Working to Assure Safe Diocesan Environments
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
March 12, 2020
ROCKFORD—Bunches of blue and silver pinwheels cover one side of Heather Dunaway’s cubicle — an upcoming, tangible reminder for the parish and school staffs of the Diocese of Rockford that April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. 
 
There are also other months commemorating safety and awareness coming up too, Dunaway says, all of them are efforts to raise understanding of protecting the preciousness of children and youth.
 
Since Jan. 6, Dunaway has served as the diocesan Safe Environment coordinator. As such, Dunaway coordinates the Virtus adult training program, “Protecting God’s Children” online and in-person. She is further developing a database for the children’s safe environment training programs for grades pre-k to 12, and she also oversees mandated reporter training for employees.
 
Before this full-time position was established, employees at the diocesan Education Office were implementing the safe environment program in addition to their regular responsibilities.  
 
As a full-time employee, Dunaway will be able to update and develop new programs and procedures and stay current with the evolving methods of best ensuring the safety of children and youth.
 
The Safe Environment program was created in the Rockford Diocese following the U.S. bishops’ historic meeting in 2002 to acknowledge and address the issue of sexual abuse of minors by priests and others within the Church. 
 
Providing resources, trainings, education of adults and children and background check screenings of clergy, seminarians, employees and volunteers are ways the Diocese helps both adults and children prevent, detect, and report suspicious or inappropriate conduct. 
 
Dunaway is making use of many forms of communication — from modern web-based documentation to something as old fashioned as the pinwheels mentioned above — to raise awareness and enable parishes, schools, and Diocesan entities to do what they need to do to be in compliance with the requirements of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.  
 
Parishes and schools can look forward to receiving from Dunaway the pinwheel resources and instructions for how to bring further awareness of child safety to our places of worship or learning.
 
She sees her work as “keeping everybody informed and up to date on any new changes from the USCCB or the State of Illinois.” 
 
She has “been all over the diocese” to meet people, including meetings for principals, for educational leaders and, soon, parish business managers. She recently provided mandated reporter training for some 60 Catholic Charities staff. 
 
She has revamped the Safe Environment web page, and says there is “lots more to come” there, including plans to make videos to walk staff through procedures on all they have to do and, per that website, provide “Anti-Sexual Harassment Training — coming soon.” 
 
Dunaway has updated the What to do Guidelines, created by the diocese in 2003, to list current contact information for reporting abuse. She will distribute them at the diocese’s business managers’ meeting and Educational Leaders Retreat to take back to their parishes and schools.
 
Dunaway continues to serve part-time at St. Anthony Parish as the director of religious education. That parish connection and working with parents, students, staff and volunteers, she says, is helpful for her new position. 
 
She’s seen the challenges that can happen when those who are in what she calls “the front lines” at a parish work to complete the compliance trainings and safe environment paperwork for employees and volunteers.
 
Dunaway says she wants “to help be a bridge” between parishes, schools and the diocese.
 
This newly-full-time position follows her handful of years of part-time work as the administrative assistant to one of the diocesan regional directors of religious education in addition to being her parish’s DRE.
 
Dunaway had received her cosmetology license just six  months before she was hired at her parish. That job “showed me I had more of a passion (for the Church) and how much I enjoyed working for the Church,” she says.
 
This new position “gives me a way to help the people on the front lines understand why it is important to be in compliance with our safe environment policy and make it a less frustrating task.
 
“Ultimately, in the end, we’re all just working to protect all of God’s children! I am so grateful and blessed to be given this opportunity to work with so many wonderful people and make the Diocese of Rockford a safe place for all of God’s Children!”