July 5, 2019
It is clear that actual or suspected abuses of minors is required by Texas law to be reported to Child Protective Services and local law enforcement, and then to the Diocese of Fort Worth through the Diocese’s Confidential Notice of Concern Form, available on fwdioc.org/report-abuse-concern.
Through our use of the VIRTUS program, we also specifically communicate that questionable actions, conduct, or speech that is neither abusive nor creates a direct suspicion of abuse should also be brought to the attention of the Director of Safe Environment and parish and/or school pastors and principals.
Programs such as those designed to prevent child sexual abuse have also proven successful in addressing other issues such as drug use, bullying, and suicide prevention. That knowledge empowers each of us to be a vessel of God’s grace to minister to the needs of others — and provides us with the tools to be able to communicate concerns.
The use of the Confidential Notice of Concern Form is for the communication of not only concerns regarding child sexual abuse, but also for other violations of diocesan policy, including exploitation and harassment, and for concerns about the physical, mental, and emotional welfare of children and youth in our ministries and Catholic schools. Thanks to the care, attentiveness, and willingness of teachers, staff, clergy, and students themselves, many incidents of self-harm, depression, hopelessness, and parental neglect or abuse are brought to light. Referrals made to qualified professionals will help those children and their families.
A recent article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram focused attention on the prevalence of suicide, attempted suicide, and thoughts of suicide (“suicidal ideation”) among youth. In his April 29 article, Domingo Ramirez Jr. wrote:
“Nearly one in eight Texas high school students attempted suicide in 2017 — 12.3 percent compared to the national average of 7.4 percent, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The attempted suicide rate for Fort Worth students was 10.6 percent. The statistics are from the Texas High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2017. The question asked students if they had attempted suicide one or more times in the 12 months prior to the survey. The percentage of Texas students who said they had increased from 8.4 in 2007.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the trend likewise increased nationally in 2017. High school students in public and private schools who seriously considered attempting suicide increased from 14.5 percent to 17.2 percent. Suicide was the third leading cause of death among all persons aged 10-24 years of age at 17 percent, following motor vehicle crashes (22 percent) and other unintentional injuries (20 percent).
The factors that can lead students in high school or middle school to consider suicide can include bullying and cyberbullying, use of social media, not being “popular,” peer pressure, lack of self-esteem, lack of support from friends, family, or school, and experiencing traumatic events (including the use of drugs or alcohol or being in an environment where there is domestic violence or the abuse of drugs or alcohol).
Just as we stress the importance of caring adults talking to, listening to, and observing children to be alert to signs of possible problems related to child sexual abuse, parents should talk to their children if they notice warning signs such as feelings of hopelessness, withdrawal or isolation, loss of appetite, or loss of interest in activities, and seek help. These are some of the same factors and signs that can result in a child being more susceptible to the grooming techniques of sexual predators.
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Richard Mathews is Director of Safe Environment for the Diocese of Fort Worth. A former prosecuting attorney, he also served as the General Counsel for the Boy Scouts of America and for Trail Life USA.
It is clear that actual or suspected abuses of minors is required by Texas law to be reported to Child Protective Services and local law enforcement, and then to the Diocese of Fort Worth through the Diocese’s Confidential Notice of Concern Form.