| By Abby Turner | Guest Columnist

Protecting God’s children in the Diocese of Austin

The diocesan Ethics and Integrity in Ministry Office oversees safe environment programs for children and adults within the Diocese of Austin. While safe environment programs focus on the prevention of sexual abuse, and these programs are designed to help children and adults identify, report and prevent all types of abuse.

These programs are produced through VIRTUS.org. Empowering God’s Children (EGC) teaches children about boundaries and safety rules. Protecting God’s Children teaches adults about how to identify and report abusive and inappropriate behavior.

Every year, the EIM Office, which was created in 2001, is audited by StoneBridge Business Partners, an outside audit firm hired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The firm examines our training reports, background check reports, children’s program numbers, and allegations of abuse by clergy members from that past audit year. The Diocese of Austin has been deemed compliant every year based on the annual audit. This audit aids the EIM Office in detecting gaps and fixing problems that may arise so that we are best equipped to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse.

Last September StoneBridge conducted an in-person audit and examined our work from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2023. The auditors looked at how well we were complying with the articles set forth in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. They also completed five on-site audits of parishes and schools around the diocese.

The EIM Office prepared for over six months to complete this audit. We found proof of compliance with the charter for that three-year span and that evidence was then presented to the auditors. In the end, the Diocese of Austin was found to be compliant with the articles of the charter.

The office is now looking toward the 2026 in-person audit. We are committed to broadening our ability to educate and protect those within our diocese and beyond. One of our major goals is to increase participation in the Empowering God’s Children program, which was encouraged by the StoneBridge auditor who visited in September. The goal of this program is to give children the tools to advocate for their safety when adults are not around to do so. Information and instructions for this program are found at www.austindiocese.org/Empowering-Gods-Children.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. As an involved member in your community, please be aware of the signs of abuse. You may very well be the first person to notice a child or vulnerable adult who is showing signs of abuse. The more people who are taught to spot and empowered to report abusive, inappropriate, or unsafe behavior, the safer children and vulnerable adults will be within our diocese.

For information on reporting abuse go to www.austindiocese.org/report-abuse.

For general EIM instructions go to www.austindiocese.org/eim-instructions.

For our policies and procedures go to www.austindiocese.org/eim-policies.

For resources go to www.austindiocese.org/resources-information.

Abby Turner is director of Ethics and Integrity in Ministry for the Diocese of Austin. She studied allied health and psychology at Texas A&M University. Email her at eim@austindiocese.org.

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