Using a frequently updated and closely followed child protection policy, the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Child and Youth Protection and Safe Environment is “constantly working to make sure our kids are safe,” according to the director of that office.

“Our policy is rigid and we do not deviate from it. It continues to be the anchor that keeps safe our environment for children,” said Courtney Chase, the executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Child and Youth Protection and Safe Environment.

The Archdiocese of Washington was one of the first dioceses in the nation to instate such a policy when it did so in 1986. It has since been updated in 1993 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2013.

“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.”

The Child Protection and Safe Environment 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.

In addition to that policy, the Child Protection and Safe Environment has also implemented the policies outlined in Pope Francis’s May, 2019, motu proprio document "Vos estis lux mundi" ("You are the light of the world").

That document revises and strengthens procedures to protect against child sexual abuse and also includes bishops in the mandates it outlines. The rules apply to every diocese in the world.

The Office of Child Protection and Safe Environment has also prepared a new online training video series titled “Focus on the Child.”

“This is locally produced, and helps ensure that the children are protected,” Chase said. She said the video can be viewed online at https://vimeo.com/221579980.

The archdiocese also 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 at archdiocesan schools, independent Catholic schools “and any other academic institution that is interested”  – is “a hands-on approach where we are rolling up our sleeves and going out into the community to better educate them and bring an uncomfortable topic to light.”

“This subject matter is a dark subject, and I know it is a hard thing to speak about, but our number one priority is to bring all of the dark issues to light,” Chase said. “We are not afraid to address the problem and help.”

She stressed 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.

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.