Child Safety

 

 

St James Parish Commitment Statement to Child Safety

We are committed to a safe and nurturing culture for all children and young people in our Church

St James the Apostle Parish, Hoppers Crossing North, holds the care, safety and wellbeing of children and young people as central and fundamental responsibilities of the Church. 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 want our children to be safe, happy and empowered

As a parish within the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, St James has a universal expectation for the protection of children. It is resolutely committed to ensuring that all those engaged in the Church and within our parish promote the inherent dignity of children and young people and their fundamental right to be respected and nurtured in a safe environment. This is particularly so for the most vulnerable children, including aboriginal children, those from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds, and children with a disability.

The Catholic Church has a moral, legal and mission-driven responsibility to create nurturing environments where children and young people are respected, their voices are heard and where they are safe and feel safe.

We have zero tolerance of child abuse, and all allegations and safety concerns will be treated seriously and reported in line with our legal obligations, our moral obligations and our Church policies.

Creating child-safe environments is a dynamic process that involves active participation and responsibility by parishes, schools, families and their communities. It is marked by collaboration, vigilance and proactive approaches across policies, procedures and practices.

We are committed to preventing child abuse and identifying risks early and then reducing or removing them—If you see something of concern, please let us know.

Every person involved in the Catholic Church has a responsibility to understand the important and specific role he/she plays individually and collectively to ensure that the wellbeing and safety of all children and young people is at the forefront of all they do and every decision they make

For more information please speak to our parish priest, Fr Jude Pirotta (03 9401 6367) or the parish’s Child Safety Officer, Mrs Geralyn McCarthy (0416 059 673)

 

 

St James the Apostle’s Child Safe Policy

St James Child Safe Policy (Download 0.2 MB)
November 2016

1. Introduction

At St James the Apostle Parish, Hoppers Crossing North (the Parish), we hold the care, safety and wellbeing of children and young people as a central and fundamental responsibility of our parish. Our commitment is drawn from and inherent in the teaching and mission of Jesus Christ, with love, justice and the sanctity of each human person at the heart of the gospel (CAM Commitment Statement to Child Safety).

The Church’s social doctrine constantly points out the need to respect the dignity of children. ‘In the family, which is a community of persons, special attention must be devoted to the children by developing a profound esteem for their personal dignity, and a great respect and generous concern for their rights’ (Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, 26). Indeed it was Jesus who, when his disciples were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, directed his attention to a little child and said to his disciples, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me’ (Mark 9.37).

2. Purpose of the policy

The purpose of this policy is to demonstrate the strong commitment of St James to the care, safety and wellbeing of all children in our parish. It provides an outline of the policies, procedures and strategies developed to keep children safe from harm, including all forms of abuse in our parish environment, on site, online and in other locations used by the parish.
This policy applies to all parish personnel, including parish employees, volunteers, contractors, religious and clergy.

 

3. Principles

The Catholic Church has a moral, legal and mission-driven responsibility to create nurturing environments where children and young people are respected, their voices are heard and they are safe and feel safe (CAM Commitment Statement to Child Safety).

The following principles underpin our commitment to child safety at St James the Apostle Parish:
• Our parish has zero tolerance of child abuse.
• All children are entitled to, as a fundamental right, safety and protection from all forms of abuse and neglect.
• Our parish works in partnership with families and the community to ensure that they are engaged in decision-making processes, particularly those that have an impact on child safety and protection.
• All adults in our parish, including staff, clergy, religious, volunteers, parishioners, and contractors, have a responsibility to care for children and young people, to positively promote their wellbeing and to protect them from any kind of harm or abuse.
• The policies, guidelines and codes of conduct for the care, wellbeing and protection of children are based on honest, respectful and trusting relationships between adults and children and young people.
• All persons involved in situations where harm is suspected or disclosed must be treated with sensitivity, dignity and respect.
• Staff, clergy, religious, volunteers, parents, parishioners including children and contractors should be free to raise concerns about child safety, knowing these will be taken seriously by the parish leadership.
• Appropriate confidentiality will be maintained, with information being provided to those who have a right or a need to be informed, either legally or pastorally.

