Expert on abuse prevention to review diocese

Shay Bilchik, a national expert on issues related to child sexual abuse, will visit the Diocese of Pittsburgh next week as part of his review of diocesan policies and procedures for preventing such abuse and responding to allegations.

Bishop David Zubik engaged Bilchik prior to the release of the grand jury report on child sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses, to discover if there are ways to improve the procedures that the diocese has long had in place. The bishop announced Bilchik’s work at his news conference Aug. 14, the day that the grand jury report was released.

Bilchik, a former state prosecutor and federal official at the U.S. Department of Justice specializing in child victimization and juvenile offending, is also a past president of the Child Welfare League of America. He then founded and remains director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy in Washington, D.C.

“We are honored and grateful that someone of Shay Bilchik’s experience and knowledge has made himself available to review our work,” Bishop Zubik said.

“It was important to me that we bring someone in from the outside, who doesn’t know us, doesn’t have relationships with me or anyone on the staff, to do a thorough, objective assessment. He comes highly recommended by people who remember him as an effective prosecutor who has dedicated his life to protecting children.”

From 1977 - 83, Bilchik was a state prosecutor in Florida, specializing in cases involving crimes against children and juvenile delinquency. From there, he became administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the Justice Department, where he supported a multi-system approach to the interrelated issues of helping child victims and addressing juvenile crime.

Next, as president and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America, Bilchik advised child protection agencies nationwide on best practices. In 2007, he moved to Georgetown, where his Center for Juvenile Justice Reform continues to promote best practices in child protection and the prevention of juvenile crime.

When Bilchik was a young prosecutor, the case files of abused children gripped his heart.

“I decided early on to devote my whole career to helping kids,” he said. “Children have very little power of their own. Often they have no people advocating for them. Whether they are victims of child abuse and neglect or whether they are juvenile offenders, they need an advocate to help them become healthy, law-abiding members of the community.”

Bilchik has advised many different agencies, public and private, on best practices in child protection. That included extensive work with another diocese about 15 years ago.

“For approximately two or three years I chaired an effort to review their policies and practices and help them update those,” he said.

Bilchik’s work with the Diocese of Pittsburgh is in its earliest phase.

“I will be taking a look at the trajectory of the child protection-related policies and practices within the diocese,” he said. “I want to look at where your policies and practices around child protection were 15 years ago, where they were 10 years ago, where they were five years ago and where they are today. And I will be looking for whether there are weaknesses or gaps where they could be strengthened, using everything I know in my professional experience to take a look at what the diocese is doing to protect the children in their care.”