Unity of Austin becomes Charter Member of the CFFP

Unity of Austin becomes Charter Member of the CFFP

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We are honored to designate Unity of Austin as a Charter Member of the Child-Friendly Faith Project. The church recently achieved this status after participating in a self-paced discussion series, the first phase of our Child-Friendly Faith Communities Designation Program.

The curriculum, which is specially designed for faith communities, offers tools that help participants learn and talk about such topics as child development, maltreatment, and protection in an environment that is private and safe. A member of the faith community is chosen to facilitate the discussions, following a five-module study guide developed by the CFFP. Read More »

Please help us help kids

If you’ve been keeping up with our doings, you’ve probably heard about our Child-Friendly Faith Communities Designation Program. Now we’re launching a funding campaign that allows you to contribute directly to this unique curriculum! Specially designed for faith communities, the Designation Program teaches about child development and all forms of maltreatment. It includes workshops that help religious organizations develop effective child abuse prevention policies and programs that benefit children and families. Plus, each participant that completes the program is designated as a Child-Friendly Faith Community and promoted as a role model in child protection!

But we can’t do this work without your contribution. Please give what you can so we can complete development of the Designation Program and offer it for free to any faith community that wants to be part of a Child-Friendly Faith movement. To donate, just click on the image.

Please give to the Child-Friendly Faith Communities Designation Program campaign!

A new pilot program for faith communities who put children first

A new pilot program for faith communities who put children first

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This year marks the beginning of an important movement to protect children from abuse and neglect that is enabled by ideology. And the most important players are faith communities that are ready to be role models in child protection.

The Child-Friendly Faith Project has just launched the pilot phase of its hallmark program: the Child-Friendly Faith Communities Designation Program. It’s one of the ways we are carrying out our mission to partner with faith communities to protect children from maltreatment that occurs in certain religious and cultural settings. Read More »

Featured Faith Community: Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch

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The Child-Friendly Faith Project is starting a new blog series called Featured Faith Communities which highlights faith-based organizations and programs that are meeting the needs of children in a holistic way. The blog series is just one way the CFFP strives to fulfill its mission to support faith communities that nurture them in ways that are aligned with healthy child development models.

When Wendy arrived at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch several years ago, she left her difficult childhood behind. This was a chance to begin again. As she said in an interview that appears on their website,

I’d never really lived with my parents for very long at a time before I came to Boys Ranch. I did a lot of shifting throughout my childhood. I went to about probably six or seven elementary schools altogether. I remember my very first day [at Boys Ranch] and I was like, “Why are these people just so nice to me?” Then, after a few weeks of going to the summer program, I started getting more comfortable and learning who people were and talking to people.

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“Parents rights” advocates have scored a victory now that Idaho has passed House Bill 113. But what does it mean for Idaho’s children?

“Parents rights” advocates have scored a victory now that Idaho has passed House Bill 113. But what does it mean for Idaho’s children?

shadow familyOn April 2, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter signed into law House Bill 113 known as the “parents rights” bill. It will become law on July 1 of this year.

The bill was one of many similar pieces of legislation being lobbied around the country by the Home School Legal Defense Association, whose mission is to “preserve and advance the fundamental, God-given, constitutional right of parents and others legally responsible for their children to direct their education.”

According to the HSLDA, the law doesn’t give parents more rights, it just codifies them, a necessary step say proponents who are convinced that the courts are beginning to strip them away. In announcing its victory, HSLDA stated on its website: “You don’t have any more rights now than you did before. But the rights you already have by virtue of being a parent are now far safer.”

The lobbying group is particularly worried that government is interfering with parents’ ability to make decisions about their children’s education. According to HSLDA’s website parentalrights.org, “It is no accident, no coincidence. And it’s not just your imagination. There really is a steady trend by the government and the courts to remove the influence of parents from the public schools.”

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Respecting the victims of the Brooklyn fire: Make Sabbath-observant homes safer

Respecting the victims of the Brooklyn fire: Make Sabbath-observant homes safer
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The father of the seven Sassoon children mourns the loss at funeral services in Jerusalem.


We were all gripped by the horrific tragedy that took place on March 21 when seven children of the Sassoon family, aged 5 to 16, perished in a fire in Brooklyn. The mother and a 15-year-old daughter barely managed to escape. To make matters worse—as if they could be worse—the children’s deaths likely could have been prevented.

Fire officials determined that the fire was set by an electric hot plate that malfunctioned after having been left on overnight. There were no smoke detectors on the first floor where the fire started or the second where the family slept.

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A blech keeps food warm throughout the Sabbath.

The Sassoons were Orthodox Jewish, and, like many other Jews who observe the Sabbath, they complied with rules that prohibit the cooking of food from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. Food may be kept warm, as long as electrical appliances are not turned on or off or a flame is not kindled or extinguished during the Sabbath. (A flame is used under a blech, a metal sheet that covers the stove top.)

HAZARDS POSED BY RELIGIOUS RITUALS

It’s not the first time that children and adults in Brooklyn—a home to many Orthodox Jews—have been killed or injured in homes in which heating devices were left on during observance of holy days. In fact, it was at least the fourth deadly blaze in the borough resulting from Sabbath and holiday observance in the last fifteen years.