 

4. Definitions

Child: A person below the age of 18 years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.
Child abuse includes:
(a) any act committed against a child involving:

(i) a sexual offence
(ii) an offence under section 49B(2) of the Crimes Act 1958 (grooming)

(b) the infliction on a child of:

(i) physical violence
(ii) serious emotional or psychological harm

(c) serious neglect of a child.

Child safety encompasses matters related to protecting all children from child abuse, managing the risk of child abuse, providing support to a child at risk of child abuse, and responding to incidents or allegations of child abuse.

Child neglect: The failure by a parent or caregiver to provide a child (where they are in a position to do so) with the conditions that are culturally accepted as being essential for their physical and emotional development and wellbeing.

Child physical abuse: Generally, child physical abuse refers to the non-accidental use of physical force against a child that results in harm to the child. Physically abusive behaviours including shoving, hitting, slapping, shaking, throwing, punching, kicking, biting, burning, strangling and poisoning. The fabrication or induction of an illness by a parent or carer (previously known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy) is also included in this definition of “Child physical abuse”.

Child protection: Statutory services designed to protect children who are at risk of serious harm.

Child sexual abuse: Any sexual activity between a child under the age of consent (16) and an adult or older person (i.e. a person two or more years older than the victim) is child sexual abuse.

Child sexual abuse can also be:
• any sexual behaviour between a child and an adult in a position of power or authority over them; the age of consent laws do not apply in such instances due to the strong imbalance of power that exists between young people and authority figures, as well as the breaching of both personal and public trust that occurs when professional boundaries are violated
• any sexual behaviour between a child and an adult family member, regardless of issues of consent, equality or coercion
• sexual activity between peers that is non-consensual or involves the use of power or coercion
• non-consensual sexual activity between minors (e.g. a 14-year old and an 11-year old), or any sexual behaviour between a child and another child or adolescent who, due to their age or stage of development, is in a position of power, trust or responsibility over the victim. Sexual activity between adolescents at a similar developmental level is not intended to be included in this definition of “Child sexual abuse”.

Mandatory Reporting: The legal requirement to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect is known as mandatory reporting. Mandated persons include teachers, nurses, police, psychologists, psychiatrists and medical practitioners.

Reasonable Belief: When an adult is concerned about the safety and wellbeing of a child or young person, they must assess that concern to determine if a report should be made to the relevant agency. This process of considering all relevant information and observations is known as forming a ‘reasonable belief’. A ‘reasonable belief’ or a ‘belief on reasonable grounds’ is not the same as having proof but is more than mere rumour or speculation. A ‘reasonable belief’ is formed if a reasonable person in the same position would have formed the belief on the same grounds.

 

5. Policy Commitments

St James the Apostle Parish, Hoppers Crossing North is committed to respectful pastoral care for all to whom we minister. Respectful relationships that support the dignity of each person are central to the life and teachings of Jesus. We are committed to ensuring that all who participate in the life of our parish, particularly children and young people, can expect an environment which is safe and free from harm. We believe that any form of exploitation of vulnerable persons can never be consistent with Christian profession. It is the responsibility of all those in positions of trust at St James to proactively establish and maintain a child-safe and child-friendly environment for all children and young people who participate in the life of this parish, with particular attention paid to those who are most vulnerable, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, children from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds and children with a disability. We are committed to creating a child-safe environment and promoting cultural change in the way the parish manages the risk of child abuse and neglect by responding to any cases of alleged abuse, neglect or grievances and complaints in a consistent, unbiased and thorough manner.

Our commitment to our children

(a) We commit to the safety and wellbeing of all children and young people in our parish.

(b) We commit to providing children and young people with positive and nurturing experiences.

(c) We commit to listening to children and young people and empowering them by taking their views seriously, and addressing any concerns that they raise with us.

(d) We commit to taking action to ensure that children and young people are protected from abuse or harm.

(e) We commit to teaching children and young people the necessary skills and knowledge to understand and maintain their personal safety and wellbeing.

(f) We commit to seeking input and feedback from children regarding the creation of a safe parish environment.

Our commitment to parents and carers

(a) We commit to communicating honestly and openly with parents and carers about the wellbeing and safety of their children.

