Archdiocese’s child protection director teams with retired detective to launch new effort on keeping kids safe

By Richard Szczepanowski
Catholic Standard
November 8, 2016

Courtney Chase, the archdiocesan director of Child and Youth Protection, and Tony Giovacchini, a retired detective who investigated child abuse and sex crimes for the Montgomery County Police, review the Archdiocese of Washington’s Child Protection Policy. The two have teamed up to create a new program that reaches out to the community to educate about the Child Protection Policy, how to recognize child abuse, and what the process is for reporting suspected abuse to civil authorities.

The Archdiocese of Washington has further strengthened its child protection efforts by creating a new outreach for teachers, educators and others on how to identify and promptly report suspected child abuse.

“With this (new program), we are getting the message out that everyone in the Archdiocese of Washington has the ability to be informed on how to protect your children and your community,” said Courtney Chase, the archdiocesan director of Child and Youth Protection.

The new initiative is a discussion and question and answer presentation developed with a law enforcement officer that outlines the archdiocesan Child Protection Policy, educates participants on how to recognize child abuse, and outlines the process for reporting suspected abuse to civil authorities.

“We were asked by the cardinal to put together educational training for new priests and seminarians, and to strengthen the importance of this initiative, we brought in a law enforcement expert,” Chase said. “And, now we offer it to everybody.”

Tony Giovacchini, a retired detective who investigated child abuse and sex crimes for the Montgomery County Police, has joined with Chase in presenting the program.

“We wanted to create a program that is not just reactive but also has a proactive approach,” he said. “Written policies are great – we are all for the safety of the kids ­– but policies can’t just sit on a bookshelf with people who are not trained or who do not know what they should do. This brings the policy to life.”

The policy referred to by Giovacchini is the Archdiocese of Washington’s Child Protection Policy that has been in effect in the archdiocese for 30 years. When the Archdiocese of Washington instituted that policy in 1986, it was one of the first dioceses in the United States to do so. The policy mandates the reporting of abuse allegations to civil authorities, assisting those who have been harmed, and extensive education and training on how to prevent and identify mistreatment of children and youth.

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.

Both Giovacchini and Chase noted that the archdiocesan child protection policy is one of the strongest in the nation. Giovacchini added that the policy “in many aspects is stronger than the state law.”

Speaking to the toughness of the child protection policy, Giovacchini said he believes, “the archdiocese is a step ahead of every other education system in our area.”

“The policy is very stringent with a strict set of rules of behavior and a child-first doctrine,” he said. “Because this policy is in place, you can do the best you can (in protecting children), otherwise you are flying blind.”

The Archdiocese of Washington also makes resources and information about protecting children available online at 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 newly developed presentation by Chase and Giovacchini lasts between one and two hours, and is offered in an age-appropriate manner so that it can be presented to students, teachers, parishes, Home and School associations and other groups.

Chase called the new program “a hands-on approach where we are rolling up our sleeves and going out into the community to better educate them.”

Giovacchini said that the presentations “are tailor made” to the groups to whom he and Chase speak. “There is no one cookie cutter approach to this, but it is important to address specifically what the policy, the law and the protocols are” in dealing with child abuse, he said.

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,” the retired detective said, “but many people don’t know what to ask or how to ask questions that provide concise and cohesive answers.”

Giovacchini said he and Chase also teach participants about the “tell-tale signs” of child abuse.

“Unless you know what to look for, you won’t be able to see the forest for the trees. We use clearly defined simple terms so that there is no ambiguity,” he said. “When you know the signs to look for, you have a bigger opportunity to get in front of the problem and stop it.”

“They say that everybody knows a little bit about a lot of things,” he added. “But in this case, knowing a little bit is not enough.”

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. While in that job, she frequently worked with Giovacchini on child abuse and sexual assault cases.

“Asking the wrong questions or conducting your own investigation is counterproductive,” Chase said. “Having Tony come in and be a part of this is critical because he will show how to conduct a clear investigation so that its integrity is intact.”

Giovacchini said that it is important to promptly report suspicions of child abuse so that the proper authorities get involved.

“They know how to conduct forensic interviewing and how to ask the appropriate questions in the right way. When you defer to the experts, you get a clean and concise and objective investigation,” he said. “In these investigations, you are not looking for guilt or innocence, you are looking for the truth, and the truth will always point you in the right direction.”

Once officials start investigating allegations of abuse, “it is done expeditiously because we have children’s welfare at heart,” he added.

With a law enforcement officer and a social worker joining together to teach about child protection, Chase said, “the two disciplines come together in a unique initiative to support children and families.”

Giovacchini said that in his years of police work dealing with child abuse and sexual assault cases he learned “this is the hardest job to do, but also the most satisfying because you are helping true victims.”

“I think something like this can make a difference,” Giovacchini said of the new program. “I believe strongly that this can be a game changer and will work for everybody. This is our opportunity to move forward and get it right.”

Both Chase and Giovacchini said it was their belief that no similar program exists in this country.

“I know of no other jurisdiction or diocese taking this approach,” Chase said. “And we could be a model here for other dioceses.”

Giovacchini called the effort “groundbreaking, and I hope it spreads.”

“Cardinal Wuerl and the Child Protection Advisory Board recognize the importance of this,” Chase said. “The cardinal has made it a priority to protect everybody in this archdiocese, and, as he continues to make it a priority, this can help support his efforts.”


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