Children’s safety at school a priority

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Many Catholics are grieving the hurt that clerics and lay people have caused to children and families. Parents should be confident that the safety of children is a priority in every Sydney Catholic School and every parish.

More than 20 years ago a rigorous and comprehensive Child Safe Communities framework was first put in place in Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS). Child protection measures across the Archdiocese of Sydney have been reviewed and are regularly updated to ensure compliance with new legislation and the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Another way Sydney Catholic Schools ensures the safety and ongoing wellbeing of children is by providing prompt access to counselling and other services if required.

SCS’ wellbeing policies are also informed by the Federal Government-sponsored Australian Student Wellbeing Framework which provides an extensive range of resources that are implemented through the curriculum and pastoral care programs of all SCS schools.

“Our key priority is ensuring that our schools are communities where all members feel safe and supported to learn, grow and achieve,” says Jacqueline Frost, head of HR Professional Services at Sydney Catholic Schools.

Jacqueline Frost head of HR Professional Services. PHOTO: Sydney Catholic Schools

“SCS supports their 152 schools in the areas of child protection and student wellbeing by employing central and regional specialist staff to ensure that expert support and resources are immediately available to staff, parents, students and community members when needed.

“SCS completed a comprehensive review of all Child Safety and Child Protection processes, procedures and guidelines during the course of the Royal Commission. The review was part of our ongoing quality management to ensure these processes remain current, and staff are aware of updates and regularly inducted into all appropriate requirements.”

In addition, Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools Dr Dan White is currently hosting a series of workshops with school leaders and pastoral care staff across the archdiocese in which clinical psychologists identify additional pastoral care strategies based on the needs of each school.

“Sydney Catholic Schools is committed to ensuring that each of its schools, communities and programs are child-safe and dedicated to creation and maintenance of an environment where students can thrive in their learning and their faith in Jesus Christ,” says Dr White.

For parishes, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP established the Safeguarding and Ministerial Integrity Office in 2015 to support parishes in providing safe communities for children and vulnerable people.

Karen Larkman
Karen Larkman, the head of the archdiocese’s office for the protection of minors. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The Safeguarding Office’s director, Karen Larkman, says that sexual abuse of children “is intolerable in our society and the community has clear expectations in matters relating to the welfare and safety of all children”.

The office’s role is to raise awareness of the Catholic community’s shared responsibility to protect the safety, well-being and dignity of children, and to respond swiftly and compassionately in circumstances in which children are harmed or at risk of being harmed.

All church staff and volunteers, including priests and religious, who work with children are required to have a Working with Children Check, sign a Code of Conduct for Working with Children and to undertake safeguarding training.

Recruitment practices of employees and volunteers are rigorous, and visitors are required to sign in when arriving at the premises.

Best-practice policy and protocols with regards to safeguarding and child protection of the Archdiocese are public documents, visible and available for all to read in five languages.

All complaints, concerns and feedback are taken seriously and dealt with effectively, while risk assessments are provided for all activities within the parish. Those clergy that have offended have been removed from active ministry and are subject to Safety and Support Plans which are supervised.

The archdiocese has recruited more than 120 Parish Safeguarding Support Officers who are trained to support the parish priest in ensuring compliance with legislation and keeping the community safe.

In 2017 the Archbishop established an expert Independent Safeguarding Advisory Panel which assists the archbishop in relation to Professional Standards matters.

The office also encourages survivors of abuse to come forward and provides them with access to healing and support services and financial redress.

“Child abuse has a long-term impact on those that have been abused and can change the course of their lives forever,” says Ms Larkman.

“We are determined to ensure that we implement strategies and processes to protect our children and hold to account those who wish to harm them.”