(b) We commit to engaging with, and listening to, the views of parents and carers about our child- safety practices, policies and procedures.

(c) We commit to transparency in our decision-making with parents and carers where it will not compromise the safety of children or young people.

(d) We commit to acknowledging the cultural diversity of our parishioners and being sensitive to how this may impact on child safety issues.

(e) We commit to continuously reviewing and improving our systems to protect children from abuse.

Our commitment to our parish employees, volunteers, contractors, clergy and religious (called “staff” for the purposes of this policy):

(a) We commit to providing all St James’ staff with the necessary support to enable them to fulfil their roles. This will include regular and appropriate learning opportunities.

(b) We commit to providing regular opportunities to clarify and confirm policy and procedures in relation to child safety and young people’s protection and wellbeing. This will include annual training in the principles and intent of the Child Safety Policy and Child Safety Code of Conduct, and staff responsibilities to report concerns.

(c) We commit to listening to all concerns voiced by St James’ parishioners, visitors, and staff about keeping children and young people safe from harm.

(d) We commit to providing opportunities for St James staff and ministry leaders to receive formal debriefing and counselling arising from incidents of the abuse of a child or young person.

 

6. Responsibilities and Organisation Arrangements

Everyone employed or volunteering at St James has a responsibility to understand the important and significant role he/she plays individually and collectively to ensure that the wellbeing and safety of all children is at the forefront of all they do and every decision they make (CAM Commitment Statement to Child Safety).
The parish has allocated roles and responsibilities for child safety as follows:
6.1 Guide to Responsibilities of Parish Leadership
The parish priest and the Parish Pastoral Council at St James recognise their particular responsibility to ensure the development of preventative and proactive strategies that promote a culture of openness, awareness of, and shared responsibility for child safety. Responsibilities include:
• creating an environment for children and young people to be safe and to feel safe
• upholding high principles and standards for all staff and clergy
• promoting models of behaviour between adults and children and young people based on mutual respect and consideration
• ensuring thorough and rigorous practices are applied in the recruitment, screening and ongoing professional learning of staff
• ensuring that parish personnel have regular and appropriate learning to develop their knowledge of, openness to and ability to address child safety matters
• providing regular opportunities to clarify and confirm legislative obligations, policy and procedures in relation to child and young people’s protection and wellbeing
• ensuring the parish meets the specific requirements of the Victorian Child Safe Standards.
6.2 Guide to Responsibilities of Parish Staff
Responsibilities of parish staff include:
• treating children and young people with dignity and respect, acting with propriety, exercising their duty of care, and protecting children and young people in their care
• following the legislative (including mandatory reporting obligations where appropriate) and Archdiocesan processes if, in the course of their work, they form a reasonable belief that a child or young person has been or is being abused or neglected
• providing a physically and psychologically safe environment where the wellbeing of children and young people is nurtured
• undertaking regular training and education in order to understand their individual responsibilities in relation to child safety and the wellbeing of children and young people
• assisting children and young people to develop positive, responsible and caring attitudes and behaviours which recognise the rights of all people to be safe and free from abuse
• following the parish’s Child Safety Code of Conduct.

6.3 Organisational Arrangements

St James has appointed a Child Safety Officer who is available to answer any questions that you may have with respect to our Child Protection and Safety Policy and the Child Protection Program.
Together with the parish priest, the parish’s Child Safety Officer is your first point of contact for reporting child protection issues within the parish. They receive special training that allows them to deal with child protection concerns both sensitively and effectively.

 

7. Expectations of our Parish Staff – Child Safety Code of Conduct

At St James, we expect parish staff to proactively ensure the safety of children at all times and to take appropriate action if there are concerns about the safety of any child in the parish environment. All staff must remain familiar with the relevant laws, the code of conduct, and policies and procedures in relation to child protection and comply with all requirements. We have developed a Child Safety Code of Conduct (St James the Apostle’s Child Safety Code of Conduct), which recognises the critical role that staff play in protecting the children in our care and establishes clear expectations of staff for appropriate behaviour with children in order to safeguard them against abuse and or neglect.
Our Code also protects parish personnel through clarification of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

 

8. Child Safety and Participation

At St James, we actively encourage all children and young people to openly express their views and feel comfortable about giving voice to the things that are important to them.
We discuss with our children what they can do if they feel unsafe and enable them to understand, identify, discuss and report on child safety. We listen to and act on any concerns children or their parents or carers, raise with us.

