October 11: School Governance Weekly Wrap

AUSTRALIA

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Reports Suicides Remain Lead Cause of Death in Young People – headspace Encourages the Education Sector to Consider the Impact of Suicides in Schools

Head of headspace in Schools, Kristen Douglas, has commented on the release of the 2017 ABS statistics on causes of death. headspace has also written an article for School Governance. The ABS has released its 2017 causes of death report and has revealed that suicide was the leading cause of death for young people aged between 5–17 years of age. There were 98 deaths in this age group representing a 10.1% increase from 2016 and nearly 80% of youth suicides were aged between 15 and 17 (78.8%). The Head of headspace in Schools, Kristen Douglas said:

“The suicide of a young person has a long and lasting impact on friends, families, schools and communities. Help-seeking and early intervention is a proven pathway to suicide prevention. When support is accessed in the early stages of distress or suicidal thinking, young people are best placed to recover quickly, and learn lifelong coping strategies. We know that with the right support, young people can get things back on track. Research shows suicide risk in schools is an increasing concern and no school is immune. This indicates that we need to continue to work with educators to build mental health literacy and have the skills to identify and respond to risk when they see it. Returning to school can play an important part in a young person’s recovery following an incident of suicide attempt, so we encourage all schools to develop a Return to School Student Support plan to help your school establish a safe and supportive learning environment for the young person. It is critical that schools engage with the National Education Initiative (NEI), launching on 1 November 2018, as this new national framework and program has a suicide post-vention service to support Australian secondary schools.”

For more information schools should contact headspace.org.au

Cyberbullying Needs to be on School Curriculum, says eSafety Commissioner

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant has called for cyberbullying to be addressed in the national school curriculum, after the agency’s latest data revealed that one in five young people have been targeted online. Ms Inman Grant said her office, which has been investigating complaints of online abuse since 2015, had noted an increase in the seriousness of reported incidents. The Commissioner said the average age of complaints to her office by young people was 14 – the same age Dolly Everett was when she died last year in a suicide that sparked a national response. Girls were targeted more often than boys, the Commissioner said, while almost all of the incidents had “a nexus to social conflict within the school gates”. Ms Inman Grant said while there was “no quick fix or panacea” to the problem of online abuse – which required “full scale cultural change” – school communities had a key role to play.

Scouts Australia Apologises ‘Unreservedly’ to Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

According to SBS News, Scouts Australia has apologised to those who were sexually abused as children by members of its organisation. The apology is part of Scouts Australia’s commitment to acknowledge and address the harm some members suffered and comes in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse. Chief Commissioner Phil Harrison said the “genuine and heartfelt” apology was being made on behalf of all state and territory scout branches. According to the Herald Sun, senior members of the organisation have met with survivors around Australia and made personal apologies. But the Sydney Morning Herald has reported that lawyers have warned that the apology will be deemed meaningless unless it’s matched with real action to help support those who were abused.

Online Trolls and Cyberbullies in NSW face up to Five Years in Jail under Law Change

According to ABC News, the New South Wales Government has announced that the laws will be strengthened to protect people from cyberbullying and online trolling and keep up with changes to technology. The changes aim to address an emerging trend of offenders threatening and harassing victims online through social media. Those who stalk or intimidate using modern technology will face a maximum of five years in prison under legislation to be introduced this month. Existing Commonwealth laws have a maximum of three years’ jail for the offence.

More than 20 Charities Stripped of Status by National Watchdog

According to The Brisbane Times, multiple Australian charities have had their registrations revoked following recent compliance investigations by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). The ACNC stripped the charity status from 22 organisations in the most recent financial year, new data shows. The number of charities that were revoked after investigations in 2017-18 made up one-third of all charities that have lost registration following compliance audits since the ACNC began in December 2012. A spokeswoman for the ACNC said 108 investigations into charities were carried out in the last financial year. “The most common categories of concern related to fraud and financial mismanagement, including poor financial controls, inadequate due-diligence of employees and partners and a failure by the charity’s responsible persons to act in the best interest of the charity,” the spokeswoman said.

Religious Freedom Review Enshrines Right of Schools to Turn Away Gay Children and Teachers

According to The New Daily, gay students and teachers could be rejected by religious schools under changes to anti-discrimination laws being recommended by a federal review into religious freedom. Former attorney general Philip Ruddock, who chaired the review, said the right of schools to turn away gay students and teachers should be enshrined in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). According to SBS News, the review has not been publicly released despite being handed to then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull four months ago. His successor, Scott Morrison, has promised a response before the next election. Schools already have this exemption in some states, but the change would extend the rule around the country. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the report said that any change to the law should only apply to new enrolments. A school would have to have a publicly available policy outlining its position, and should regard the best interests of the child as the “primary consideration of its conduct”. The panel also agreed that faith-based schools should have some discretion to discriminate in the hiring of teachers on the basis of religious belief, sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Taskforce Meets for First Time

According to a QLD Government Media Release, members of Queensland’s new Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Taskforce which was established in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse met for the first time on 4 October. Former Police Commissioner and Royal Commissioner Bob Atkinson is chairing the nine-person committee. Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women Di Farmer said the Brisbane meeting was an important milestone in helping those impacted by child sexual abuse to heal. “The Taskforce will make sure the voices of people who experienced institutional sexual abuse continue to be heard…The Queensland Government accepted 244 Royal Commission recommendations and as part of that committed to establishing this taskforce.”