In 2010, an 8-year-old boy was killed and five other children were seriously injured after a fire broke out just a few blocks from where the Sassoon children died. There, too, officials blamed a malfunctioning hot plate that had been left on during the festival of Sukkot. In 2005, three boys died and ten people were injured in an apartment fire that was ignited by stovetop burners left on throughout the night during Passover.

The dangers of leaving a heating appliance on or a flame burning unattended for a long period of time are well known. Hot plates—especially if they are old, the wiring in a building is out of compliance, or an extension cord is used—can start a fire. If smoke alarms aren’t installed or working, a family may not find out that a fire has been ignited until it’s too late.

Gas flames on a stovetop (often used under a blech) pose other hazards. If a flame accidentally goes out and no one notices, it can cause carbon monoxide poisoning or an explosion. If there is not proper ventilation in a room, the flame can use up all oxygen leading to asphyxiation. Blechs can burn people, especially if the metal extends over the edges of the stove.

One fire department brochure on “Jewish Fire Prevention” goes so far as to instruct families to designate kitchens as “NO GO ZONES” for children and to keep a fire escape ladder in every bedroom above the first floor. In an Op-Ed in the Jewish Link of New Jersey, Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot warned against using a blech:

I have always been wary of the potential for fire hazards and the buildup of carbon monoxide associated with leaving an open flame on for the entire 25 hours of Shabbat. I believe that most burns and fire incidents on Shabbat during an average year (though not this most recent tragedy) occur in homes where a blech was in use.

RENEWED ATTENTION AND DISCUSSION

On the positive side, the tragedy has led to increased awareness and discussion about fire safety within the Jewish community. Fire safety have become a big topic in Facebook discussions. There was a run on smoke detectors in New York City soon after news broke about the Brooklyn fire. Some Jews have been debating over which heating method is safer, a hot plate or a blech.

One observant mother recently wrote in Britain’s Jewish News how her family came close to suffering the same fate of the Sassoon family. She wrote that, one night, she crept downstairs after smelling something funny. When she opened the kitchen door, she saw plumes of smoke.

I remember charging forward like a woman possessed, and realising that orangey flames were shooting from beneath the Shabbat hotplate, which we’d plugged in and left on the worktop before Shabbat came in, as we did every week.

She extinguished the flames with wet towels, noting that the hot plate had been placed “on a flimsy kitchen surface.” After the fire incident, the woman purchased a proper tray for their hot plate, installed smoke detectors on every floor, and used timers so that appliances weren’t on for the full duration of Shabbat. “As I prepare for Pesach,” she wrote, “I shall take a moment to stop and think: ‘Have I done all I can to make this holiday safe and enjoyable for all my family and guests?'”

However, some Jews have taken an apologist position when commenting about the Brooklyn fire. We have read numerous articles written by rabbis who point to the fact that children also die in fires in non-Jewish homes. J.J. Goldberg, a columnist for the Jewish Daily Forward and who wrote about the Brooklyn fire and similar tragedies was criticized by readers for failing to bring up the fact that children also die in car accidents.

We perused a half dozen Jewish websites that stipulate how to prepare and heat food for the Sabbath; none warned about the potential dangers or offered fire safety instruction.

Fire officials set up an information table in Brooklyn to teach residents about fire safety. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times.)

Fire officials set up an information table in Brooklyn to teach residents about fire safety. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times.)

No one should minimize the dangers of these practices, no matter how important they are to the Jewish community. To do so shows disrespect for the children and others who have suffered when safety precautions were not taken seriously. Instead, we should do all we can to educate people about fire safety and the importance of discussing it.

TAKING PRECAUTIONS

Here are some fire safety precautions that observant Jewish families should take:

  • Smoke alarms should be placed on every floor and in all bedrooms. They should be tested monthly and batteries should be changed once a year even if the old ones still work.
  • If a flame is to be used overnight, a carbon monoxide detector should be installed.
  • Electrical heating appliances should not be used in buildings whose wiring is not up to code.
  • All heating appliances should be UL-certified and should not be used if their cords are damaged in any way.
  • Appliances should be plugged directly into the wall; no extension cords should be used.
  • Appliances should be placed in an open area on a solid, flame-resistant counter (not on a stove) and away from cabinets, drapes, and other objects.
  • Appliances should be plugged into GFCI plugs to prevent electric shocks.
    Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) plug

    Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) plug

Families should also look at alternative methods of heating food other than a hot plate or blech. For example, a crock pot is designed to warm food for long periods of time without being watched. In addition, most ovens today have a “Sabbath” setting, which allows for food to be safely heated for many hours. Timers can be used to turn appliances on and off. Of course, the safest alternative is to simply not heat food at all.

Religious leaders must also do their part. Rabbis should address fire safety in sermons and encourage their congregations to learn and talk about it. They should invite fire officials to talk to come and give talks at synagogues and encourage apartment and home owners to have fire officials inspect their homes and give advice on how to make them safer.