 

9. Reporting and Responding

Our parish records any child safety complaints, disclosures or breaches of the Child Safety Code of Conduct and stores the records in accordance with security and privacy requirements. Our parish complies with legal obligations that relate to managing the risk of child abuse under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic.), the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic.) and the recommendations of the Betrayal of Trust report.

Our parish’s Child Protection – Reporting Policy (St James the Apostle’s Child Protection – Reporting Obligations Policy) sets out the actions required under the relevant legislation when there is a reasonable belief that a child in our parish environment is in need of protection or a criminal offence has been committed, and provides guidance and procedures on how to make a report.
We work to ensure all children, families and staff know what to do and who to tell if they observe abuse or a victim, or if they notice inappropriate behaviour.

Our parish has also established internal processes to ensure that appropriate action is taken to respond to concerns about the wellbeing and/or safety of a child.
If you have any concern that a child or young person may be experiencing any form of abuse, whether or not you have formed a belief on reasonable grounds that the abuse has occurred, you should immediately raise your concerns with our Child Safety Officer and/or the parish priest. The welfare and best interests of the child are paramount. Whenever there are concerns that a child is in immediate danger the Police should be called on 000.
St James’ Child Safety Officer is Geralyn McCarthy, and she may be contacted on 0416 059 673.

 

10. Screening and Recruitment of Parish Staff

St James the Apostle parish will apply thorough and rigorous screening processes in the recruitment of employees and volunteers involved in child-connected work. Our commitment to child safety and our screening requirements are included in all advertisements for such employee, contractor and volunteer positions, and all applicants are provided with copies of the parish Child Safety Code of Conduct and the Child Safety Policy.
When recruiting and selecting employees, contractors and volunteers involved in child-connected work, we make all reasonable efforts to:
• confirm the applicant’s Working with Children Check and National Police Check status and/or professional registration (as relevant)
• obtain proof of personal identity and any professional or other qualifications
• verify the applicant’s history of work involving children
• obtain references that address the applicant’s suitability for the job and working with children.
We have processes for monitoring and assessing the continuing suitability of parish staff to work with children, including regular reviews of the status of Working with Children Checks.

 

11. Child Safety – Education and Training for Parish Staff

At St James, we provide employees, volunteers, clergy and religious with regular and appropriate opportunities to develop their knowledge of, openness to and ability to address child safety matters. This includes induction, ongoing training and professional learning to ensure that everyone understands their professional and legal obligations and responsibilities, and the procedures for reporting suspicion of child abuse and neglect.

All staff and volunteers must undergo an induction process prior to engaging in ministry. These induction processes are held at bi-annually at the parish, or more frequently when necessary. Volunteers and staff who work in ministries that work specifically with children and young people (such as Youth Ministry, Sacramental Program and Children’s Liturgy of the Word) must also undertake an interview with the parish priest and the Child Safety Officer prior to commencing ministry.

 

12. Risk Management

At St James, we are committed to proactively and systematically identifying and assessing risks to child safety across our whole parish environment (physical and online), and reducing or eliminating (where possible) all potential sources of harm. We document, implement, monitor and periodically review our risk management strategies for child safety and ensure that the strategies change as needed and as new risks arise.

St James has a Child Safety Risk Committee who works with the parish to identify and manage risks. This committee meets regularly and provides information and advice to the Parish Priest, the Parish Pastoral Council and the Child Safety Officer.

Child Safety is a regular agenda item in meetings of the Parish Pastoral Council.

 

13. Relevant Legislation

• Crimes Act 1958 (Vic.) – Three new criminal offences have been introduced under this Act.

(a) Failure to disclose offence: Any adult who forms a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed by an adult against a child under 16 has an obligation to report that information to police. Failure to disclose the information to police is a criminal offence.

(b) Failure to protect offence: The offence will apply where there is a substantial risk that a child under the age of 16 under the care, supervision or authority of a relevant organisation will become a victim of a sexual offence committed by an adult associated with that organisation. A person in a position of authority in the organisation will commit the offence if they know of the risk, but negligently fail to reduce or remove it.

