Royal Commission research symposium: Creating child safe institutions

04 May 2017

On 1 May 2017, The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) hosted a research symposium in Melbourne to share the findings from three research reports commissioned by the Royal Commission on the topic of child safe institutions (Symposium). Cara Novakovic, CompliSpace Content Development Consultant, attended the Symposium and in this article, reports on the key matters discussed by the Royal Commission.

The three research reports that have been published by the Royal Commission in 2016 are:

The Symposium provided an opportunity for researchers to present their research methodologies and findings and for attendees to ask questions regarding the research projects. The event was well attended by all kinds of stakeholders in child safety, including child advocacy groups, policy developers, lawyers, school groups, religious organisations and victims of abuse.

This article will focus on the Key Elements of Child Safe Organisations and the Disability and child sexual abuse in institutional contexts reports, as these are the most relevant for non-government schools.

Key Elements of Child Safe Organisations

School Governance has previously reported on this research report in our article “10 key elements for child safe organisations nation-wide: How does your school compare?

At the Symposium, Associate Professor Kylie Valentine from the Social Policy Research Centre presented the key findings of the research report and also delved into the research methodology. Understanding the research methodology is important as it provided great insight and added significant weight to the findings of the study.

The researchers conducted a Delphi study which is a robust way of gathering expert opinions on a subject. Rather than widely surveying a group of diverse stakeholders, the study surveyed 46 participants with an in-depth knowledge of child safety in organisational settings. There are also a number of rounds of survey in a Delphi study (in this case two) that essentially keep asking the questions until a consensus is reached on the surveyable topics.

In this study, the participants were asked to assess the relevance, reliability and achievability of the nine key elements originally identified by the Royal Commission. A consensus on the key issues was reached relatively early in the process, and nine key elements were confirmed. However, while respondents supported the elements, concerns were expressed about their achievability and implementation.

Round two of the study, asked specific questions about achievability and implementation within the current policy frameworks in Australia, such as whether there should be a national or state-based approach implementing the elements. The responses were overwhelmingly in favour of a nationally consistent approach to the implementation of the elements.

Another key outcome from the second round was the addition of an additional element, ‘Equity is promoted and diversity respected’. This was included across the previous nine elements, however participants felt it warranted its own element. Consequently, the '10 key elements' were devised.

It was stated during discussion, that the Royal Commission’s final report, due 15 December 2017, will feature recommendations regarding the practical implementation of these elements and recommendations for implementing organisational change.

Disability and child sexual abuse in institutional contexts

There were three key research questions within this research report that guided the presentation by Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn from the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney.  They were:

  • How have understandings of disability in Australia changed over time?
  • How do characteristics of a child’s impairment and their environment influence the risk of child sexual abuse?
  • What are the key factors in the prevention of sexual abuse of children with a disability in institutional contexts in the future?

According to the research report, how children are defined as having a disability, and how those children are treated, can impact upon the vulnerability of such children to child sexual abuse. For example, Professor Llewellyn suggests that two children with the same impairment may not both be defined as ‘disabled’ as it is not to do with impairment, but rather the functionality of that child and their limitations.

Professor Llewellyn stated that ideologically and physically separating children with a disability to special areas of schools and play areas is not always in their best interest. Implementing such strategies can also heighten the risk of child sexual abuse as children with a disability generally speaking, have fewer adults and children around them at all times, thus increasing the risk of opportunistic abuse and they are often exposed to a higher number of unknown adults in closed environments than children without a disability.

The presentation of this research report at the Symposium highlighted a number of key issues. At the forefront, however was the issue that children with disabilities are over-represented in statistics on child protection.

Royal Commission research reports a real benefit to schools

The publication of research reports commissioned by the Royal Commission are of immeasurable benefit to schools. This is for two reasons; firstly, knowledge is the best defence and secondly, these reports can act as a blue print for future legal and regulatory reform.

Taking steps to improve the knowledge of your school governors, principals and staff of key child protection and child safety issues will significantly increase the safety of your school’s various environments. The Royal Commission has been consistent in its advice that institutions increase knowledge, training and the sharing of information to increase the prevention and reporting of abuse. Secondly, the Royal Commission’s final report due at the end of this year will feature a plethora of recommendations to federal, state and territory governments regarding child protection reform. These recommendations will reflect the research in the Royal Commission reports and interim final reports (such as the Key Elements of Child Safe Organisations – Final Report). By reading and discussing these reports, and analysing how the recommendations and key concepts of child protection and child safety currently apply to your school, you can better prepare yourself for legal and regulatory change to come, and better protect your students.

Cara Novakovic

Cara is a Content Product Manager at CompliSpace. She works predominantly with education clients to ensure ongoing compliance with the myriad of laws, regulations and guidance notes that apply to schools across Australia. Cara’s key area of expertise is Child Protection governance, risk and compliance. Cara holds both a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications (Journalism) and a Juris Doctor from the University of Technology, Sydney.