By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Cathy Morrison knows full well she stands on a solid foundation.
It is her job, as the new diocesan safe environment manager, to continue to build and, as necessary, to keep programs aimed at raising awareness and prevention of child sexual exploitation functioning at state-of-the-science efficiency.
“It’s critical in terms of making sure people have access to training and clarity as to what their actions should be,” said Morrison, who began her new job in November, succeeding career educator Mary Fran Horton who retired.
Morrison will bring a different set of skills — a set honed in the corporate world as a training consultant, with emphasis on marketing, for 14 years at Hallmark, followed by 10 years in her own firm.
“My focus is on organizational performance,” she said. And her passion is kids.
“I have been active for years in providing programs for youth, particularly in soccer as a coach and a board member of several leagues,” Morrison said. She still devotes time mentoring coaches in her hometown Lee’s Summit Soccer Association.
That passion for developing children to their potential while providing them with the safe learning environments to do so led her to put her name in the hopper when a friend forwarded to her the diocesan job description that oversees all “safe environment” awareness programs from elementary school age children enrolled in either Catholic schools or parish schools of religion, through adult church employees and volunteers.
Those programs, plus an ongoing Internet-based training, are divided in three parts:
• “Circle of Grace,” which teaches elementary school age children at age-appropriate levels what their rights are, that nobody can abuse those rights, and not to be ashamed to report to a trusted adult when any adult attempts to abuse them.
• “Called to Protect Our Youth,” the same type of training aimed at adolescents.
• “Protecting God’s Children,” the seminar and ongoing education component required of all adults who have contact with children, including employees and volunteers, that trains adults in being the eyes and ears to watch for predators and their specific “grooming” behaviors.
Morrison said she is well into evaluating and analyzing those programs and readily admits she likes what she has seen so far, not only in the curricula, but in the teachers and volunteers who serve as trainers.
But that doesn’t mean, she said, that she won’t stop looking for ways to make strong programs even stronger, and even adding to them.
In fact, she said, she will spearhead a series of new trainings for church workers to make certain that they know their obligations as “mandated reporters” under Missouri law.
“Right now my focus right now is on rolling out in January the mandated reporter training and making sure people can identify child pornography, child obscenity and grooming behaviors,” Morrison said.
That is a requirement of the court in the wake of the Father Shawn Ratigan scandal, but it is also a requirement that the diocese is more than willing to meet. Morrison said that commitment to protecting children was evident to her during her job interviews with the Child and Youth Protection Director Carrie Cooper, and she has become even more impressed by the commitment the more she is learning.
Morrison also said that a decade after the Catholic Church broke ground in “safe environment” training, other churches and some public school systems — including the Lee’s Summit School District — are beginning their own similar programs aimed at preventing through education and awareness a societal epidemic of child sexual abuse.
“My first priority is providing a safe environment for kids,” Morrison said. “My second priority is to make sure the people of the diocese know we have a great and holistic program. The deciding factors in which I will be successful is whether we have a safe environment and making the people of this diocese proud to be part of that.”
Part of her challenge, she said, is that the technological world continues to change rapidly, giving predators more access than ever to contact and groom future child victims through the online world.
“Just a few years ago, it was said that you could keep your children safe (from online predators) by keeping your (desktop) computer in an open and public space in your home so you could see what they were doing,” Morrison said.
“But kids now have iPads and Smartphones,” she said.
Morrison said she will be constantly looking to update training for both parents and students about ways to use safely online services including social media Web sites.
“Parents need to know how to keep their children safe in this rapidly changing techonolgical process,” Morrison said.
But changing what might be already working well to make it work better to meet changing challenges is what she does, Morrison said.
“I’m very good at taking a strategic look and seeing how we can be even more effective and amplified by making all the pieces work better together,” she said.
Bottom line for her: “Protecting children is important work,” Morrison said. “I feel called to do it.”