(c) Grooming offence: This offence targets predatory conduct designed to facilitate later sexual activity with a child. Grooming can be conducted in person or online, for example via interaction through social media, web forums and emails.

 

14. Related Policies:

14.1 Catholic Archdiocese Melbourne Policies
• Working with Children Check Protocols
• National Police Record Check Policy
• Code of Conduct for Caring for Children “May our children flourish”
• Social medial policy
14.2 Parish Policies
St James the Apostle’s Child Safe Policy
St James the Apostle’s Child Safety Code of Conduct
St James the Apostle’s Child Protection – Reporting Obligations Policy

14.3 Other Supporting Documentation

Integrity in the Service of the Church – A resource document of principles and standards for lay-workers in the Catholic Church in Australia. www.catholic.org.au/documents/1345-integrity-in-service-of-the-church-1

Integrity in Ministry – A document of principles and standards for Catholic clergy and religious in Australia. www.catholic.org.au/documents/1344-integrity-in-ministry

Betrayal of Trust – Report of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations conducted in 2012 and 2013. www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/fcdc/inquiries/57th/Child_Abuse_Inquiry/Report/Preliminaries.pdf

Facing the Truth – The response of the Catholic Church in Victoria to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations www.cam.org.au/facingthetruth

Victorian Child Safe Standards – Mandatory Child Safe Standards that ensure all organisations dealing with children have appropriate responses in place for allegations of child abuse and misconduct – http://www.dhs.vic.gov.au/about-the-department/documents-and-resources/policies,-guidelines-and-legislation/child-safe-standards

 

15. Breach of Policy

Where an employee is suspected of breaching any obligation, duty or responsibility within this Policy, this may result in disciplinary consequences.

Where the parish priest is suspected of breaching any obligation, duty or responsibility within this policy, the concerned party is advised to contact the Vicar General. If there is any reasonable belief that a criminal act has been committed, the concerned party is advised to contact Victoria Police.

Where any other member of the parish community is suspected of breaching any obligation, duty or responsibility within this policy, the parish priest is to take appropriate action and / or contact Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne (Office of Professional Conduct and Ethics).

 

16. Review of this Child Safety Policy

St James the Apostle Parish is committed to the continuous improvement of our Child Protection Program. The Program is regularly reviewed for overall effectiveness and to ensure compliance with all child protection related laws, regulations and standards.
We will maintain a history of updates to the policy.
History of Updates to Policy
Date
Comment (e.g. major review, minor review)

 

17. Inclusion of All

We will ensure that families and children have the opportunity to contribute. Where possible we do our best to work with local Aboriginal communities, culturally and/or linguistically diverse communities and people with a disability.

 

18. References

Catholic Education Melbourne Child Safety Policy Editable Template – June 2016
Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, Commitment Statement to Child Safety – September 2016
State of Victoria 2016, Child Safe Standards – Managing the Risk of Child Abuse in Schools: Ministerial Order. 870, Education & Training Reform Act 2006, Victorian Government Gazette No. S2
Victorian Government Department of Justice 2016, Betrayal of Trust Implementation.
18 Policy Authorisation:
Policy Owner: Parish Priest and Parish Pastoral Council, St James the Apostle Parish, Hoppers Crossing North
Policy Approval Date: November 2016
Policy Review Date: November 2019

 

St James the Apostle’s Child Safety Code of Conduct

St James Child Safety Code of Conduct (Download 1MB)
Central to the mission of St James the Apostle parish is an unequivocal commitment to fostering the dignity, self-esteem and integrity of children and young people and providing them with a safe, supportive and enriching environment to develop spiritually, physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially.

 

Purpose

This Code of Conduct has a specific focus on safeguarding children and young people at St James against sexual, physical, psychological and emotional abuse or neglect. It is intended to complement child protection legislation and the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne’s “Code of Conduct for Caring for Children, “May our children flourish”.
All staff, volunteers, contractors, clergy, religious and parish council members at St James are expected to actively contribute to a parish culture that respects the dignity of its members and affirms the Gospel values of love, care for others, compassion and justice. They are required to observe child-safe principles and expectations for appropriate behaviour towards and in the company of children, as noted below.

