The Royal Commission and ADF Cadets: incorrect policies and procedures and disciplinary culture are lessons for schools

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) recently released the report of Case Study 40 entitled: ‘The response of the Australian Defence Force to allegations of child sexual abuse’ (the Report).  Schools may well be asking, ‘what does a report regarding the Australian Defence Force (ADF) allegations of child sexual abuse have to do with us?’ This is quite a legitimate question. However, it is the findings regarding the policies and procedures of the ADF Cadets that need to be noted, in particular that:

  • incorrect policies increased the risk of abuse;
  • duplicated policies, across different groups of Cadets were not useful; and
  • having cultures where disclosures of abuse could result in actual or threatened discharge, no action at all, or staff not believing the report – did not facilitate reporting.

Schools can learn from these areas of improvement for their own child protection policies and procedures and reporting culture.

Background

The Royal Commission held a public hearing for incidents of child sexual abuse amongst ADF cadets. The scope and purpose of the hearing was to inquire into the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse at the following institutions operated by the ADF:

  • HMAS Leeuwin (1960 to 1980);
  • the Army Apprentice School, Balcombe (1970 to 1980); and
  • the ADF Cadets (2000 to present).

According to the Report, there were many witnesses and victims of abuse who came forward to testify and a further 1033 documents, submissions, exhibits and transcripts presented to the Commission. The Royal Commission also closely reviewed the systems, policies, practices and procedures of the ADF and the ADF Cadets to prevent child sexual abuse and the raising and responding to concerns and complaints about child sexual abuse within these organisations.

Policies – just ‘red tape’? 

The Royal Commission requested that the ADF provide records of all incidents of abuse in the ADF Cadets program from January 2001. A total of 154 allegations have been made since that period, of which 51 involved an adult instructor and the remaining cases involved sexual abuse perpetrated by other cadets. The Royal Commission was also provided with policy guides and training manuals of the ADF Cadets that dealt with sexual offences and the age of consent.  A 2008 Behaviour Policy and a 2015 Behaviour Instruction defined ‘sexual offence’ as an ‘action that is explicitly sexual in nature’, which may be carried out with or without the consent of the complainant. Both documents stated that the ‘law’ regards complainants ‘under 14 years old’ as being too young to consent’.

The Royal Commission found that, since at least 2000, the policy guides and training manuals of the ADF Cadets regarding sexual offences and the age of consent (stated as 14 years) were incorrect. The Commission found that this “increased the risk of child sexual abuse and had the potential for serious consequences.”

In a separate article in the Sydney Morning Herald one victim statement to the Commission included:  “Although there are policies in place, we simply refer to them as red tape. Although there are policies protecting children, we think of them as a joke.”

Systemic issues – relevant to schools

The Report listed systemic issues within the ADF’s response to allegations of child sexual abuse at HMAS Leeuwin, The Army Apprentice School Balcombe and the ADF Cadets. Although specific to the Report, the identified issues are also relevant to school structures and cultures and provide a sort of checklist of items for schools to use for any form of review of their own child protection policies and procedures. The systemic issues arising in Case Study 40 are:

  • organisational understanding of the scope and impact of child sexual abuse;
  • the importance of educating and reassuring children that it is safe to report child sexual abuse and that they will receive support and assistance where they do so;
  • the culture of secrecy and barriers to disclosure in a hierarchical organisational structure in which alleged abusers remain as superiors;
  • the increased risk of child sexual abuse occurring where cadets and staff do not receive appropriate and correct information, training and supervision;
  • internal responses by institutions to allegations, and risk management, of child sexual;
  • abuse, including complaint handling and risk management;
  • an institution’s disciplinary process for dealing with alleged perpetrators, especially where they have voluntarily resigned from the institution;
  • the impact of internal investigative mechanisms on criminal investigations; and
  • developing an organisational culture that recognises and embraces the principle of acting in the best interest of children within its responsibility, especially where children represent only a small portion of the organisation’s personnel.

ADF Cadets and Schools: duplication of policies an area for improvement

It is essential to note that since 2000, the ADF has conducted many reviews and has instituted many important practices to improve ADF Cadets policies and procedures to ensure the protection of children.

It was noted within the Report that the ADF is moving towards a single set of child safety procedures and protocols for ADF Cadets. The ‘One Cadet’ child safety procedures and protocols will be developed over the next 12 months and will replace the current Australian Air Force Cadets (AAFC), Australian Navy Cadets (ANC) and Australian Army Cadets (AAC) policy materials ‘where they are [duplicated]’. The Royal Commission said: ‘We welcome Defence’s move towards the creation of uniform child safety procedures and protocols for ADF Cadets. We consider it important that Defence seeks to minimise duplication of child safety procedures and protocols for ADF Cadets’.

In addition, other improvements include:

  • defence-specific Youth Safety Training, which will provide accurate training to ADF Cadets on sexual relationships, the age of consent, special care relationships, and ‘inappropriate fraternisation’;
  • a 12-month pilot that will enable ADF Cadets to access services provided by Defence’s Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office; and
  • access for ADF Cadet Adult Staff Members, cadets and their immediate families to free, confidential counselling services through Defence’s Employee Assistance Program.

Further to this, there were extra commitments made specifically for the AAFC. Among these were two of note:

  • a requirement that the parents or guardians of a cadet under the age of 18 who has been involved in a substantiated complaint of sexual abuse be informed before the Police are called; and
  • policies and procedures to specifically articulate that no blame is to be placed on a child where an unacceptable relationship is suspected between an adult and a child.

In the Report “Defence says that, in light of the reforms set out above, ADF Cadets now has an appropriate organisational structure which provides the foundations for a safe environment for children participating in ADF Cadets.”

Lessons for schools

If history was to serve just one purpose, it would be to ensure that future generations learn from the past and do whatever they can to make amends, to make improvements and to ‘do things better’. Schools that operate cadet programs can rest assured that the ADF is setting things right.  Schools should also be mindful of ways of working with the ADF and within their own specific child safety requirements to ensure that all adults associated with cadets, whether they be ADF personnel, volunteers or school staff, undergo rigorous screening procedures and have a valid Working with Children Check.  Schools may need to determine if their high standards of child protection and their policies and procedures can be applied to overnight and week-long cadet camps.

Schools without ADF Cadets can also learn from their prior mistakes with policies and procedures.

Finally, and above all, schools need to ensure that their Culture of Awareness extends to all activities run by the school or even outside of the school, where their students are involved. Even if it is not a school based event, the students need to know that they can raise any concern or issue with a Child Protection/Safety Officer or other trusted staff member of your school and that the school will support them unequivocally.


About the author

Craig D’cruz is the National Education Consultant at CompliSpace. He can be contacted here.

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