Key representatives from across Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) recently assembled for the annual Diocesan Schools Launch, which officially launched the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference Social Justice Statement for 2022-2023, ‘Respect: Confronting Violence and Abuse’.
Released annually, the statement reflects on current social, economic and ecological issues and encourages the Catholic community to translate this into practical action. This year’s launch, hosted by the CEDP Mission Team and the Diocese of Parramatta Mission Enhancement Team (MET) – Peace, Justice and Ecology initiated the statement virtually to secondary students, staff and teachers on Tuesday 18 October.
Live from the Bethany Centre in Parramatta, Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference Social Justice Council Chair and Bishop of Parramatta, Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, and CEDP Executive Director Greg Whitby joined with schools to raise critical awareness of domestic violence and bring attention to the support offered within the Catholic school system.
“It’s important to break this veil of silence in our society and to realise that domestic violence is not just a private issue, it’s not a family issue, it’s a social and cultural issue and we need to confront this evil openly rather than allowing silence to be complicit to this continuation of family violence,” said Bishop Vincent.
In its many forms, domestic violence is not discriminatory and is a challenging reality for many people in society. With 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men who experience emotional abuse by a current or previous partner, participants were challenged with a driving question: how can we as school communities create a culture of healthy and flourishing relationships, look out for each other, and support agencies that help people who experience domestic violence?
Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) representative, Shatha Jajo further highlighted the gravity of domestic violence and encouraged school communities to get involved in helping those who have experienced it. “This is a really important issue and it needs to be spoken about more because these people are often overlooked or just fall through the crack of the system,” Shatha said. “We have a lot of students who volunteer at JRS and are very happy to engage with schools”.
Committed to building a culture of respect and a safe space where students feel comfortable using their voices, CEDP is already making progress in building support structures for students to develop healthy and flourishing relationships.
“We take it extremely seriously in all our schools. It’s a commitment of all our staff to contribute to the wellbeing and flourishing of each and every child,” said Greg Whitby. “It’s becoming so prevalent across all sections of society and we don’t want to hide from that reality. How we approach this is that it’s everyone’s responsibility. It’s not the REC teacher’s responsibility or the Principal’s responsibility, it is a community responsibility and it relies on open and honest dialogue and support that we can put in place”.
With the creation of a new directorate dedicated specifically to student and staff wellbeing, CEDP has reorganised how Catholic education in the Diocese is administered, developing the skills and capabilities to deal with the challenges of relationships.
“All our schools have experienced school counsellors who students can access. This enables students to get the support that they may otherwise not be able to access outside of school. For staff, they can access and contact EAP. They offer free and confidential short-term counselling and referrals,” said CEDP Wellbeing Coordinator, Laura Rowell.
Despite this year’s launch confronting individuals with a challenging topic, it was important for participants to collectively understand that we can all play a role in creating a society and community that helps prevent violence and abuse from happening. And if it happens, to support those who are affected.
“We make sure we locate the solutions to the problems deeply in our schools as possible and give them the resources they need to deal with these issues. Be confident to call out this sort of disrespect and problems in schools. Be confident that you can make a stand and be confident you can make a difference. Let’s not hide it, let’s embrace it and we can go forward with a great degree of confidence because we have zero tolerance,” added Greg.
If this topic raises concerns for you or for somebody you care about, please call the National Domestic and Sexual Violence Counselling Service 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
With thanks to Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta.