Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Hold off on the Gold Stars

Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM
On Tuesday 16 May, Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM, Chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse addressed the National Council of Churches  He  spoke  to much of the work of the Royal Commission to date.  
In this post I am going to reference extensively from his speech, (which can be found in full at Safe as Churches ).  His thoughts are well worth ownership by every member of the community - leaders and those with expectations of their leaders.  
Direct extracts will be found italicised in quotation marks.

My own question - after two years in the spotlight - Is the community listening?  Learning? Is change happening? Are children in institutions likely to be safe going forward?
Are victims being nurtured, supported and receiving the long overdue respect, acknowledgement and redress they are due?

Justice McClellan noted from the Royal Commission Redress Report -
'We said appropriate redress should include three elements:
  1. A direct personal response by the institution, including an apology, an opportunity for the survivor to meet with a senior representative of the institution and an assurance as to the steps the institution has taken, or will take, to protect against further abuse.
  2. Access to therapeutic counselling and psychological care as needed throughout a survivor’s life.
  3. Modest monetary payments as a tangible means of recognising the wrong survivors have suffered.'
From the conversations I am having with survivors from a number of institutions in the Jewish community, these elements are still not being met.

'We recommended a set of principles by which redress should be funded. Those principles were:
  • The institution in which the abuse is alleged or accepted to have occurred should fund the cost of redress.
  • Where an applicant alleges or is accepted to have experienced abuse in more than one institution, the redress scheme should apportion the cost of funding redress between the relevant institutions.
  • Where the institution in which the abuse is accepted to have occurred no longer exists and the institution was part of a larger group of institutions or where there is a successor to the institution, the group of institutions or the successor institution should fund the cost of redress.
Again,from the conversations I am having with survivors from a number of institutions in the Jewish community, these elements are still not being met.

Child Sexual Abuse in Religious institutions – Private Sessions Information   
'...32 percent of survivors who have attended a private session reported abuse in a government institution.          10 percent of survivors reported abuse in a secular institution. 59 percent reported abuse in a religious institution.'  (my emphasis)

Special Vulnerability   
'...the majority of the allegations we have received have emerged from faith-based institutions. This inevitably raises the question “why”. Why is it that in institutions which proclaim faith in God and embrace the highest ethical and moral principles so many children are abused? Why do some people who proclaim their faith and have accepted a life of religious endeavour breach their obligations to children? Is there something in either the structure, culture, or personal qualities of members of the churches and other religious bodies, whether lay or ordained, that gives them such a prominent place amongst offenders?'

'...The child will always be vulnerable to the abusing adult. Where the adult is perceived by the child to be a manifestation of spiritual good, in some cases especially chosen by God, and able to instruct the child about the mysteries of life, death, belief in God, and good and evil an extra level of vulnerability may be present...'
'...Both physical punishment of the child and alienation from God are threats of which we repeatedly hear. Sometimes the child was told that the abuse afflicted upon them is God’s will...'
'...Remarkably some have been told it is the way God wants them to learn about sex. The calculated exploitation of a child’s innocence is difficult to comprehend. The power afforded to the adult by the institution is corrupted and used to abuse the child...'
'...The special attention which an abusing priest, pastor or religious person may have paid to the abused child is commonly welcomed by the child’s parent. This will also be true of a child’s sporting coach, lay teacher or dance instructor. That attention may engender a sense in the developing child that they are special. When the nurturing of a child’s spiritual development becomes entangled with affection and misplaced adoration of the abuser, both the risk to the child and the impact of the abuse when it occurs increases. The loss of a spiritual life for a survivor is common, although not universal. For many survivors this loss compounds the burdens they must carry for the rest of their lives...'
'...A pubescent or post-pubescent child seeking to understand their own identity and place in the world, including their sexual identity, is vulnerable to the affections and special treatment of the adult leading ultimately to disillusionment and, for many, lifelong destructive consequences....'

Justice McClellan went on to discuss child-safety elements in institutions.  One would imagine that any institution in the community would be well aware of these elements by now and on top of transition to ensure that a child safe environment existed.  
We have found these elements referred to previously in Case Studies and I list them below:
  • Child safety is embedded in institutional leadership, governance and culture
  • Children participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously
  • Families and communities are informed and involved
  • Equity is promoted and diversity respected
  • People working with children are suitable and supported
  • Processes to respond to complaints of child sexual abuse are child focused
  • Staff are equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to keep children safe through continual education and training
  • Physical and online environments minimise the opportunity for abuse to occur
  • Implementation of child safe standards is continually reviewed and improved
  • Policies and procedures document how the organisation is child safe.
To me, having read through these elements on many occasions, having worked with organisations and documentation focusing on change, compliance and child-safety it is often the first element that speaks to me, that calls loudest.  
To me, everything must flow from leadership - from the values, voice and role-modelling to an understanding and commitment to the authority and imperative to ensure transition to change across the institution, the internal and external stakeholders and the associated community. 
It is imperative that leaders understand their depth of personal responsibility, commitment and extent of duty required; both philosophically and practically to create an environment where change can and must eventuate.  
This process is not a matter of a point in time; an instigation in policies; a ticking of a box - but a recognition of an ongoing and constant attention to care, meeting benchmarks and growing beyond them.  Far harder to acknowledge, but crucial to undertake.

Without the commitment to ongoing process, internal monitoring and activity, outcomes are not necessarily ideal.
Over the past fortnight there has been much back-slapping across the community as two schools managed the discovery of a teacher since charged with making child pornography.  But a little reflection indicates that process certainly could have been better.  A community should not be too quick to congratulate itself on its presumed successes.
It needs to take the time to consider with objectivity. 
The teacher departed from a school in 2015 and his hard drive was only recently audited.  The Principal of the school from which the teacher departed in 2015 has advised he was aware of the importance of auditing hard drives.  One has to presume this hard drive belonged to the school to enable them to audit it at any time; this being the case - surely if they were on top of child-safety procedures the audit should have happened within 4/6/8 or even 10 weeks of the teacher departing the school?  Instead, the individual concerned has been in another teaching environment for a further extended period.
Pertinent to the same event - both schools involved sent out letters to parents to advise them of the situation.  Only one made any mention of engaging with Victoria Police should there be any concerns, etc.  
If there is one overwhelming lesson everyone should have taken home from Case Study 22 it is that at the slightest concern the place for first response is the police, or encouragement to engage with the police; not the institution.
So lets not be too quick to congratulate ourselves.  
What are we doing?  What call are we making to engage with expertise?  To inform ourselves?  To drive change?   
Are leaders committed to the 10 Child Safety Elements in an ongoing fashion?  Are community members responsible in communicating this expectation to leaders, rather than being complacent?
Let's have an expectation of getting it right; of protecting our  children before we hand out any gold stars.

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Hold off on the Gold Stars

Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM On Tuesday 16 May, Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM, Chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Re...