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Published: 19 December 2017
Author: Annie Kent

What the Commission recommends to prevent child abuse

The Royal Commission's final report: in detail

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (“the Commission”) released its highly-anticipated Final Report last week.

This week, Ryan Carlisle Thomas examines in more details specific recommendations of the report in a series of articles. Today, it’s what the Commission says to prevent child abuse. 

With the conclusion of the Commission, survivors now look for answers about how child abuse can be prevented in the future. Survivors come to Ryan Carlisle Thomas for assistance with common law claims for compensation. However, a number of survivors come forward, in part, to improve child safety and wellbeing. Volume 6 of the Final Report discusses what institutions can do to achieve more child safe environments.

Under Articles 19 and 34 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, all children in Australia have a right to protection from all forms of violence and harm, including sexual abuse in institutions.

National approach

The Commission documented in Volume 6 of the Final Report that governments and institutions in each State have different approaches to child safety. For example, the Commission noted that a number of perpetrators in historical child abuse matters were allowed to move from one State to another and continue their role of working with children despite public knowledge of indecency and criminal offending towards children.

As a result, children have received various levels of protection over the years and, by a similar token, children have experienced abuse to varying degrees. The Commission has noted that this should not be the case in the future and there should be a standardised and evidence-based approach to protecting vulnerable members in our community.

The Commission developed 10 National Child Safe Standards (“the Standards”):

  • Standard 1: Child safety is embedded in institutional leadership, governance and culture;
  • Standard 2: Children participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously;
  • Standard 3: Families and communities are informed and involved;
  • Standard 4: Equity is upheld and diverse needs are taken into account;
  • Standard 5: People working with children are suitable and supported;
  • Standard 6: Processes to respond to complaints of child sexual abuse are child focused;
  • Standard 7: Staff are equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to keep children safe through continual education and training;
  • Standard 8: Physical and online environments minimise the opportunity for abuse to occur;
  • Standard 9: Implementation of the Standards is continuously reviewed and improved; and 
  • Standard 10: Policies and procedures document how the institution is child safe.

Institutions responsible for children are not obliged to implement the Standards into their practices. However, Ryan Carlisle Thomas supports the view that Parliament should take steps to ensure institutions are held accountable when working with children by way of enacting legislation that addresses the Standards. This seems a crucial step to improving safety for future generations. 

Should child safe standards be mandatory across the country?

The Commission heard that some communities and institutions have been reluctant to accept that institutional child sexual abuse might be a problem. Various stakeholders told the Commission that making child safe approaches mandatory removed the need to decide whether child abuse was a problem in institutions. If child safe approaches and the Standards become law in Australia, this might help to address some stigma that surrounds institutional child sexual abuse.

The Commission also noted that mandatory standards might inspire long-term cultural change by showing that protection of children in institutions is not an option. In our experience, cultural change is central to most survivors’ grievances relating to historical child abuse.

In our experience, historical approaches to child safety have differed largely due to the degree of funding and resources of institutions responsible for children. A mandatory approach to the Standards would help set clear expectations of what is required of institutions, and provide them with resources and support to protect children.

To read more about the Commission’s discussion on child safety, see the full text here: https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/final_report_-_volume_6_making_institutions_child_safe.pdf

You can continue to follow our discussion of the Commission’s Final Report over the coming days.