Child Protection Sunday

By Claire Pirola, 8 September 2017

The Catholic Church in Australia will observe Child Protection Sunday on 10 September 2017.

Since its establishment in 1990, National Child Protection Week has become an annual custom whereby we are encouraged to reflect on how each of us play a part in the protection of children in our various communities and ministries. This year, Child Protection Week will be held from 3 – 10 September and the theme is “See Me, Hear Me”.

Each year, this great initiative gives us each an opportunity to reflect on our role in safeguarding children from abuse. Given the continual growth of understanding and knowledge in this area within Australia in recent decades, it is a reminder to ask ourselves what we do we do differently now, since last year, in safeguarding children.

We welcomed this year the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse releasing its paper on key factors for a child safe organisation which are echoed in the revised 10 Principles for Child Safe Organisations by the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian. One of those principles highlights this year’s National Child Protection Year theme of giving children an authentic and meaningful voice in their own safeguarding. This is an important aspect that has always been a challenge and easy to give lip service to. It’s easy to ask children what they think but how do we truly listen and embrace their views especially when it takes us out of our comfort zone or means we have to change the way we have been doing things for years.

A recent report, (by the Institution of Child Protection Studies at the Australian Catholic University), Commissioned by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, undertook research into the views and perceptions held by children and young people in relation to what they think about safety. The research involved more than 1400 young Australians.

Related coverage: Child Protection Sunday

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The study found that 8 in 10 boys and 9 in 10 girls said they felt safe some or all of the time when they were at school, church, holiday camps or playing in a team. However, 1 in 5 said they wouldn’t know what to do if they came across another person who made them feel unsafe or hurt.

The study showed that children and young people want adults to know what to do and say, have a trusted adult that they can talk to and get help from, for adults to notice when they are not OK, and for adults to believe them when they tell them that they feel unsafe.

Sounds easy and straight forward – but it’s clearly not, because why else was it needed to be one of the main key factors stated by the Royal Commission and NSW Office of Children’s Guardian for all Australians to attend to? The need to commission research into this area was identified because something needs to change. That something is all of us – because if we really do believe that ‘child protection is everybody’s business’ and a ‘community responsibility’ then it is us who have to do something different based on this new research and growth in understanding.

We all agreed that we each play an important part in this role in ensuring a safe environment for children and young people who participate in our education, church and community activities.

This means we must listen to what children have said they need to feel safe which includes, being a good example – demonstrating good behaviours; communicating with children and providing them with the opportunity to talk about what they are thinking, feeling, seeing, and what they need; standing up and speaking out when children or young people are being hurt, bullied or treated badly. Again words easily written and read. So perhaps the check in for 2017 for each of us is to ask this question – what am I doing differently now, compared to 12 months ago, to ensure children’s voice is heard in a meaningful way? What has that voice caused me to do differently that will keep children safer?

Whether that is our question, or we chose to reflect on another, we encourage you all to make the most of this opportunity – during National Child Protection Week – to reflect on what you are responsible for to protect children and how you are developing and growing in this responsibility. At the very least, ask someone else if they know about National child Protection Week and raise awareness with other the person – who has their part to play within the Australian community.

Related coverage: Child Protection Sunday

Related coverage: Safeguarding Support for Ministry

Related coverage: Driving a cultural shift

The topic area is always a challenging one to us as humans. We can look at this as a humanity issue, a legal issue, a political matter or a variety of issues. Perhaps it’s a combination of many issues. Yet one clear aspect is that it’s also a matter of Gospel ministry.

There is real ministry, if we chose it, in responding to this responsibility for each of us to protecting children from abuse. Taking steps to create a safe environment for our children to grow, and putting in place barriers to hinder the ease for a child to be the subject of criminal conduct by an adult in our midst, is living the Gospel. Having difficult conversations, or challenging our comfort zones, in order to talk about the honest truth about child abuse and high risk adult behaviour in our midst is living out the Gospel. Certainly there must be no doubt, that in order to keep children safe from criminal acts we are asked to give our children a voice, about how they feel about their safety, is within Gospel. Certainly, reaching out a practical and useful way, to those affected by abuse, is Gospel.

We may feel bogged down in the adherence of regulations and administration of procedures – and wonder if any of this keeping a child any safer or healing someone harmed by abuse. So, it is helpful to remember that the facts are clearly there in the current research and studies – that it does make a difference. No single strategy stops abuse. However, a combined effort of many important factors do. One of those critical factors is that each person plays their role within their own family, neighbourhood, parish, community and workplace in any way they can.

As we come to the end of the work of the Royal Commission we have a great opportunity of being better informed about facts and research in this area. The Office for Safeguarding and Professional standards is committed to taking these learning and working in partnership with the Diocesan agencies, parishes and ministries to continue to develop awareness and create safer environments for children and young people.

During National Child Protection week take the opportunity to raise awareness about child abuse and how to keep children safe. Reach out to survivor of abuse, engage in dialogue in the subject area with another, read some new research from a credible source and inform oneself – and check in, what are we doing differently now? Or what we do differently now? –  Because we are truly listening to the voice of our children on this subject area.

Thank you for responding to your part in protecting children and all you do in this area of ministry already.

The Office of Safeguarding and Professional Standards can be contacted at safeguarding@parra.catholic.org.au if you would like to know more about the child protection resources, training and professional development opportunities available to people, agencies and ministries in the Diocese of Parramatta.

For more information please visit our dedicated resources page at – http://www.safeguarding.org.au/

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