Encouraging news has continued to come out of ISKCON’s new North American Child Protection Office.
After a March 2011 meeting of North American GBC members and temple presidents, the regional office was established in Alachua, Florida in January 2012 to fill an important need and cement child protection as a priority in ISKCON.
The office is run by Lilasuka Dasi, who has worked in what she calls child protection seva (or ‘service’) since 2004. She has acted as a Community Educator with the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, counseled families and individuals, and given Safe Touch presentations in public schools and devotee communities.
Working hard since her appointment to increase the CPO’s efficiency, Lilasuka has just moved the CPO into a beautiful new office space at the devotee-owned Alachua Sanctuary on US Highway 441.
The office was facilated by the generosity of many devotees, and Lilasuka says that having the dedicated space has produced focused meetings and good results.
“I’m really grateful that this has come about,” she says.
As well as a new office space, the CPO has just been blessed with a new staff member, full-time licensed clinical social worker Uttara Dasi.
A group exercise during a community awareness presentation in Hillsborough, North Carolina, USA
Uttara will be traveling to ISKCON temples around North America offering child protection training for local management and Child Protection Team members, as well as Safe Touch presentations for children themselves.
She has already travelled to temples in New Jersey, St. Louis and Boston on her weekends off from work.
Her efforts complement those of Lilasuka, who also travels around North America offering training, and has been to Dallas, Atlanta, and Gainseville, Florida so far this year.
“We do management training on location,” she says. “We go over the ISKCON CPO guidelines. We go over reporting concerns of abuse in detail. We talk about screening residents, volunteers and employees. And we go over basic management responsibilities—what it means to be an active Child Protection Team member.”
Lilasuka also offers community awareness presentations for general members of each community.
“It’s an introduction to identifying child abuse, prevention, and response, and the important role that the temple and community plays,” she says. “It offers basic information about management and child protection team members, and there’s time for questions and answers and some role playing.”
Finally, Lilasuka offers Safe Touch, an entertaining personal safety program for children that’s age appropriate.
“It gives the child the message that their place of worship is a caring, safe place, and that if there is a concern in their life, they know there are people they can come to,” she says.
Since launching the North American CPO, Lilasuka and other staff members have visited 18 out of the 55 or so ISKCON centers in the US and Canada. That’s a lot of temples, but of course there are a lot more to visit. Lilasuka says that finding a good time when everyone is able to attend can be a challenge, but she’s determined to eventually offer her training at all 55 centers, whether in person or—if they can’t afford her travel expenses—through Skype.
Meanwhile in another effort to create awareness, the North American CPO has produced a brochure which it is making available for all temples to print out and display in a prominent place.
The brochure contains basic information that’s important for every adult to know, including facts and statistics; types of child abuse and neglect; how to respond if someone tells you they have been abused; how to increase child protection in your temple or community; and policies that encourage child safety.
“We’re hoping that by having the brochure, we can reach a lot more devotees and let them know that this office exists,” Lilasuka says. “And we can empower them with information that they would need if they were faced with a concern of child abuse.”
The brochure also includes both the phone number for the ISKCON North American Child Protection Office, and the number for the national (non-ISKCON) child abuse hotline.
“The reality is that child abuse usually happens by someone the child knows and trusts,” says Lilasuka. “And it’s also a fact that most child abuse isn’t known about until perhaps decades after it has occurred. So in order for that to change, we need more community members that know what to do. This is an attempt to increase awareness and reporting.”
Next, this fall, the North American CPO plans to offer training for devotees wishing to do some Child Protection Seva as a review panel member with the CPO.
“Review panel members are those devotees that look at the information in a case where there has been an allegation of abuse,” Lilasuka says.
The CPO is also looking for translators for its community awareness presentations. So far, it has done one in Spanish, and one in Bengali. Lilasuka hopes to enlist more translators for different languages, to further broaden the congregation she can reach.
All in all, she says, child protection requires not just one office with a couple of devotees, but the whole community. And she hopes that all devotees will see it as an extremely important service, in which their participation is critical.
“The safety of children affects everybody,” she says. “We want to prevent future incidents through awareness and preparedness. And we want devotees to know that as adults, our choices of who we let into our children’s lives can have long term effects.”
As ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada wrote in a 1972 letter, “These children are given to us by Krishna, they are Vaisnavas and we must be very careful to protect them. These are not ordinary children, they are Vaikuntha children, and we are very fortunate we can give them chance to advance further in Krishna consciousness. That is very great responsibility, do not neglect it or be confused. Your duty is very clear.”
“My hope is that as a community we can create an environment where the children are safe, where they feel cared for and valued,” Lilasuka says. “An environment that encourages them and guides them to be the most amazing individuals they can be.”
To view the North American Child Protection Office brochure, and to print it for your temple, please click here: http://www.safetemple.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Brochure-NACPO.pdf
For resources and more information about the CPO, please visit http://www.safetemple.org/
If you would like to apply for training to be a review panel member for the CPO, please contact Lilasuka at firstname.lastname@example.org.[ child-protection ] [ protection ]