For many years now we have been celebrating Safeguarding Sunday in September. Occasionally it has coincided with Father’s Day which presented a few challenges in terms of doing justice to both but this reminds us of the unique role of both fathers and mothers in keeping children safe, especially during this time of lockdown when the physical and emotional health of all of us may be at risk.
The theme of Safeguarding Month this year - ‘Participation of Children and Young People in Catholic Communities’ – broadens the focus beyond the issue of sexual abuse and is in fact an affirmation of all family life. Our response to the pandemic requires us to be proactive in keeping our children safe in the family and in their ongoing school learning, both impacted significantly by the pandemic. The Family is the primary Catholic Community for children and their parents – the Church in the Home… the first place where children and young people ‘participate’.
Parents know best what their children need. Even though children cope remarkably well, we need to be conscious of their present challenges - fear, anxiety and depression, sickness, stresses of family life, sense of loss, grief of separation from other family and friends, social isolation from peers and the social interactions that are part of school life. The inability to participate in the usual ‘rites of passage’ during and at the end of the year is a significant gap, along with Parish and school family Masses at St Cecilia’s and St Kieran’s.
Each family is unique and parents respond to the circumstances of the individual child who may need reassurance in the following areas - confidence, hope, faith, courage, love, flexibility, endurance, a sense of fun and humour, the freedom to be honest in sharing one’s feelings, and personal and family prayer. Many families find the live-streamed Sunday Eucharist an important link with the Community.
During these long months I have become very aware of the crucial support role being played by our schools, both parish and government, and especially our teachers. Tailoring learning activities to different year groups is an immense challenge and many are working long hours to meet the demands of home based learning. In addition, both our teachers and school leaders are exercising a genuine pastoral care role in relation to children and their families through regular personal contact.
Lest we become too preoccupied with our own problems, it is important for us to reach out to others in need, including those in our own families and local neighbourhood. Parishioners in our aged care facilities and many who are isolated from their families are the beneficiaries of the thoughtfulness of children and their families who send messages of goodwill, make phone calls, drop off food or other gifts. In its own way, this outreach reinforces an attitude of generosity and appreciation of goodness that strengthens the fabric of a society where children are kept safe.