Root cause analysis: Creating a highly reliable culture

Root cause analysis: This is a fairly new term making its way around the world of Safe Environment leadership and the U.S. Bishops Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection.

Root cause analysis is used to create a highly reliable culture, by reporting all violations, all “near misses,” and all incidences where established rules and protocols were not followed. By examining what went wrong, or almost went wrong, we can determine weaknesses in our system and correct them. Highly reliable cultures must operate under trying or complex conditions and maintain few or no accidents or breaches in their systems (think airlines, nuclear power plants, and hospitals).

Everyone within these systems understands and follows all the rules all the time, and everyone reports every event that goes against established protocol, because failure to do so could endanger everyone. Leadership in a highly reliable culture is focused on eliminating failure, and encourages everyone to focus on that as well. There is no room for error when a jet is attempting to land, or when a patient in undergoing major surgery, just as there is no room for error when a child’s well-being is at stake.

Since 2002, the number of credible allegations of child sexual abuse reported to dioceses has continued to decline, and that is good news. However, everyone will agree that even one credible report of a child being abused in our church is one too many. Our goal is to eliminate child sexual abuse completely – from every parish and every school, period.

How can we do that? By remaining focused, first of all, on the requirements of the Charter to Protect Children and Young People, drafted by our bishops in 2002. The Charter creates multiple barriers that help keep children safe – policies and procedures, codes of conduct that bind every church employee and volunteer, required training for church personnel to recognize grooming behavior and report it, background checking and so on. All of these have made the Catholic Church and its entities some of the safest places for children to be.

But, abuse still occurs, so we must increase our efforts by helping every parish and school to become a highly reliable culture through the utilization of root cause analysis. Here are some simple first steps we can take:

  • How do we determine if every volunteer in our parish or school programs has been trained, and has a current background check? Do we check the sign-in sheets at the front desk at the school against our Virtus database to make sure every volunteer coming into the school is cleared to volunteer?
  • Do our teachers introduce themselves to the parents of their students? Do the teachers know who is coming into the school building and what for? Are the teachers provided with lists of approved volunteer lists so they know who has been trained and background checked and is cleared to help in the classroom?

If a new parent should ask “What are your child protection procedures and policies?”, could every member of your parish and school staff answer?

Colleen Sulsberger is coordinator of the Office of Safe Environment for the Diocese of Sioux City.

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