Courtney Chase is the executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington's Office of Child and Youth Protection and Safe Environment. (CS file photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Courtney Chase is the executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington's Office of Child and Youth Protection and Safe Environment. (CS file photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
As the new school year begins, Courtney Chase, the executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Child and Youth Protection and Safe Environment, wants parents to know that the archdiocese “is constantly at work to make sure our children are safe.”

“It is important to make sure that all who come into our schools be compliant with our child protection policies,” Chase said. “It is a constant work to make sure that our children are safe.”

Chased noted that the Archdiocese of Washington’s Child Protection Policy “is one of the strongest in the nation … (and) in many aspects is stronger than the state law.” It has been in effect for more than three decades.

When the Archdiocese of Washington instituted the policy in 1986, it was one of the first dioceses in the United States to do so. The policy mandates immediate reporting of abuse allegations to civil authorities.

It also requires a thorough background check for all employees and volunteers who have substantial contact with children. The policy requires two forms of background checks – electronic background checks and fingerprinting – on employees, clergy, volunteers and anyone else who works with young people.

“Everyone is put through the same rigorous measure to make sure our kids are safe,” Chase said, adding that “there are child protection coordinators on-site in every parish and every school to execute these background checks.”

The policy also requires assisting those who have been harmed, and extensive education and training on how to prevent and identify mistreatment of children and youth.  Everyone working with young people in the archdiocese is required to attend a “Protecting God’s Children for Adults” workshop, which are offered in English and Spanish throughout the year in various locations throughout the archdiocese.

“We do have a very extensive victim assistance program, therapy resources and extensive safe environment training programs,” Chase said. “We take this (child protection) so seriously that those who are not compliant cannot participate in our schools and other programs.”

Chase added that child protection programs are not just for young people attending Catholic schools.

“We are involved in all aspects of that involve children – schools, religious education, CYO, parish activities, retreats, anything,” she said. “Parents can be assured their children are safe because we are making such positive strides.”

The Archdiocese of Washington also makes resources and information about protecting children available online at https://adw.org/about-us/policies-and-resources/child-protection. There, parents will find information on the archdiocese’s child protection efforts, safety tips, how to recognize Internet and cyber bullying and other information.

“The policy is very stringent with a strict set of rules of behavior and a child-first doctrine,” she said. “We take this (child protection) so seriously that those who are not compliant cannot participate in our schools and other programs.”

In addition to that policy, the archdiocese has an independent Child Protection Advisory Board comprised of lay experts and a clergy member that advises on and monitors compliance with child protection efforts. The Child Protection Advisory Board “makes sure our policies are properly looked at, reviewed and implemented,” Chase said, and prepares an audit report that is published annually in the Catholic Standard.

Chase said her office also provides child protection presentations in an age-appropriate manner to students, teachers, parishes, Home and School associations and other groups who request them. Chase said the presentations – which she conducts with a law enforcement official – is “a hands-on approach where we are rolling up our sleeves and going out into the community to better educate them.”

The program also teaches what is considered inappropriate contact between adults and minors and what takes place after an initial allegation is made.

“This subject matter is a dark subject, and I know it is a hard thing to speak about,” Chase said, “but our number one priority is to bring all of the dark issues to light.”

Chase, who has two master’s degrees – one in social work and one in business administration – formerly served as director of counseling at Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac and previously worked as an investigator for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. She said her office is always on call “to offer guidance and resources and insights on how to deal with such a tender subject as this, and we are always open to discuss how to be proactive in the classroom, in the parish and CYO.”

“We are not afraid to address the problem and help,” said Chase, who added that her office, and the child protection coordinators at schools and parishes, are on the front lines of protecting children. “We want everyone to feel comfortable and we are always here to help.”

In addition to the efforts of the Child and Youth Protection Office, Chase said, “it is critical that parents know what is going on.”

“Part of keeping their child safe is for parents to be present and involved,” she said. “Parents must have open lines of communication because they have the absolute right to know what is going on with their child.”

The phone number for the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection and Safe Environment is 301-853-5328. The website is https://adw.org/archdiocesan-offices/office-child-youth-protection-safe-environment.