Costly Bill for Attacks on Victorian Teachers

According to The Herald Sun, two students made a $500 bet to slap a teacher’s aide in the face in one of 63 cases of assault and harassment of educators last year. Weapons including a tomahawk, a meat cleaver, scissors, a cricket bat, a hockey stick and a rubbish bin were used by students to threaten and assault Department of Education staff, who were awarded more than $1.7 million of taxpayer funds in compensation. According to details of a WorkSafe Victoria case obtained by the Herald Sun under Freedom of Information, a teacher’s aide claimed for facial injuries after being hit by a child who “made a $500 bet with another student to hit me twice with a slap to the face”. The cases were among 889 WorkSafe claims by Department of Education staff for injuries in the workplace in 2017, which totalled $11.4 million.

Complaints about Sexual and Physical Misbehaviour by NSW School Staff Skyrocket

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, complaints relating to sexual and physical misbehaviour towards children with special needs or disabilities by teachers and other staff in NSW schools have nearly tripled over the past two years, with more than 650 complaints made last year. This includes 63 allegations of sexual misconduct and 375 complaints about physical misbehaviour that were recorded in the 2017-18 financial year, which was significantly higher than 25 complaints about sexual misconduct and 121 about physical misbehaviour in 2016. Of the 657 total complaints, which also include allegations of neglect, ill-treatment and psychological and emotional abuse, only 159 resulted in full investigations, according to statistics provided by the NSW Department of Education. The remaining 498 allegations of staff misbehaviour deemed not to be “reportable”, or significant enough, were sent back to the schools for further action. The NSW Department of Education did not respond to questions about how many of the investigations resulted in adverse findings or whether disciplinary action had been taken in relation to any of the complaints. A NSW Ombudsman’s investigation into the treatment of students with disability completed in August last year also found that there are significant concerns about reporting requirements and outlined plans to bring “all ill-treatment allegations under [the NSW Ombudsman’s] direct oversight”. The Ombudsman’s report found that NSW public, Catholic and private schools are using physical restraints and isolation that go against guidelines when dealing with students with disabilities or special needs.

Seven WA Teachers Banned for Posing Risk to Children in One Year

According to The Age, seven WA teachers were banned or suspended from teaching for posing a serious risk to children over the last year, the Teacher Registration Board of WA has revealed. The new figure illustrates the number of cases that have come before the State Administrative Tribunal between July 2017 and July 2018, with offences ranging from sexual misconduct to inappropriate relationships with students. The Teacher Registration Board of WA chair Margaret Collins said it was important to note teachers who were banned from working for a significant time period would face challenges when trying to reenter the field. Department of Education Professional Standards and Conduct Executive Director Mike Cullen said the department had completed 18,000 criminal checks throughout 2017- 2018. WA Commissioner for Children and Young People Colin Pettit said it was important parents know of the processes in place for reporting misconduct or otherwise. While the 2017- 2018 offences were serious, the number of banned or suspended WA teachers were far fewer than in the Queensland education system, with 24 teachers already disciplined since January.

INTERNATIONAL

Canadian Bishops Announce New Guidelines to Prevent, Investigate Child Sexual Abuse

According to CBC News, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has issued new guidelines aimed at improving how allegations of sexual abuse are handled in a bid to prevent future abuses against children. Titled “Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse: A Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation, and Transformation”, the 184-page document is an attempt to update how each diocese responds to sexual abuse in the church. The new guidelines apply to all Catholic clergy (bishops, priests and deacons), members of religious communities and lay personnel who are working in Catholic parishes or church organisations. In a statement announcing the changes, the CCCB says protection of victims, and a focus on long-term prevention and preemptive action, are the guiding principles of the document. Among its 69 recommendations are included putting victims first by ensuring they are received in a non-judgmental way, working to ensure bishops and others in authority in the church are educated about sexual abuse with a focus on fostering compassion for victims, tougher background checks for staff and volunteers, including background and criminal record checks and psychological evaluations, moves to ensure full cooperation with civil authorities, submission of all practices to third-party auditors once every three years, and to stop requiring confidentiality clauses in settlements with victims and to waive those given in the past. The guidelines are the first comprehensive review of policies for dealing with sexual abuse in Canada since 1992.

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