In 2016, Archbishop Julian Porteous announced plans for the development of an Archdiocesan Safe Communities – Protecting Children and Vulnerable People Policy and Framework. The Policy and Framework will maintain the highest levels of safety for children and vulnerable people in the Archdiocese of Hobart.
The Policy and Framework is designed to set a benchmark for Tasmanian Catholic organisations, while being cognizant of emerging national and state standards. It is not intended that the Safe Communities Policy and Framework will override or replace existing frameworks, but rather operate in conjunction with current documents and processes.
The intention of the Framework is to ensure that in all potential environments where a risk of abuse may exist, that risk is alleviated or mitigated. The Framework also ensures that where abuse has unfortunately occurred, the correct internal and external processes are followed.
“This particular Safe Communities programme has emerged out of our own listening to what the Royal Commission has been saying, and we’ve sought to build into this programme a number of recommendations that the Royal Commission has put forward already,” Archbishop Julian said.
“We wanted to bring into place stronger structures and more effective forms of formation and vetting of people. We are also wanting to ensure that we do have effective processes of audit to ensure that we maintain the standards that we establish.”
The Safe Communities – Protecting Children and Vulnerable People Framework will aim to:
- Create a shared culture of safety for children and vulnerable people
- Establish systems and processes that provide a safe environment for all in the care of Catholic organisations
- Implement safe strategies and practices to protect children and vulnerable people from harm
- Report, monitor and respond to disclosures or concerns of abuse throughout Tasmania.
Following a project planning phase, consultations occurred throughout September 2016 and October 2016 with senior management and their representatives of the various Roman Catholic Church Trust Corporation Agencies, and the other Tasmanian Catholic Organisations (St Vincent de Paul, Calvary Health Care, Southern Cross Care, for example). During the consultations held to date, the Archdiocese has been able to share information and connect individuals and organisations to share resources, practices and training materials.
“I wanted to be sure that all our agencies that in one way or another are connected with the Catholic Church, are also embraced by this Safe Communities programme. We have had consultation with many of the [Catholic] organisations [and] they have been very happy to cooperate with us, and they want to be part of this programme,” His Grace said.
Of significant importance is the development of an allegation reporting Framework to ensure the Archbishop's Office is informed of all incidents, disclosures and/or concerns on a state-wide basis. It is essential that the latter are promptly and comprehensively reported, duly monitored and action taken as deemed warranted. This is the ideal scenario and is dependent on further consultation with stakeholders.
In addition, an online Safe Communities Self-Assessment checklist tool has been developed to assist the various Roman Catholic Church Trust Corporation Agencies and Tasmanian Organisations of Catholics, continuously improve their child and vulnerable person safety procedures. This self-assessment tool is based on the recommended ten child safe elements set out by the Royal Commission. This framework extends these elements to include vulnerable people.
The Safe Communities – Protecting Children and Vulnerable People Policy and Framework will operate in addition to current safeguards in place at the Archdiocese of Hobart, which include:
- Stringent interview and reference checking procedures;
- Continuing implementation of the Registration to work with Vulnerable People Act and regulations, and National Police checks for all staff (including volunteers);
- Education and training programs, including Integrity in Ministry course, and Protecting Children and Vulnerable People online training;
- Use of the Australian Catholic Ministry Register (ACMR), the new national Catholic database that allows bishops and leaders of religious congregations to check the background of clerics and brothers visiting or moving to their region.
“The whole process of the Royal Commission has been harrowing for the victims of sexual abuse and their families. The Church knew there were failures but didn’t realise the extent of them, and didn’t realise that we ineffectively dealt with them. There is a strong collective will in the Church, in all agencies, and particularly the bishops, to respond positively, in a very cooperative way with the Royal Commission, to be proactive in taking things forward. There is a strong will in the Church, and a realisation that we do things a lot better,” Archbishop Julian said.
In addition to the development of the Safe Communities – Protecting Children and Vulnerable People Policy and Framework, the Catholic Church has announced the establishment of a new independent company that will develop, audit and report on compliance with state-based office of professional standards to protect children and vulnerable people. Catholic Professional Standards (CPL) Limited will be responsible for setting the highest standards to ensure the safety of individuals involved with the Church at all levels and engaging with Catholic service providers. It is expected that Catholic Professional Standards Limited will also be operational in 2017.