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My name is Alyssa Anten and I'm the summer student intern here at Safe Church Ministry. There are many ways that Safe Church Ministry does the good and challenging work of ensuring that our faith communities are places of safety and compassion. But the work that stands out to me is the Circle of Grace program.

Circle of Grace is a program for children and youth to know themselves and their surroundings. It resonates with the previous work I have done with children and families both in and outside of the church. It speaks to my heart’s deepest desire to protect our most vulnerable and give children the childhood they deserve — free from fear and turmoil. It gives children and youth the language to express themselves and therefore reduce their chances of being harmed or hurt against their will.

Prior to coming to Safe Church, I worked in the foster care system with children for whom this intervention was too late. I worked closely with both the children and the parents to reconcile the harm that was done, and it was a deeply painful experience. And all too often, it was not successful. My personal journey has been impacted by the experience of working in child welfare, and I began to question why I could not keep children from pain. I frequently wondered how these stories of abuse could be true, and how no one stepped in sooner. I wondered what other systems and institutions charged with protecting children and youth failed to do their job. I even wondered at places I failed to empower children and youth and preserve their innocence.

What really became a trigger for me was when a family would come on my caseload who would describe themselves as people of faith, and yet their story contained tragic and horrific treatment of their children. I quickly learned that there is no stereotype for abuse. I could not put “people who abuse” in a box. The evil of abuse is pervasive. Learning that was crushing for me.

After that experience, I realized that I could not participate in the process of protecting children at the point where it was too late. I wanted to get ahead of abuse, and stop it before it happened. Therefore I found myself looking into education and prevention programs which brought me to Safe Church.

The Circle of Grace program is exactly the type of education and prevention material that our faith communities need to begin the process of protecting children. The Circle of Grace program gives children specific language to name their boundaries. It empowers children to say “no” when something challenges those boundaries, and that it will not result in them getting in trouble. It teaches children about unsafe situations without over indulging in the horrors of abuse. It simply helps children and youth articulate what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable, and helps them be their own advocates. It allows a partnership between adults and young people and helps us listen to each other. This seems like such a simple program, and that’s the beauty of it. It is simple, but so important in helping those of us charged with protecting children help children protect themselves.

After seeing the reality of abuse from the other side, I am promising to do everything in my power to never go back. I am committed to preventing abuse before it happens. The Circle of Grace program is an important first step for our faith communities to also make that commitment.

For more information, visit the Circle of Grace website.

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