Some time ago we published an article on the necessity of making your church organisation as safe a place as possible for children. We consider this issue to be pertinent enough for a re-visit – particularly in light of some of the alarming cases that have been emerging from the Royal Commission. Statistics also indicate that as many as 59,000 children in Australia per year suffer sexual abuse before reaching the age of 18.
In this article we will again summarise some of the steps that need to be taken to keep your church and ministry as safe as possible for children and young people, and what to do if you discover abuse has or may have taken place. We also highlight the changes to Victorian legislation regarding the mandatory reporting of child abuse.
Prevention and risk management
Prevention is of course paramount to maintain safety and well-being of children. At a minimum this should include conducting WWC (Working With Children) and Police checks for people that you intend employing to work with children – including volunteers, contractors, and unpaid workers.
However prevention really needs to go beyond legal obligations to include Common Law and Duty of Care principles, such as ensuring you have taken all reasonable steps to create a safe environment for children and any vulnerable people in your care. Not only that, if child sex abuse is discovered to have occurred in an organisation it is an extremely distressing matter to be confronted with, so it’s only natural you would want to put procedures in place to prevent it from occurring from that standpoint.
In addition, while church organisations are not currently directly liable for acts of abuse committed by individual perpetrators, they may be sued if it can be shown that they were negligent and / or they could have prevented the abuse from occurring but failed to do so.
Preventive steps include:
- Being aware of the laws in your state regarding child abuse and mandatory reporting – see below for more information.
- Developing a policy statement for client protection. This should include a Code of Conduct that is communicated to all staff and volunteers.
- Revising how you select employees – which should include police and WWC checks, and other procedures such as checking a prospective employee’s employment record, and contacting referees personally for information.
- Development of clear guidelines and procedures regarding supervisor practices and accountability – including leadership training, and establishment of clear boundaries.
Developing and implementing a response plan also forms part of a prevention and risk management plan. Without a response plan you might not know what to do or who to turn to if abuse is suspected or reported to you. Actions in this regard include assigning a trusted senior member of staff to handle allegations, collecting information, and determining whether it needs to be handed on to the police. Our article on responding to historical allegations provides more detail on this.
Mandatory reporting requirements
Legislation has been passed in Victoria making it a legal obligation for all adults to who suspect child sex abuse to report it to the authorities, and not just those who work with children. This applies to any adult who has a ‘reasonable belief’ that child sex abuse has occurred – which might arise from a child stating he or she has been abused or from observed injuries or behavioural changes in a child. There are some exceptions to this rule such as safety fears, or if the information has already been reported, or where the alleged victim has requested confidentiality.
Legislation is also being continually updated, and minimum child safety standards are being phased in over the next 12 months – see the state government human services site for more information.
The links below provide detailed information for all states and territories:
- NSW – www.community.nsw.gov.au
- SA – www.families.sa.gov.au
- Qld – www.communities.qld.gov.au
- ACT – www.dhcs.act.gov.au
- WA – www.dcp.wa.gov.au
- Tas – www.dhhs.tas.gov.au
- Vic – www.dhs.vic.gov.au
- NT – www.childrenandfamilies.nt.gov.au
Free Childsafe membership
Lastly, don’t forget that membership for ChildSafe is free of charge for all CCI members. Being a member of this organisation provides you with access to resources, training materials and support for the safety and welfare of children and for developing a child safe church. The program’s materials apply not only to protecting children from abuse, but also to child and youth events and activities, transportation, food, and emergency response procedures. You can find out more on this here.
Feel free to contact Russell or Liz for more details on this or any other matter relating to risk management and insurance for your church.Tags: children, childsafe, legal