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Safeguarding children: A workshop in leading change

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Media and Communications Office
 
This morning people gathered at the Catholic Leadership Centre in Melbourne to attend ‘Safeguarding children: Leading change’. The one-day workshop, organised by Australian Catholic University (ACU), was for all those involved in child protection, and provided thought leadership on how to prevent child abuse in a more pro-active manner.
 
 Prof Br David Hall welcoming participants.
 
The day was commenced with a Welcome to Country by Prof Br David Hall, the dean of La Salle Academy at ACU, who warmly greeted participants. He emphasised that today is to help assist in preventing abuse of children, and understanding each of our roles in doing that.
 
Prof Daryl Higgins, the Director of the Institute of Child Protection Studies at ACU, was the first speaker of the day. He took the participants through the Royal Commission context, and what the findings from the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse have meant to organisations that work or come in contact with children—especially with the final report due in December 2017.
 
 Prof Daryl Higgins delivering his talk.
 
Prevention is crucial and it has multiple facets, all of which enable a cohesive approach.
 
The first step for many organisations are police clearances and Working with Children checks. However, this only picks up offenders who have been caught and sentenced. A broader approach needs to be taken to child protection and abuse prevention.
 
Organisations need to promote respectful relationships between all staff, and between staff and children. Physically safe environments for children need to be created—especially if children are showered, changed, or live in residential care facilities. Lastly, emotionally safe environments that facilitate disclosures, respond appropriately to disclosures, and provide supportive and therapeutic context for survivors, need to be created and nurtured.
 
Every organisation needs to analyse their risks—and regularly do so, Prof Higgins asserted, as circumstances change. Not all organisations are equal, have the same settings, and need to change in the same manner, Prof Higgins reiterated.
 
There are risk profiles for organisations that have a tendency towards inadequate protective responses. Characteristics of those organisations include but are not limited to a culture of not listening to and respecting children, a strong ethos of group allegiance, and invisible child protection and complaints policies. Children can be groomed by adults for abuse and, at the same time, adults can be groomed by abusers to perceive potentially risky behaviour as harmless.
 
The profile of an abuser varies greatly, and the specific ‘bad man’ idea can actually do harm as each organisation will have its own independent risk profile. Some victims are abused by their peers—those abuses would be discounted under the ‘bad man’ idea.
 
 Dr Tim Moore discussing what makes children feel safe.
 
After Prof Higgins, Dr Tim Moore, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Child Protections Studies at ACU, took to the podium to explain what the research and focus groups in schools with children have to say.
 
‘It is really important to listen to children and what they are saying to you,’ Dr Moore emphasised.
 
Children often feel unheard, especially when they are describing physical feelings. Dr Moore recounted a handful of examples, where children approached adults with a physical response towards someone, which were proven to be right months later. ‘They weren’t taken seriously at the time,' said Dr Moore.
 
Children need to be involved in discussing boundaries—physical boundaries and consent are important, and organisations and their staff need to be able discuss sex. ‘Kids tell me that they aren’t uncomfortable with age-appropriate sexual health discussions, they say we are the ones who are uncomfortable,’ observed Dr Moore.
 
When children feel that adults are uncomfortable, they won’t come to adults to discuss or raise any issues such as child abuse.
 
Dr Moore then proceeded to talk through what does make children feel safe. ‘Children feel safe when adults behave like adults and when adults ask for their feedback, involving them in processes,’ said Dr Moore.
 
One in five children said they wouldn’t know what to do if they came across another person who made them feel unsafe or help them. Making them part of the process, informing them on processes and any dangers, and listening to their concerns help to create a child safe environment from a children’s perspective.
 
The workshop recommenced after morning tea and included group and facilitated discussions, and case studies.
 
 Participants listening to the talks and taking notes.
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