Q&A: How the Office of Child and Youth Protection helps keep kids safe

Denver Catholic Staff

Protecting kids should be one of the highest priorities of all youth-serving institutions and organizations. In 2002, following the breakout of a terrible scandal within the Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops convened to create the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, more commonly known as the Dallas Charter. To learn more about the Dallas Charter, check out this post.

One of the fruits of the Dallas Charter was the requirement that all dioceses in the U.S. create an office specifically for keeping kids safe. In the Archdiocese of Denver, we have the Office of Child and Youth Protection, which has been a key part of our diocese since shortly after the Dallas Charter was implemented. Headed by Christi Sullivan, who has a background in certified child protection training and has worked in the office for eight years, the Office of Child and Youth Protection has trained over 70,000 adults to recognize and report child abuse since 2002, and trains 20,000 to 25,000 kids on how to keep themselves safe each year.

We sat down with Christi to get a better idea of what she and her office do to make sure that the Church is among the safest places possible for children and youth.

Denver Catholic: What is the function of the Office of Child and Youth Protection?

Christi Sullivan: We train adults, children and adolescents to recognize and report possible abuse and neglect. We train between four and five thousand adults every year. In 2003, the first round of adult classes trained approximately 20,000 people. Since then, we have trained 4,000-5,000 adults every year.

Additionally, we train all the facilitators that provide safe environment training for the adults. I have roughly 250 facilitators in the diocese. We supply the curriculum that’s been promulgated by our archbishop and we also train parish staff and administer and maintain a database of 80,000 adults that have been trained since 2003. We also provide support and guidance for the 160+ entities and organizations in the diocese that work diligently to ensure they are safe environment compliant. We are available if they have questions or concerns about curriculum, reporting, background screening, the Code of Conduct or any concern regarding child safety.

DC: What is the process like if somebody has an allegation of abuse?

CS: If somebody has a suspicion of abuse or neglect with a child, at-risk-adult or elder, obviously they contact the authorities immediately. If the person is in imminent danger, they call 911. If it’s not an imminent danger situation, then they need to call 844-CO-4-KIDS for children or the county adult protective services office.

DC: How does your office intervene and assist?

CS: If they’re talking to me, it’s probably potentially a concern with somebody either who’s an employee or volunteer within the archdiocese. So, once the report to the authorities is made, we ask the report is made to us. Then we would follow up, when appropriate, when the authorities have finished their investigation and then we follow through with an investigation and take appropriate action, up to and including termination.
Also, Jim Langley is our victim assistance coordinator. If there’s anybody that just needs to speak to any kind of abuse or neglect situation, he’s available. St. Raphael’s Counseling through Catholic Charities is also available to help people.

DC: What is the process for somebody who wants to be safe environment trained?

CS: Anybody can go to a safe environment training anywhere in the archdiocese — they don’t have to be Catholic. And those are listed on my website, ArchDen.org/child-protection under “Find a Class”. I think right now we have about 20 classes in the next 30 days.

DC: Tell me about the curriculum you use.

CS: We’re going to soon have a new curriculum that’s more updated and current. The curriculum we have now is not irrelevant, the information is still incredibly relevant — Pedophiles have not changed their modus operandi. But the new curriculum is going to expand on that and include things like Internet safety, bullying, suicide awareness and other safety areas of concern for families, parents, mentors and ministries. It will also provide training for reporting at-risk-adult and elder abuse and neglect.

DC: Is this curriculum required in public schools?

CS: Safe environment training is not required in public schools in Colorado. Curriculum is available to public schools and has been for about three years now, but to my knowledge, the only school district that’s picked it up is Adams 12. Aurora public schools just started training teachers this year with their own custom curriculum, but they are not including parents and kids yet as they are still developing curricula for those groups.

DC: So this has been a norm in the Catholic Church and Catholic schools for 17 years.
CS: Yes.

DC: And for all of the other schools in the state, it’s not even required.

CS: No it is not. In 2015, Colorado introduced SB 15-020, a version of what is commonly known as Erin’s Law. The full version of the law was not passed as introduced, which would have required safe environment training for students, teachers and parents. After committee hearings, the final version of the law allowed for a new position of a Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Specialist at the Colorado School Safety Resource Center and a reference booklet listing available curricula has been published, but the version of the law that passed does not require school districts and charter schools to include safe environment curriculum.

To learn more about the Office of Child and Youth Protection and attend a Safe Environment Training, visit archden.org/child-protection.

COMING UP: What is the Dallas Charter?

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In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) instituted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, more commonly known as the Dallas Charter. In it, the U.S. bishops made four pledges in their efforts of protect children:

1. We pledge most solemnly to you, God’s people, that we will work to our utmost for the protection of children and youth.

2. We pledge that we will devote to this goal the resources and personnel necessary to accomplish it.

3. We pledge that we will do our best to ordain to the diaconate and priesthood and put into positions of trust only those who share this commitment to protecting youth and children.

4. We pledge that we will work toward healing and reconciliation for those sexually abused by clerics.

Since then, all U.S. dioceses have been required to put into place the practices outlined in the Charter to guarantee that all parishes and Catholic schools are among the safest places possible for a minor. Further, the Charter is reviewed every seven years to ensure its practices are of the highest standards.

Promote healing and reconciliation

• Continual pastoral outreach to survivors and their families
• A victim assistance coordinator to assist with the immediate pastoral care of survivors
• A review board made up mostly of lay people not in the employ of the diocese
• No secret settlements (unless by request)

Guarantee effective response

• Mandatory reporting of any allegation to public authorities immediately
• Cooperation with all civil and local authorities
• “Zero Tolerance” – Priests with substantiated allegations are to be permanently removed from ministry (faculties removed), and if warranted, dismissed from the clerical state (laicized)
• Transparency in communicating with the public about the sexual abuse of minors by clergy

Ensure accountability

• Yearly diocesan audits of compliance
• National Committee and Review Board to advise USCCB
• National resources available for every diocese
• Publish an annual public report on the progress made in implementing this Charter

Protect the faithful

• “Safe Environment” training for all priests, deacons, staff and volunteers who work with children
• “Safe Environment” education for school and religious education studentsn
• Mandatory background checks on all priests, deacons, staff and volunteers who work with children
• Rigorous screening and psychological evaluations for those seeking to be ordained as clergy

To read the full Charter Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, click here.