Royal Commission recommendations: Where to from here?
After five years, the handling of 42,041 calls, sorting through 25,964 letters and emails, holding 8,013 private sessions, referring 2,575 cases to authorities, and 57 public hearings, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) published its Final Report on 15 December 2017. The Final Report comprises 17 volumes and is over 7,700 pages but a shorter Preface and Executive Summary is also available which summarises the entire Report and provides a full list of recommendations. In total, the Royal Commission made 189 recommendations to help ensure the prevention of the sexual abuse of children in institutional environments in the future. Now that the Final Report is here, what are the next steps?
Like all Australian Royal Commissions, the recommendations in the Final Report require attention and response from government to have any impact.
The Royal Commission recommended that:
- governments should embed the 10 Child Safe Standards, recommended by the Royal Commission, into legislation
- the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) should endorse the 10 Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission
- an independent oversight body should be created in each state and territory responsible for monitoring and enforcing the 10 Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission
- the Federal Government should develop a National Framework for Child Safety and establish a National Office for Child Safety in the Department of Prime Minister
- the COAG consider strengthening teacher registration requirements to improve national consistency and improve the effectiveness of teachers.
At the time of publication of this article, there has been no response to the Royal Commission’s recommendations from state, territory or federal governments. Governments around Australia may decide to respond to the recommendations at the next COAG meeting on 9 February 2018. At this stage, media reports indicate the governments are already putting forward important child safety matters for the COAG meeting agenda (the tragic death of a Queensland school girl being one example), but it is yet unclear if the Final Report will be on the Agenda.
The Media Coverage
From its inception, the Royal Commission, launched by Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, has been a point of discussion around Australia and the world. From the Houses of Federal Parliament in Canberra to the Vatican, the Royal Commission’s inquiries into institutional abuse have touched all aspects of society.
Since the Royal Commission concluded, media coverage immediately following the release of the Final Report was extensive. While recommendations to implement better child safety measures to protect against and prevent child sexual abuse were reported in the media, a majority of the coverage was on the responses from the Catholic Church.
The Royal Commission’s Final Report covers various recommendations, particularly around the areas of reform to the Catholic Church, such as changes to canon law. Some of the more controversial topics focussed on by the media are the recommendation that the ministry of churches (of all faiths) should not be exempt from reporting information divulged during confession and the introduction of voluntary celibacy.
It remains to be seen what the political response is to these points.
Catholic Church Response
In a 15 December media release Catholic Professional Standards Limited (CPSL) stated that: “CPSL will be developing new standards to protect children and vulnerable people across the Catholic Church. It will also audit and publically report on the compliance of each Church leader, including bishops and congregation leaders, against these new national standards and existing statutory standards. Ms Sheree Limbrick, CEO of CPSL, said the Commission’s report is momentous work.”
For more information on CPSL refer to this School Governance article.
Theme in the Recommendations
The purpose of the Final Report is to provide recommendations to prevent future systemic failures by institutions in relation to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse and the unlawful or improper treatment of children. The Royal Commission’s recommendations deal with valuing children and their rights, producing child safe institutions, and creating child safe guidelines. The recommendations that relate to schools include:
- institutions should have clear, accessible and child-focused complaints handling policies and procedures on how to respond to complaints of child sexual abuse
- school registration authorities should place emphasis on monitoring boarding schools to ensure they meet Child Safe Standards
- parish priests should not be employers of principals and teachers in Catholic schools
- state and territory governments should establish nationally consistent schemes government and non-governments schools
- the reform of information sharing between states and territories about teachers and students
- institutions that engage in child-related work should implement record keeping practices that responds to the risk of child sexual abuse occurring within the institution.
The Royal Commission noted that some leaders felt their primary responsibility was to protect the reputation of the institution and the accused person when an allegation of child sexual abuse arose. This was a result of poor practices, inadequate governance structures, failure to report and record complaints, or not understanding the seriousness of the complaint or offence. This has led the Royal Commission to comment that good governance within an institution should be implemented to ensure that every school and its leaders understand their obligations to keep children safe and are held accountable if they do not.
While we wait for the governments and authorities to respond to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, schools and their leaders may decide to get on the front foot by reviewing the culture of risk management and governance within their school. Professor Daryl Higgins, Director of the Institute of Child Protection Studies at the Australian Catholic University aptly stated that: “Rather than be defensive, the work of the Royal Commission should be considered a gift. The work shines an uncomfortable light on the dark past, and even on the murky present, which can help to provide the motivation to address the contemporary leadership challenge: how to ensure we have acknowledged and learned lessons from the past, and implemented strategies to bring about the necessary safeguarding revolution within organisations. This is not something that can simply be imposed upon organisations—organisations must also be willing to make change from within”.
About the author
William Kelly is a School Governance reporter. He can be contacted here.