 

Acceptable behaviours

All staff, volunteers, contractors, clergy, religious and parish council members are responsible for supporting the safety of children by:
• adhering to the parish Child Safe Policy and upholding the parish’s Statement of Commitment to child safety at all times
• taking all reasonable steps to protect children from abuse and harm
• treating everyone in the parish community with respect (modelling positive and respectful relationships and acting in a manner that sustains a safe pastoral environment)
• listening and responding to the views and concerns of children, particularly if they are telling you that they or another child have been abused or that they are worried about their safety/the safety of another child
• promoting the cultural safety, participation and empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children (for example, by never questioning an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child’s self-identification)
• promoting the cultural safety, participation and empowerment of children with culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds (for example, by having a zero tolerance policy towards discrimination)
• promoting the safety, participation and empowerment of children with a disability (for example, by ensuring reasonable care is taken to cater for any additional needs being faced)
• ensuring as far as practicable that an adult is not alone with a child
• reporting any allegations of child abuse to the police
• understanding and complying with all reporting obligations as they relate to mandatory reporting and reporting under the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic.)
• reporting any child safety concerns to the child safety officer and the parish priest, or (if the concern related to the parish priest) to the Vicar General
• if an allegation of child abuse is made, ensuring as quickly as possible that the child is safe.

 

Unacceptable behaviours

Staff, volunteers, contractors, clergy, religious and parish council members must not:
• ignore or disregard any suspected or disclosed child abuse
• develop any ‘special’ relationships with children that could be seen as favouritism (for example, the offering of gifts or special treatment for specific children)
• exhibit behaviours with children which may be construed as unnecessarily physical (for example, inappropriate sitting on laps)
• put children at risk of abuse (for example, by locking doors or being alone with a child with no good cause)
• initiate unnecessary physical contact with children or do things of a personal nature that a child can do for themselves, such as toileting or changing clothes
• manage disruptive or unsafe behaviour by degrading or isolating a child; corporal punishment is never acceptable. Physical restraint should only be used as a last resort or in an emergency
• engage in open discussions of a mature or adult nature in the presence of children (for example, personal details or social activities)
• use inappropriate language in the presence of children
• express personal views on cultures, race or sexuality in the presence of children
• discriminate against any child because of age, gender, race, culture, vulnerability, sexuality, ethnicity or disability
• have contact with a child or their family who is/are not socially related outside of the pastoral duties reasonably associated with the role description of the person’s position in the parish without the parish priest’s and/or child safety officer’s (if the parish has appointed someone to this role) knowledge and/or consent (other than accidental contact, such as seeing people in the street)
• have any online contact (including by social media, email, instant messaging etc.) with a child or their family who is/are not family or socially related (unless necessary e.g. by providing families with e-newsletters)
• use any personal communication channels/device such as a personal email account to conduct parish communications
• exchange personal contact details such as phone number, social networking sites or email addresses with a child or their family who is/are not family or socially related
• photograph or video a child without the consent of the parent or guardians
• work with children while under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs
• consume drugs on parish premises or at parish events.

 

St James the Apostle’s Child Protection – Reporting Obligations Policy

November 2016

St James Child Reporting Obligations Policy (Download 0.1 MB)

 

1. Introduction

St James the Apostle Parish (“the parish”) considers the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable persons as totally unacceptable. All concerns and reports of abuse must be acted upon immediately.

Child abuse can take many forms. The abuser may be a parent, carer, staff member, volunteer, another adult or even another child. Unfortunately, the nature of child abuse is complex. The abuse may occur over time and potential risk indicators are often difficult to detect. Even our legal obligations for reporting allegations of child abuse can vary depending on the circumstances of the incident.

The parish will take appropriate, prompt action in response to all allegations or disclosures of abuse, neglect, inappropriate behaviour or concerns about child safety by reporting all matters to the Victorian Child Protection Service, the Commission for Children and Young People, or the Police, depending on the allegation or disclosure made.

