This year, the Australian Catholic Church’s Child Protection Sunday again falls at the end of the National Child Protection Week campaign, stressing the importance of primary prevention to reduce child abuse and neglect in Australia. The focus this year is: ‘Stronger Communities, Safer Children’.
The images of child sexual abuse have continued to affect our entire community and diminish the trust that many have placed in our Church. Sadly, that trust has been further eroded when institutions fail to appropriately respond to the needs of victims.
Despite her many failings, the Catholic Church is in a unique position to offer much within this focus of creating stronger communities, and safer children and young people. One such example can be seen in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, in which families and consequently communities are encouraged through love, and are strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience to become stronger more capable and more resilient.
Stronger families and Church communities can help to keep our children and young people safe. As parishioners of St James the Apostle parish, we must all play our part in ensuring that our children and young people are safe from harm.
As we await the imminent findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse later this year, we take this opportunity on Child Protection Sunday to humbly reflect on the work that our parish has done in ensuring that our children and young people are able to feel safe and be safe within our community.
The introduction of the Victorian Child Safe Standards has provided the parish with an invaluable and rare opportunity to embark on an appraisal of its culture of child-safety. Since then, the work that has been undertaken in this arena has purposefully centred on the principle that a culture of child-safety needs to be embedded and assigned a prominent and central role within all aspects of our parish life and organisation. Since this process of appraisal in 2017, St James the Apostle parish:
- has developed a Parish Commitment Statement to Child Safety which encapsulates our explicit and steadfast commitment to a culture of child safety;
- has developed a St James Child Safe Policy which articulates an overarching set of principles that guide how the parish honours this commitment;
- has developed a St James Code of Conduct which articulates clear behavioural expectations and boundaries for all adults in the parish in their interaction with children and young people;
- is continuing to consolidate processes to ensure that all volunteers in ministry have Working with Children Checks and, where required, National Police checks in accordance with legislative requirements;
- has developed an induction process for all new staff and volunteers in ministry to ensure that they are familiar with our child safe policies and processes;
- continues to provide ongoing annual training for Parish staff and all coordinators and volunteers in ministry, aimed at providing guidance about and developing awareness of child safe standards and professional conduct. These workshops are based on the Victorian Child Safe Standards, and the Church’s “Integrity in the Service of the Church”, “Integrity in Ministry” and “May our Children Flourish Code of Conduct.” These workshops ensure that all adults in our parish are able to appropriately care for children and young people, to positively promote their wellbeing and to protect them from any kind of harm and abuse;
- has developed a Child Safety Risk Committee which works with the Fr Jude and the Parish Pastoral Council to identify potential risks to child safety within our community and ways of mitigating or removing these risks;
- has appointed a Child Safety Officer (Geralyn McCarthy) to ensure that child safety continues to be a priority for our parish.
St James the Apostle Parish holds the care, safety and wellbeing of children and young people as a central and fundamental responsibility of everyone. This commitment is drawn from and inherent to the teaching and mission of Jesus Christ, with love, justice and the sanctity of each human person at the heart of the Gospel.
We strive to create a nurturing Church environment where children and young people are respected, their voices are heard and where they are safe and feel safe.