. It read, in part, “This is a topic where there can be no mincing of words, no hint of apathy and no tolerance for any suggestion that we are neglectful or not doing enough on the issue of child abuse” (“Church Provides Further Details about the Arizona Abuse Case,” Newsroom, Aug. 17, 2022).
One important step the Church has taken toward the goal of preventing abuse is the creation of the “Protecting Children and Youth” training.
Released in fall 2019, this online 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” (“Church Launches Protection Training for Leaders of Children and Youth,” Newsroom, Aug. 16, 2019).
I was a nursery leader at the time the training was released and am now a parent and a Primary worker, so I have gone through the training a few times. The training has allowed me to understand the topic of abuse with a gospel lens—with the constant reminder that these are children of Heavenly Father who need our help to feel loved and understand their divine identity. It is up to us to learn how to prevent and identify abuse and aid in victims’ healing. We can provide positive situations and interactions that allow each child or youth we are responsible for to feel the love of the Savior.
The training has many familiar reminders of principles that have been emphasized in recent years. For example, it directs Church members to immediately contact legal authorities if they learn of abuse. It also addresses topics such as allowing youth to have another person with them during interviews and avoiding one-on-one conversations between adults and children or youth. A critical idea that runs throughout the training is what has sometimes been referred to as the “two-deep” principle—the requirement that at least two adults always be present when interacting with children. It also covers quite a few definitions of different forms of abuse.
Whether you’ve gone through the training yourself or this is the first you are hearing of it, here are a few top takeaways.
1. It is a “solemn” responsibility to make sure children are protected from abuse.
In the training, it explains that we have a “solemn” responsibility to protect children. It is serious and important to act if you know or suspect abuse.
The guidelines for protecting children taught in the training are not difficult, but they may take practice to remember and apply. For example, we may be used to asking neighbors and friends to drive our kids to or from activities. But when participating in Church activities, we need to remember that an adult and a child should not drive alone in a car together. In addition, ward leaders should keep parents in the loop as much as possible about what is going on at activities so that teachers and parents can work together to make sure that uplifting and safe environments are being provided for each child.
As the training emphasizes, children deserve to feel loved and safe at Church activities—after all, that is the purpose of these activities. One of the ways we can ensure that is by striving to never place children or youth in a situation that could be compromising or that could make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
2. The training is not limited to sexual abuse.
When we hear the word “abuse,” it can be easy to jump straight to one of the most-discussed forms—sexual abuse. However, a more complete definition is “the mistreatment or neglect of others (such as a child or spouse, the elderly, or the disabled) in a way that causes physical, emotional, or sexual harm.” This clearly includes and reaches beyond sexual abuse. Addressing everything from youth-to-youth abuse and bullying to neglect and dating abuse, the training provides several specific scenarios covering a variety of situations that allow you to practice applying what you’ve learned. It also provides professional definitions of the many different kinds of abuse.
I personally appreciated the attention given to a variety of forms of abuse because my ward’s Primary leaders recently needed to utilize that part of the training. When we learned that one of our Primary children was being teased and called names, the president and her counselors quickly took action, talking to parents of all the children involved. Singing time seating arrangements for the entire Primary were also rearranged to help prevent the bullying from occurring again.
3. Primary leaders aren’t the only ones required to complete this training.
Those required to participate in the training include stake and district presidencies, bishoprics, and branch presidencies; high councilors; stake, district, ward, and branch Primary, Young Men, Young Women, 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 Men, and Young Women organizations; and teachers of youth Sunday School and seminary classes. The training is to be repeated every three years as a long as a member holds one of these callings.
Parents are also encouraged to complete the training, helping them understand important abuse prevention principles in situations ranging from teaching Primary on Sunday to overnight youth camps and offering rides. What I love about this list is that it sets up a majority of the ward to work together in a concerted effort to prevent abuse.
4. The training is always available to everyone.
Just like many other life-saving trainings, a required refresher of this training is important and keeps the weight of this matter top of mind. However, as long as you have a Church account, you can sign in and take the training whenever you like, so it’s available to all parents, to ward members not working with children and youth, and to anyone who just wants a refresher. When you complete it, the training is recorded through your membership record number, and you will be sent a confirmation that you finished it.
5. The principles in this program are important outside Church settings as well.
Church activities aren’t the only place that we need to be aware of abuse. As a parent and a Primary leader, I have found that the tips and principles found in the training are very relevant in the world outside Church settings. By learning to prevent, spot, and address abuse in a Church setting, you can do the same wherever you are—working in a school, coaching kids sports, or as a parent.
To me, the purpose of this training is summed up in the poem by Joseph Malins, “The Ambulance Down in the Valley.” In the poem, there is a dangerous cliff that many people like to climb on but which many fall off of into the valley below. The townspeople decide that instead of building a fence to keep people away from the edge, they will invest in an ambulance to pick up all the people who fall into the valley. The poem ends with an important point: We need to spend just as much effort in preventing tragedy as we do helping people recover from it.
The Church has taken steps to help those who are experiencing abuse, but they are also taking steps to try and help prevent it in the first place. I think this training is an important step toward uniting parents, leaders, and teachers in a common cause to recognize and eradicate all types of abuse.
We do have a solemn responsibility to do everything we can to protect children and youth from abuse and help those who have already experienced it—we need both the fence and the ambulance to protect the precious children of God around us.
▶ For more resources, or to read more about the Church’s position on abuse, check out the page about abuse on ChurchofJesusChrist.org.