The deaths of the Sassoon children have caused great sorrow within the Jewish community and around the world. We owe it to the victims of that tragedy to come together and learn how to observe religious holidays in ways that pose no risk to the safety of children and their families.

Rabbi Ze’ev Smason is the spiritual leader of Nusach Hari B’nai Zion, an orthodox congregation in St. Louis, Missouri, and President of the Child-Friendly Faith Project. Janet Heimlich is an award-winning journalist and the founder, board member, and Executive Director of the CFFP.

#ProjectIdaho: Press Coverage

March 2, 2015

Faith-Healer Parents Who Let Their Child Die Should Go to Jail

The New Republic, by Jerry A. Coyne

March 2, 2015

Poll: Parental Rights Bill? No

The Spokesman-Review

March 2, 2015

Parental rights are sacred … except when they’re not

Watchdog.org, by Wayne Hoffman

 

March 2, 2015

Malek: ‘Parental Rights’ Bill Stinks

The Spokesman-Review

March 1, 2015

Intent behind parental rights bill questioned

Idaho Press, by Christina Marfice

February 27, 2015

Idaho GOP’s extreme ‘parental rights’ bill opens door to Sharia law, Republican warns

RawStory.com, by Travis Gettys

February 26, 2015

BLOG: Parental Rights Bill Passes House with Magic Valley Lawmakers Largely Opposed

MagicValley.com, by Nathan Brown

February 24, 2015

Idaho Republican backs faith-healer parents: ‘If I want to let my child be with God, why is that wrong?’

RawStory.com, by Travis Gettys

February 23, 2015

Cult Followers Claim Religious Rights Trump the Rights of Children

The Public Slate, by James Turnage

February 20, 2015

HOUSE PANEL PASSES IDAHO PARENTAL RIGHTS BILL

by the Associated Press

February 19, 2015

Parental rights bill sparks lengthy testimony

Idaho Statesman, by Kimberlee Kruesi

February 16, 2015

VanOrden, Packer vote against parental rights bill

Idaho State Journal, by Dave Goins

February 22, 2015

Idaho’s faith-healing debate pits child welfare against parental rights

AlJazeera America, by Leah Sottile

February 19, 2015

How to Craft a Religious Exemption Regime Guaranteed to Be Dangerous for Children: The Case of Idaho

Justia.com, by Marci A. Hamilton

February 11, 2015

Special Report: Faith healing in Idaho

IdahoOnYourSide.com, by Roland Beres

November 8, 2013

Fallen followers: Investigation finds 10 more dead children of faith healers

KATU.com, by Dan Tilkin

November 8, 2013

‘To see them die without any care… it’s hard on us’

KATU.com, by Dan Tilkin

In Memoriam: The CFFP Remembers Rev. Keith Wright

In Memoriam: The CFFP Remembers Rev. Keith Wright

Keith Wright

The Child-Friendly Faith Project has lost a wise, compassionate, and courageous advisor. On January 9, Rev. Keith Wright, who had served congregations for nearly sixty years, passed away. Many people in the Austin community loved Keith as a pastor and as a friend. He was absolutely devoted to his family, especially his wife Mona.

I admired Keith before I met him or even knew much about him. In 2008, as I was researching my book Breaking Their Will, I was struggling to find material written by those who truly understood the issue of religious child maltreatment. Then I came across Keith’s book Religious Abuse: A Pastor Explores the Many Ways Religion Can Hurt as well as Heal. Upon reading the description, I immediately ordered it from Amazon.

When the book arrived and I poured through it, I appreciated its unpretentious, straightforward style. Furthermore, I was thrilled to see that it had a chapter devoted to children. The chapter, as well as the rest of Religious Abuse, is a caring and direct explanation of the yin-and-yang nature of religion. That is, its ability to both heal and harm. I was also struck by the fact that the author was a survivor of religious child maltreatment. As he explains in the book’s introduction, when he was a boy, Keith’s mother died after members of her Christian Science church community prevented her from getting medical care.

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We’re off to a great start in 2015!

We’re off to a great start in 2015!

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The Child-Friendly Faith Project is excited about the new year!

Looking back, we accomplished a lot in 2014. We completed development of our Charter Member designation program, a curriculum designed exclusively for faith communities. We held our first raffle giveaway. And our conference presented more than twice as many speakers as last year. But there’s a lot more to come! Read More »

Faith Communities Meet the Needs of Abused Children and Adult Survivors

Faith Communities Meet the Needs of Abused Children and Adult Survivors

Meet Peter Singer and David Pittman, two advocates who are serving the needs of child victims of maltreatment and survivors of sexual abuse. The Child-Friendly Faith Project is honored to have each give an important presentation at this year’s conference on Dec. 4th and 5th in Austin, Texas.

Peter will talk about how to engage faith communities in providing needed services to children and families impacted by maltreatment. David will explain how faith communities can help provide mental health services to survivors of child sexual abuse.

Through their nonprofit organizations, both men have found ways to guide faith communities so they can improve the lives of those who have been harmed by child abuse and neglect. Read More »