Safeguarding

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

Many Vincentians are downright tenacious in their desire to serve both God and our friends in need. While this is usually a virtue, we must be careful, too. I am asked daily about how we can keep our members safe. Two otherwise incongruous subjects are at the forefront of member conversations; I share them with you.

First, we hear daily – if not more often – about changing requirements, requests and threats regarding COVID re-emergence and new variants. This leads Vincentians to ask how and when they can serve and “what is National requiring” in regard to staying safe. This question is usually about Home Visits, but more recently relates as well to our upcoming National Assembly.

As Vincentians per our Rule, we follow the law. If local authorities require you to stay home, wear a mask, or swing a chicken over your head to ward off a virus, do so. If your Bishop asks his local Catholics to take specific precautions, we strongly recommend that the Society follow this direction, too. National Council will not have guidance that overrules local Church or government decisions. While we all want to get back to normal Home Visits that are conducted where our neighbors live, we need to do so safely even if – for now in some places – this means still conducting visits temporarily by phone.

As for National Assembly, we stay in touch with the Marriott where the meeting will be held next month, and they stay in compliance with local government and industry standards. The Society will comply with the resulting hotel requirements. This has the potential to change every day, so we can’t give you direction today. Anyone registered for the meeting will be sent email information before we travel to Houston.  I can tell you that the Society on its own will not require that everyone be vaccinated, nor will we (unless required by law) ask for proof of vaccination. We trust our members to do the right things. If anyone wants to wear a mask even if not required, you are certainly welcome to do so.

The National Assembly for the most part will not be conducted virtually online because of the large expense. The National Business Meeting on Saturday is the exception, and our National Council Members can either send a live-person proxy for voting or vote electronically during the meeting. Many other general sessions and workshops will be recorded for your viewing and sharing in days or weeks later on our website.

We are not taking these actions to ask you to be afraid to come! In fact, we really want you to join us after our meeting last year needed to go virtual, and we look forward to a grand reunion! We will, though, do everything we can to help you be safe at our meeting. I am writing this column while on an airplane, and it seems reasonable to expect we will be wearing masks on planes and in airports for at least another month. With changing rules everywhere, I always keep a mask in my pocket!

The other questions about member safety are in relation to our pending Safeguarding policy. This will be considered by the National Council at the aforementioned National Assembly Business Meeting. While the safeguarding focus is primarily and deservedly on the people we serve, we should consider as well the potential for safeguarding among and for our members. Vincentians, and anyone, can be victims. Further, we have learned from schools, volunteer organizations, and the Church that an organization’s members can be wrongfully, and even intentionally, accused of sexual abuse and other safeguarding violations. As our leaders discussed briefly in a national call this week, the Society is not immune. Yes, we have learned of accused abuse situations in our Society’s past. These remain possible today. The proposed Safeguarding policy recommends that every Council develop a local policy in accord with local laws and Church requirements of its parishioners. The focus is on those we will serve, but in doing the right things for those in need whom we love, we also protect our own members. The Rule’s requirement for Home Visits to be conducted in pairs, for example, wasn’t perhaps created with safeguarding in mind but this alone largely prevents both abuse situations and the accusation of abuse.

In our fervent desire to serve, let’s please not forget to take care of ourselves and our fellow Vincentians. Sometimes it feels like we have yet another requirement forced upon us every day, whether it be another report to complete, training, fingerprinting or some other action that delays our service and seems to accuse us of doing or even thinking of something unsafe or unsavory. Good people must take unnecessary precautions because bad people, and bad viruses, do exist. Let’s think of all this in the context of keeping those around us safe, and as part of our sacrificial service to God. Considering the alternatives, they are small sacrifices in order to do His work.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

07-15-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-15-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

There are some subjects that affect us all, even as Vincentians, and I wish we didn’t need to talk about them. This is one of them.

Sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults is very real. We have read about it in relation to some of our most respected institutions; in fact, the greater the organization, the more news it makes. But even though there is no such current news of abuse within the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, we must not assume that it couldn’t happen. Or even that it hasn’t. We know that many cases of abuse, wherever and whenever it happened, are not reported.

Our National Council will consider a national Safeguarding policy next month at National Assembly. This policy will ultimately affect every Vincentian, as well as many others with whom we serve.

Our international leadership recognized the potential for sexual abuse in the work and relationships of the Society because we serve in a multitude of cultures and legal environments. Our work puts us in daily contact with people who are vulnerable because of their financial, housing, family, or other situations which at times become quite desperate. This desperation can lead to others taking advantage of these neighbors in need. The International Council provided a framework from which every National Council, and then local Councils, can create policies and procedures under what globally is called Safeguarding.

Our national group of Executive Directors were already exploring safeguarding practices after seeing how other groups have suffered from the lack of precautions, leading to instances of abuse followed by news reports and lawsuits. Our nation’s Bishops were already requiring Diocesan and Parish safeguarding practices for clergy and parishioners, and even for others using Church properties for their activities. While all of the requirements were directed at the same problem, they often differ from one Diocese to another.

A National Safeguarding Task Force was organized by President Ralph Middlecamp under the leadership of Guadalupe Sosa. This group took the international policy as a framework for its work, and used lessons learned from the Executive Director research, to create a proposed national Safeguarding Policy.

I won’t try to go through all of the policy’s details here, but there are a few overarching points that all Vincentians should consider. First, the national policy is best considered as a set of recommended policies and practices to be included in your local policies. Your local Council policy should be in concert with your Diocesan and state/local law requirements. Any truly “national” policy would have unfairly created conflicts and/or added duplicated requirements for some Councils.

Second, the task force looked first at our Rule. The “two-person” requirement for Vincentian services has many benefits; one is that having two people present with those we serve by itself prevents all types of abusive situations and accusations.

Third, our national policy recognizes the need for protection not only for youth, but also for vulnerable adults however they be defined. In one sense, as noted above, anyone we serve may be considered socioeconomically vulnerable. The policy also seeks to protect our services providers. We want to maintain every Vincentian’s safety in our service environments, and to prevent unwarranted, false abuse accusations that we have seen damage other organizations.

In addition to all of the Vincentian resources and services we provide, first and foremost our friends in need deserve to feel safe and be safe with us. Many of us assume this because we are good people. The news around us, however, reminds us that we can’t take such safety for granted, and we need to spend special attention to keep everyone safe in all the different works and places where we operate.

With the national policy’s adoption, we will focus on providing you with sample local safeguarding policies and best practices. We are already gathering these resources from Vincentian and outside organizations to help you. First though, we need your support. A special webinar will be held next week just for our National Council Members and Executive Directors where we will review the proposed national Resolution and policy and answer questions.

In our recent strategic planning membership survey, Vincentians told us that they are currently required to comply with background checks and fingerprinting among other safeguarding practices instituted for Church volunteers. Expect a similar set of practices for your Vincentian activities now or in the near future. This may appear both inconvenient and perhaps even offensive to you because, again, you are a good person. As good people under God, I pray that all of us will take these steps as part of our deeper relationship with those we serve.  Their safety is a critical first step in our deeper love and support of all their needs.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

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