Safety first

child safetyPENNY MULVEY

Evidence presented over the last three years to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has demonstrated that many institutions have failed the people they are supposed to serve.

Witnesses before the commission have told harrowing stories of betrayal, a lifetime of suffering, addictions and brokenness caused by the sexual, physical and psychological abuse by people in positions of authority and trust with respected institutions.

The Uniting Church is the subject of the last case study to be undertaken by the Royal Commission before it prepares its final report for the federal government.

The Uniting Church is committed to upholding the trust of the community and being a welcoming and safe environment for families.

Instilling trust in the Church is not just about compliance. It is about opportunity and a desire to be God’s witnesses in each local community. Some Uniting churches have recognised the opportunity and have received Safe Church recognition.

Others are holding Working with Children Check morning teas, where everyone comes together and registers for the check on the church computer, concluding with a simple shared feast.

Church members, along with volunteers and employees in all sectors of our society who engage with children, are mandated to undertake a Working with Children Check (WWCC/R).

The Victorian Government, recognising that the system has been onerous for some, has simplified the process. For example, the 100 point system of identification is being replaced by primary and secondary documents, and more cards will be accepted as proof of identity.

Australia Post no longer charges for taking a digital photo. For those who do not have easy access to the internet, or are not confident using it, the paperwork can be done at a participating Australia Post outlet. If in any doubt, seek assistance from a computer-savvy friend or relative.

From 1 January 2017 the new Child Safe Standards come into effect in Victoria. The Uniting Church, in its commitment to best practice, is implementing these standards across the whole of the synod. The Keeping Children Safe policy, released in July 2015, will be updated to incorporate these standards.

The UCA is one of five religious groups scheduled to participate in a Royal Commission public hearing held on 20 to 24 March next year in Sydney.

The Royal Commission is investigating how each institution has responded to allegations of child sexual abuse, including details of current policies and procedures in relation to child protection. It is also seeking to understand factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in each institution. The synod’s Keeping Children Safe policy falls under the scope of this hearing.

This hearing will be different to previous case studies as it is focusing on the whole institution, rather than the individual and particular cases.

A number of staff is committed to helping the whole-of-church improve its child safe practices. Andrea O’Bryne, executive officer of Child Safe Standards, has been guiding the Church on what is required to ensure compliance of the seven standards. Katrina Gillies, the synod’s Royal Commission Legal Counsel, identifies incidents, reviews historic claims and prepares documents. Safe church educator Josh Woollett works alongside Sue Clarkson, the newly appointed ethical standards officer in the Culture of Safety. Ms Clarkson, an accredited youth worker, will be ordained as a Minister of the Word this month at Church of All Nations.

The Culture of Safety unit has moved to the synod office at 130 Little Collins Street. For more information about changes to the WWCC/R processes and Safe Church training, please contact josh.woollett@victas.uca.org.au

If your church is finding creative ways to embrace child safe practices, please contact Crosslight (Crosslight@victas.uca.org.au). Stories, letters and images welcome.

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