Melbourne News

Creating child safe organisations: MacKillop Family Services conference

Thursday 22 March 2018

Media and Communications Office
Three months ago, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handed down its final report after five years. With over 8000 people sharing their stories in private sessions, it was the most extensive investigation of child sexual abuse in Australia’s history and was praised for the compassion with which it engaged survivors and the depth and breadth of its recommendations.

But the questions remain, how did we let the child sex abuse crisis happen, and how can we prevent it happening again?

The MacKillop Family Services national conference Child Safe Organisations: Prevention and Practice Beyond the Royal Commission, took place in the MCG’s Olympic room on Wednesday 21 March. It aimed to answer those questions, seeking ways to channel moral outrage into recalibrating organisational cultures and systems.

The day was well-attended with well over 400 delegates present overlooking the hallowed turf. But perhaps more striking were all seventeen volumes of the Royal Commission’s final report on display by the entrance. 
The conference featured some of the most authoritative voices in child safety gathering a variety of managers and practitioners in child and family welfare, educators, researchers and policy-makers. It provided opportunities to reflect on the Royal Commission, explore evidence-based strategies to prevent child sexual abuse and investigate new approaches to child-safe pratice. ‘Conferences like this one are vital in preventing further child sexual abuse,’ said the Hon Jenny Mikakos MP, Victorian Minister for Families and Children.

‘Now the Royal Commission is complete, it is critical the lessons learned do not fade with time,’ Dr Robyn Miller stressed in her opening address. ‘Creating a space where people can share experience and knowledge on evidence-based practice is a crucial first response to the findings of the Commission.’

Keynote speakers included Robert Fitzgerald AM, Commissioner, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, who spoke on key learnings from five years at the Commission in his address: Important messages for child and family welfare and the education sectors. The Royal Commission, he said, would drive organisations to have a box-ticking, compliance focus. However, he made it clear that won’t be effective in the long run in building environments that keep children safe.

Panellists included Liana Buchanan, Victorian Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People, Dr Gemma McKibbin, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne, who shared evidence-based safe practice strategies on respectful sexual relationships.

In the Royal Commission’s final report, there is a particular onus on organisations—particularly those that work with vulnerable children, young people and families—to implement recommendations. But doing so isn’t necessarily a straightforward process. On an organisational level, ‘caring for children can be complex,’ said Dr Miller. ‘To keep children safe we need the best and brightest, using cutting-edge evidence that has emerged from research.’

Throughout the day, the message of the conference was consistent: after the dust of the Royal Commission settles, organisations need to put in place a number of child-safe policies, structures and systems. However, they also run a risk of becoming concerned with compliance at the expense of deep cultural change. And one of the key lessons of the Royal Commission is that the only way to build a child-friendly organisation is lasting cultural change. 
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