New York State Professionals Learn about the Plain Community

Over eighty professionals attended Dove’s Nest’s “Amish and Old Order Mennonites & Child Safety” diversity training in Geneva, New York, on May 21, 2019. Dove’s Nest speaker and cofounder Jeanette Harder led the training. The participants’ work is associated with the child advocacy centers in New York, and includes forensic interviewers, prevention educators, victim advocates, and law enforcement. Harder has led other trainings on this topic in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other parts of New York State.

By Jeanette Harder

The participants at the Amish and Old Order Mennonite child safety training on May 21 were very eager to learn more about the faith and culture of this unique group, especially since their prevalence in New York is skyrocketing. Some participants had stories of positive engagement with Plain communities, although their stories of responding to abuse, accidents, and rambunctious youth were distressing. Participants seemed to especially appreciate learning about the diversity of Plain communities (they’re not all the same!) and had a thousand questions about all areas of their lives and how to engage and intervene best with them. 

I had invited three Old Order Mennonites to come for a panel at the end of the training, and to my great pleasure, eleven came! Mostly, it was the men who spoke, but with some prodding, a few women spoke as well. It really helped that I had visited three of the families (the expected panelists) the day before, shared with them what to expect, and discussed what they might be asked to share.  Their consistent response to me was a humble “I really don’t think I have anything to offer . . .” Although their culture is so different from mainstream society, they are so steeped in it that it is hard for them to express what is different about them. Or perhaps they are just living out their value of humility.  

One of the hardest lessons for training participants to learn and accept was that the Plain communities are not likely to accept services offered to them. I was hoping participants would understand the need to meet together (numerous times) to get to know one another and to build relationships. And better yet, I wanted them to see that they could teach the principles to (male) community leaders who in turn could adapt the material to their culture and teach it to their people. My hope is that participants will take the time to continue to think carefully about the knowledge they gained in the training and how it applies to their work. 

In speaking with the Old Order Mennonites before the panel, they positively recalled how, in 2015, they’d spoken on a similar panel with me. They remembered how pleased they were with how welcomed they had felt, the positive response they’d received, and the follow-up meetings they’d had with social services. It’s hard for any of us to speak in front of eighty people, but it’s especially hard for them. Some of the panel members had worked with case workers and law enforcement in the room, and they exchanged positive greetings. To the appreciation of both participants and panelists, several meetings are now set up to continue the process of learning from one another and working respectfully together for the sake of children and their communities.

For more on this topic, see Jeanette Harder’s recent blog post “Working with Amish Families on Child Abuse and Neglect” on PsychologyToday.com, which includes eleven suggestions for working with Amish families.