To mark National Child Protection Week, the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Safeguarding and Ministerial Integrity Office has released a series of resources aimed at helping children and teenagers feel safe and to strengthen their mental and spiritual wellbeing under the added pressures of the current COVID-19 lockdown.
For the past five years, the Safeguarding Office has been celebrating Child Protection Week, this year from 6-12 September, by working alongside children and young people to develop age-appropriate resources to promote important messages around child protection.
This year, a ‘Feeling Safe’ activity book for children aged between 3-12 years and a Care/Wellbeing booklet for young people aged 13-17 years are focused very much on helping young people through the additional emotional stress of the COVID pandemic.
Urgent to act for young
In a video message to mark the launch of National Child Protection Week, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said it was more critical than ever to support children and young people through these challenging times.
“Sadly our present COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by growing numbers of children and young adults suffering mental health challenges. They feel insecure and lonely, isolated from their peers, uncertain about their future”, Archbishop Fisher explained.
“At the same time, many are spending more time online where they’re more vulnerable to cyber-bullying and other abuse by online predators. That is why it’s so important for us to do all we can to ensure our children can thrive in safe environments free from abuse of any kind and where they can grow in their love for Christ and His Church”.
“National Child Protection Week is an important reminder of the obligation we have to care and nurture our children so our schools, parishes and other church environments are safe and welcoming for everyone”, he added.
The Feeling Safe Activity Book has been designed for children from 3-12 years to help them explore and understand what emotions and feelings are. It also features helpful exercises guiding children around safe and unsafe situations, who the Trusted Adults are in their life and where they can go for support. The resource was developed through working alongside children from over 20 parishes across the Archdiocese and it features design work by talented graphic designer Mathew De Sousa who produces the popular cartoon series on the lives of the saints, Beating Around the Burning Bush.
Young people through Sydney Catholic Youth also worked with the Safeguarding Office to develop a Care/Wellbeing Booklet for teenagers aged from 13-17. The resource features practical advice to help teenagers navigate the spiritual, physical and mental challenges of adolescence in a faith-filled and supportive way.
Input from children
This includes common relaxation techniques, how to establish a healthy sleeping routine, exercising and eating well and communicating personal boundaries.
Both resources feature scripture quotes and inspirational quotes and short stories from saints with a direct message for children and young people including St Nicholas of Myra, St Therese of Lisieux, St Aloysius of Gonzaga and Blessed Giorgio Frassati.
The Director of the Safeguarding and Ministerial Integrity Office, Ms Karen Larkman said the resources were all developed by children, which is one of their greatest strengths.
“It’s not about telling children what they need or how they feel or what the resources should look like. It’s asking them how do they feel, what do they need and what’s the best way to do that. So it’s a genuine collaboration with children and teenagers”, she said.
“One of the reasons we focused this year on emotions and feelings was because of COVID-19 and just how vulnerable that’s made children. In the case of young children, it’s an opportunity for them to sit down with their parents or carers, whether in groups or individually to think about their emotions and how their children are feeling in these challenging times”.
The release of the resources comes ahead of Safeguarding Sunday on 12 September when the Catholic Church in Australia acknowledges the immense damage caused by the sexual abuse of children, including by priests, religious and laypeople within Catholic contexts.
Strengthening safe environments
In so doing, the Church commits itself to practices and protocols that create and maintain safe environments for all people, especially children and other people who are at risk.
Archbishop Fisher said all adults have a special responsibility to protect young people in our Church.
“Together we can nurture safe and supportive environments so that our parishes, schools and homes can be beacons of Christ’s hope and care for all”.
The resources are available to download on the Safeguarding page of the Archdiocese of Sydney website.