Six years after being established in response to the harrowing legacy of former teacher, scoutmaster and swim instructor William Sheehan, a local watchdog group continues to raise awareness and provide training to combat child sexual abuse, selectmen were told Tuesday night.
Delivering their annual report to selectmen, members of the town Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Committee said that 2019 was marked by a litany of accomplishments, fresh challenges and — not surprisingly — a handful of disappointments.
Foremost among the latter was the failure of House Bill #4852, originally filed as a home-rule petition to establish additional mandated reporters for the protection and care of children.
According to committee Chairman Robert Correia, Selectman Chris Mitchell, former school Superintendent Deborah Spinelli, police Lt. Richard Noonan all testified before the Joint Committee for Children and Families in support of the bill, to no avail.
But Correia pledged to continue fighting for passage of the bill in the upcoming legislative session and beyond, if necessary.
“Hope should not be lost,” he said. “The committee and legislature will work together to ensure this simple but needed change gets through.”
On the plus side, committee members were able to extend the footprint of the “Darkness to Light” child sexual abuse awareness curriculum.
Local organizations who received this vital training program included several daycare centers and Splitsville at Patriot Place, not to mention 37 additional municipal and school employees.
“To date approximately 2,333 individuals have completed this important training throughout Foxboro,” Correia said.
Perhaps more critically, Correia said that a number national youth sports organizations now require child safety training as a membership requirement.
As a result, the local committee agreed to accept any nationally accepted training in fulfillment of the town’s requirements — subject to review and local approval.
“This is a huge win for everyone involved,” he said. “Naturally, we’d like to believe that Foxboro was a leader in this.”
Correia conceded the committee continues to have difficulty enlisting local churches to participate in the “Darkness to Light” child sexual abuse awareness curriculum.
“This audience has been one of the toughest to partner with,” he said, noting that church leadership, particularly in smaller faith communities, is constantly changing. “This remains a challenge and continued goal for the future.”
Other future challenges include encouraging commercial youth sports franchises to provide employees with Darkness to Light training, partnering with local churches towards that same goal, and developing procedures to make online training both accessible and recordable.
Selectman David Feldman congratulated members of the awareness committee, and urged local parents to explore the Darkness to Light training themselves.
“Every parent should take this training,” Feldman said. “It’s so enlightening and educational, it should be mandatory.”
Committee member William Dudley, pastor of the Union Church of South Foxboro, reminded selectmen that the original goal was to make Foxboro an uncomfortable place for anyone who might harm a child, a goal which he said has been achieved.
“The selectmen have always been with us,” Dudley said, thanking board members for their ongoing support.
Correia also recognized board members Amy Berdos, James Cannata, Marc Craig, Bill Dudley, Deborah Giardino, Rob Lucas and Lynda Walsh — as well as former members Jeffrey Downs and Nancy Stockwell — for their efforts.