National Child Protection Week (6-12 September) was chosen by the VicTas Synod as an appropriate time to launch the Keeping Children Safe Policy in Victoria. Planning is currently underway to also hold a launch of the policy in Tasmania.
The policy builds on the good work already being done in church communities to ensure a safe environment for everyone. It requires a commitment to shared personal responsibility for all children to be protected. The policy requires congregation members, volunteers, staff, boards and councils to actively participate in implementation and continual review of the policy guidelines.
The need to increase the Church’s efforts and focus on the protection of children was reinforced by the findings of the Victorian Government’s 2013 Betrayal of Trust report and the subsequent new legislation which has created three new criminal offences in Victoria. These are: grooming (predatory conduct undertaken to prepare a child for sexual activity at a later time); adults’ failure to report criminal child abuse to the police, and failure by those with responsibility within an organisation to remove or reduce a substantial risk that a child may be sexually abused. Tasmanian law also has clear legislation for matters relating to child sex abuse.
The ongoing work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has highlighted the need for continued focus. The Royal Commission advised that to achieve a child-safe organisation it is critical to have competent and committed leadership and governance which develops and maintains a child-safe culture.
“More than ever before we are aware of the impact and possibility of abuse, issues of safety and the vulnerability of children,” Charles Gibson, executive officer of the Synod’s Royal Commission Task Group, said.
“The standards of care now expected as a matter of law and of community practice are higher than they were in the past, and are rightly being enforced. We have a moral responsibility and duty of care to ensure that children are protected from harm.”
Moderator Dan Wootton stated that the Church is determined to make every effort to put in place procedures that maximise the ability to keep children safe.
“This is a reaffirmation of what was said when I launched the Safe Church Recognition program in 2014. We must protect children from abuse and make sure that all child abuse allegations are reported,” Mr Wootton said.
The Keeping Children Safe Policy provides an over-arching framework to facilitate a consistent approach across the Church’s various activities.
Existing policies such as the Working with Children Check Policy; Safe Church policies; camping, agency and school policies now sit within this framework. The policy focuses on specific areas which include statements of commitment, codes of conduct, recruitment, screening and supervision practices, orientation and training and the reporting of child abuse.
It was developed over a 12 month period in order to undertake adequate research and consultation. Not only does it incorporate the good practices currently defined within the Church, but it also draws upon the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians, who have jointly endorsed principles for child safe organisations. The policy also referenced the work of the Royal Commission and of Child Wise.
In 2015 the Assembly commenced the development of a UCA National Child Safe Policy Framework 2015-2020. The VicTas Synod has been working closely with the Assembly and other synods on this project. The Keeping Children Safe Policy is being used as a basis for the National Framework.
Mr Wootton has asked every individual to take the time to become familiar with the policy.
“We all have a responsibility to act on the requirements of this policy. Abuse thrives on secrecy and we are committed to developing and maintaining an open and aware culture. It is important that we send a strong message to any person with predatory behaviour that we are very alert regarding potential abuse of children.”
Keeping Children Safe brochures, templates and guides are available on-line at www.victas.org.au/keepingchildrensafe.