Safeguarding minors is a shared responsibility, says new child protection director

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

It’s not a task that exists in isolation, says the inaugural director of the Sydney Archdiocese’s Safeguarding and Ministerial Integrity Office, Karen Larkman. Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility. Safeguarding means taking action to enable all children and young people to have the best outcomes possible and that emerges from a culture of education and positive action.

Karen hit the ground running when she took up the role of director in November 2015 – itself the result of a review of archdiocesan child protection policies which Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP instigated soon after being installed as the ninth Archbishop of Sydney.

With a BA (Hons) degree in Social Work from Hertfordshire University in the United Kingdom, Karen has a postgraduate Certificate in Management Studies and is completing her MBA at ACU in Sydney. Karen has 25 years’ experience working in the field of front line child protection as a case worker, manager and chair of child protection conferences, working in partnership with agencies, parents and carers to ensure that vulnerable children and young people are provided with appropriate care and support to enable them to achieve their potential.

Since starting her role with the Safeguarding Office, Karen has been involved in assessing and reformulating the archdiocese’s Safeguarding policies and protocols as well as implementing training sessions for lay leaders, archdiocesan staff and priests.

The Church in Sydney, and the community more generally through the Church’s many charitable works, is feeling the benefit of her 25-plus years of experience of working within a children and families context.

It’s knowledge and experience that she hopes to put at the service of parishes and church agencies so that they can do their best by children and vulnerable adults, building a culture that puts children’s welfare and well-being front and centre.

“We are all on a journey when it comes to safeguarding children and vulnerable people,” she told The Catholic Weekly.

“If we are not part of the solution then we are part of the problem and I’ve met so many good people who want to be part of the solution but just don’t know how to go about it. The training sessions that are currently running provide information and advice to support people working within the Archdiocese in understanding their role and responsibilities in this area .

“Safeguarding is a challenge, so my message to people in parishes and agencies is: ‘I’m here to support you, to help you deal with safeguarding issues’.”

Karen moved to Australia in 2011. One of the other fortuitous outcomes of her coming to live in Australia also involves children – her own.

Yorkshire born, she spent most of her professional life in London before moving to Cyprus in 2005 with her husband, Peter, where she worked with the British military.

Karen was an executive member of the local safeguarding children’s board in Cyprus, chair of the audit group and member of the policy advisory group. She also set up the first fostering service in Cyprus and established a child protection conference system there, chairing the conference for six years.

The move to Australia occurred around the same time her two sons arrived in Australia.

“Peter and I were looking for new challenges and adventure, Australia beckoned. We all happily arrived here around the same time,” Karen said.

“In many ways, it all feels like it was meant to be.”

Their journey to Sydney was by way of the Northern Territory where Karen was recruited to manage mobile child protection teams as part of the Federal Government’s “Closing the Gap” initiative supporting Indigenous Australians.

‘The intervention’, as it came to be called, was the government’s response to the Little Children are Sacred report, the result of an inquiry into ways to best protect Aboriginal children from sexual abuse in remote communities.

Working and living in the Northern Territory was an astounding introduction into life in Australia, she said, and to some of the most challenging conditions in Australia on a whole range of fronts.

“The constant question when working in remote communities was ‘how do you make children safe in unsafe situations?’,” she said.

“It was gruelling work at times, but highly rewarding to see children being given the opportunity to grow and develop in safe and supportive conditions.”

Karen moved to NSW in 2013 and started work with CatholicCare, Sydney. During her time with CatholicCare she was called by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to provide expert witness on out-of-home care in her then capacity as general manager of Family and Community Services, CatholicCare, Sydney.

There she was asked by counsel assisting the commissioner, Gail Furness SC, about how foster parent selection and oversight in NSW measured up against similar procedures in the UK, and how it might be improved.

She was also asked to answer questions about the agency’s historic practice in relation to child abuse, in spite of only having worked there for 18 months. It was a demanding but fascinating experience, she said.

Far from being daunted by her new role, Karen says she is looking forward to the challenges she will face in the months and years ahead working with the archdiocese of Sydney.

“I am really exciting about my new role, there’s an awful lot to do, but the support and encouragement I have received makes me feel very positive about the future of safeguarding in the archdiocese.”