Gabriel House Project: On the front lines of Diaper Need  

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Did you know that one in three households struggle with diaper need? That three out of five parents struggling with diaper need miss work or school for lacking enough diapers required for childcare? Or that diapers are a basic need for babies, as important as food or housing? That lack of diapers is a strong cause of depression for a new mother, even more than lacking sufficient food for her family? Or that some families desperately attempt to re-use diapers, causing infections and other health problems?  Personally, these facts were shocking when I first learned them; and I have found them all to be true in the faces and stories of the families that we serve at the Gabriel Houses.

Most of the families we serve are immigrants and refugees. Some are homeless. Some are middle-class but living paycheck to paycheck due to high costs of living. Most are families with both parents involved; some are single parents, some are grandparents raising their grandchildren. In particular, we see many large families, who need diapers for multiple babies at once. Surprisingly, there is no government assistance resource available for diapers. Cloth diapers have become less of an option in recent years, as both apartment complexes and laundromats have banned washing them in their machines.  That is where organizations like ours are critical.

The Gabriel House Project is a ministry of Catholic Charities that provides diapers and other baby supplies to expectant mothers and families of young children. We also provide family education programming at 13 locations across the Archdiocese of Denver. Most of our sites are in the Denver metro area, though we also serve on the Western Slope, Eastern Plains, and up north in Ft. Collins. Uniquely approachable, we don’t require IDs or other documents, which makes us accessible to undocumented populations. We try to care for those who come seeking assistance in a relational way, doing a personalized intake, assessing broader needs beyond what we can offer, and facilitating an encounter between volunteers and clients. This changes lives on both sides of the interaction.

A special aspect of the program, that we value highly, is that we are housed in parishes, and it is a blessing to be there. Prior to coming to Catholic Charities, I was in parish/diocesan ministry for 8 years, and something that struck me was that oftentimes a person in need calls a parish before anything else. When I answered the phones, I frequently fielded calls requesting assistance and realized two things — one that those in need are present among us, right in our pews, and two, that, despite the negative publicity the Catholic Church often receives, it seems we are still the speed-dial for emergency help, even for those not involved in a church!  What attracted me to Gabriel House was the fact that this ministry forms a bridge between the parishes, who are on the front lines, and Catholic Charities’ network of resources, which we call our “continuum of care.” It is a blessing to be there; we find the pastors and their communities very supportive to our outreach. At times, where the family expresses an interest, we have been able to assist with integrating them into the faith community that the parish offers. We are grateful to be able to mutually enrich each other’s mission.

That mission is very broad! We serve 14,000 families per year and have distributed 350,000 diapers annually. With increasing need across communities, we expect those number to increase significantly over the next couple years.  All of this activity is donation-dependent; and so, therefore, I’d like to conclude with a call to action enlisting your help! Sept. 23 – 29 is National Diaper Need Awareness Week, and we kick off our fall diaper drives during that time through mid-November.  To learn more about how you can help the Gabriel Houses, and our other Catholic Charities ministries that provide diapers, please go to ccdenver.org/diaper-drive.

Kalynn Webster is the Director of the Gabriel House Project ministry of Catholic Charities of Denver. If you would like to learn more about the program, or participate in the Fall Diaper Drive, please email kwebster@ccdenver.org or call 720-799-9307

COMING UP: Q&A: How the Office of Child and Youth Protection helps keep kids safe

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Protecting kids should be one of the highest priorities of all youth-serving institutions and organizations. In 2002, following the breakout of a terrible scandal within the Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops convened to create the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, more commonly known as the Dallas Charter. To learn more about the Dallas Charter, check out this post.

One of the fruits of the Dallas Charter was the requirement that all dioceses in the U.S. create an office specifically for keeping kids safe. In the Archdiocese of Denver, we have the Office of Child and Youth Protection, which has been a key part of our diocese since shortly after the Dallas Charter was implemented. Headed by Christi Sullivan, who has a background in certified child protection training and has worked in the office for eight years, the Office of Child and Youth Protection has trained over 70,000 adults to recognize and report child abuse since 2002, and trains 20,000 to 25,000 kids on how to keep themselves safe each year.

We sat down with Christi to get a better idea of what she and her office do to make sure that the Church is among the safest places possible for children and youth.

Denver Catholic: What is the function of the Office of Child and Youth Protection?

Christi Sullivan: We train adults, children and adolescents to recognize and report possible abuse and neglect. We train between four and five thousand adults every year. In 2003, the first round of adult classes trained approximately 20,000 people. Since then, we have trained 4,000-5,000 adults every year.

Additionally, we train all the facilitators that provide safe environment training for the adults. I have roughly 250 facilitators in the diocese. We supply the curriculum that’s been promulgated by our archbishop and we also train parish staff and administer and maintain a database of 80,000 adults that have been trained since 2003. We also provide support and guidance for the 160+ entities and organizations in the diocese that work diligently to ensure they are safe environment compliant. We are available if they have questions or concerns about curriculum, reporting, background screening, the Code of Conduct or any concern regarding child safety.

DC: What is the process like if somebody has an allegation of abuse?

CS: If somebody has a suspicion of abuse or neglect with a child, at-risk-adult or elder, obviously they contact the authorities immediately. If the person is in imminent danger, they call 911. If it’s not an imminent danger situation, then they need to call 844-CO-4-KIDS for children or the county adult protective services office.

DC: How does your office intervene and assist?

CS: If they’re talking to me, it’s probably potentially a concern with somebody either who’s an employee or volunteer within the archdiocese. So, once the report to the authorities is made, we ask the report is made to us. Then we would follow up, when appropriate, when the authorities have finished their investigation and then we follow through with an investigation and take appropriate action, up to and including termination.
Also, Jim Langley is our victim assistance coordinator. If there’s anybody that just needs to speak to any kind of abuse or neglect situation, he’s available. St. Raphael’s Counseling through Catholic Charities is also available to help people.

DC: What is the process for somebody who wants to be safe environment trained?

CS: Anybody can go to a safe environment training anywhere in the archdiocese — they don’t have to be Catholic. And those are listed on my website, ArchDen.org/child-protection under “Find a Class”. I think right now we have about 20 classes in the next 30 days.

DC: Tell me about the curriculum you use.

CS: We’re going to soon have a new curriculum that’s more updated and current. The curriculum we have now is not irrelevant, the information is still incredibly relevant — Pedophiles have not changed their modus operandi. But the new curriculum is going to expand on that and include things like Internet safety, bullying, suicide awareness and other safety areas of concern for families, parents, mentors and ministries. It will also provide training for reporting at-risk-adult and elder abuse and neglect.

DC: Is this curriculum required in public schools?

CS: Safe environment training is not required in public schools in Colorado. Curriculum is available to public schools and has been for about three years now, but to my knowledge, the only school district that’s picked it up is Adams 12. Aurora public schools just started training teachers this year with their own custom curriculum, but they are not including parents and kids yet as they are still developing curricula for those groups.

DC: So this has been a norm in the Catholic Church and Catholic schools for 17 years.
CS: Yes.

DC: And for all of the other schools in the state, it’s not even required.

CS: No it is not. In 2015, Colorado introduced SB 15-020, a version of what is commonly known as Erin’s Law. The full version of the law was not passed as introduced, which would have required safe environment training for students, teachers and parents. After committee hearings, the final version of the law allowed for a new position of a Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Specialist at the Colorado School Safety Resource Center and a reference booklet listing available curricula has been published, but the version of the law that passed does not require school districts and charter schools to include safe environment curriculum.

To learn more about the Office of Child and Youth Protection and attend a Safe Environment Training, visit archden.org/child-protection.