All diocesan personnel complete training every year
Story by Reagan Scott
LINCOLN (SNR) - This summer marked a big change in requirements for Safe Environment training in the Diocese of Lincoln.
As of July 1, all diocesan personnel 18 years or older whose duties involve contact with children are required to complete Safe Environment training once a year, and background checks every five years.
Safe Environment training outlines safe practices for dealing with youth, and requires trainees to watch videos on the safe protocol for interacting with children. The training also outlines warning signs to be looking for so that anything concerning can be identified and reported. The training consists of watching a series of online videos produced by Catholic Mutual Group.
“It’s for the safety of our kids that the decision was made for diocesan personnel to refresh their training yearly,” Jeff Hohlen, the safe environment coordinator for the diocese said.
Hohlen was hired to be the diocese’s Safe Environment Coordinator in January. Married with seven kids, Hohlen brings 14 years of experience with the University of Nebraska- Lincoln Police Department to the role.
For seven of the years he was with the UNL police department, Hohlen was the sergeant in charge of the Threat Assessment Program, which required him to check into, and track, any behaviors that were concerning.
“I believe that this position is a good fit with my background and where we want to get the diocese,” Hohlen said.
Hohlen was part of the group that revised the new Safe Environment policy, which was promulgated April 2 and effective July 1. In that revised policy, Bishop James Conley made the decision to require annual certification renewal.
Hohlen said the Diocese of Lincoln is not alone in its annual certification requirement. Safe Environment coordinators throughout the country are in frequent dialogue with one another regarding best practices in certification renewal. Hohlen wants to be clear about the reason for Safe Environment certification.
“Safe Environment training is not us saying ‘you’re a predator,’” Hohlen said. “It’s us saying ‘we need your help in keeping our kids safe.’”
For Hohlen, the short- and long-term goals for this change are the same.
“My goal is to see a reduction in concerning behaviors and crimes against our youth. And it’s not only our youth but vulnerable adults as well. I’m not just looking at keeping kids safe. I’m looking at keeping everyone safe,” Hohlen said.
On a daily basis, Hohlen’s position requires him to ensure that all required diocesan personnel receive Safe Environment training and he facilitates the background check process. He provides communication and training on Safe Environment programs and policies to local Safe Environment coordinators, pastors, principals, and other diocesan personnel.
In addition, he provides information to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in their annual audit of the diocese in its compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Recently Hohlen has spent a lot of time answering questions about the Safe Environment training online platform and will start visiting sites to make sure they are in compliance with these new policies.
As a Lutheran, Hohlen said that he comes into this position with a neutral, objective, and open outlook that allows him to base his decisions on the information and facts that are given to him.
Hohlen said that religious background doesn’t factor into how he does his job, because crimes against youth and vulnerable adults can happen anywhere.
“Sadly, child sexual abuse occurs in all of society: schools, churches and in families. We live in a fallen world, and we can’t stop all abuse, but we can take reasonable, proactive measures to create a culture of vigilance in the protection of youth for the Diocese of Lincoln.” Hohlen said.
Hohlen says that his role boils down to one, simple thing.
He said, “My role is to make the Lincoln Diocese as safe as possible.”