The parish will respond to all allegations of child abuse in an appropriate manner including:

• informing the appropriate authorities and fully cooperating with any resulting investigation;
• protecting any child connected to the allegation until it is resolved and providing ongoing support to those affected;
• taking particular measures in response to an allegation that concerns a culturally diverse child or a child with a disability; and
• securing and retaining records of the allegation and the parish’s response to it.

If a staff member, ministry coordinator, clergy, religious or volunteer has formed a belief that a vulnerable person is being, or is at risk of being, harmed in any way, and/or if they have significant concerns for the general wellbeing of a vulnerable person, they should report their concerns to the parish priest and/or the Child Safety Officer immediately.

 

2. Legislative Requirements:

• Mandatory Reporting: Children, Youth and Family Act (2005) – Where the staff member, clergy, religious, ministry coordinator or volunteer is designated as a mandatory reporter under the Children, Youth and Family Act (2005), then they are legally required to report the matter to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) if the vulnerable person is under the age of 17 years.
• Failure to Disclose: Crimes Amendment (Protection of Children) Act 2014 – Any adult in the parish who forms a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed by an adult against a child under 16 must disclose that information to the police. Failure to disclose the information to police is a criminal offence, except in limited circumstances. The offence applies to all adults in Victoria, not just parishioners or volunteers who work with children.
• Failure to Protect: Crimes Amendment (Protection of Children) Act 2014 – Anyone in a position of authority within the parish who becomes aware that an adult associated with the parish (such as an employee, contractor, parishioner, volunteer or visitor) poses a risk of sexual abuse to a child under the care, authority or supervision of the parish, must take all reasonable steps to remove or reduce that risk. Failure to do so may amount to a criminal offence.
• Grooming Offence: Crimes Amendment (Protection of Children) Act 2014 Any adult within the parish who becomes aware or suspects that a child or young person under the age of 16 is being groomed by an adult must report this to the police. Grooming occurs when communication or conduct (in person or online) is linked to the intention of facilitating the involvement of a child under 16 years of age in a sexual offence with an adult.
• Reportable Conduct: Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 (Vic)
The Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 (Vic) requires the parish to investigate and report to the Commission for Children and Young People (Commission) allegations of ’employee’ reportable conduct or misconduct that may involve reportable conduct. The Commission’s website provides additional guidance and materials which will assist the parish to understand and meet its obligations under the Act. An ’employee’ is defined as a person aged 18 years or over who is:
• employed by the parish
• engaged by the parish to provide services (such as a volunteer or contractor),
• the Parish Priest
• or any other visiting clergy or religious.

Reportable conduct is defined in the Act to include:
• a sexual offence committed against, with or in the presence of, a child;
• sexual misconduct committed against, with or in the presence of, a child;
• physical violence committed against, with or in the presence of, a child;
• any behaviour that causes significant emotional or psychological harm to a child; or
• significant neglect of a child.

 

3. Procedures for responding to and reporting allegations of child abuse both internally and externally:

Whilst all matters within the parish relating to risk of harm and the general wellbeing of vulnerable persons must be made known to the Parish Priest and/or Child Safety Officer, it is imperative that all matters that are of a criminal nature are reported to the police.
If a matter relates to the misconduct of or concern about a priest but is non-criminal in nature, this should be reported to the Vicar General.

When reports are made to the Parish Priest and/or Child Safety Officer, they will listen to the allegations or concerns and decide what action to take. In some cases, it may be necessary to inform relevant authorities or others within the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne or the person to whom the report relates.

Even if the Parish Priest and/or Child Safety Officer does not believe that a mandatory report or report to police is warranted, this does not discharge the person of their obligation to do so if they have formed a reasonable belief that abuse may have occurred or is likely to occur. If that person’s concerns continue, even after consultation with the Parish Priest and/or Child Safety Officer, that person is still legally obliged to make a mandatory report of their concerns.

If, after reporting to the parish priest and/or Child Safety Officer, a paid staff member, volunteer or parishioner is not satisfied with the Parish Priest’s/Child Safety Officer’s response to a report, the person may then refer the matter to the Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Melbourne 03 9926 5677 or vicargeneral@cam.org.au

The Reportable Conduct obligation covered in this policy is separate and distinct from the:

• Mandatory Reporting obligation under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic);
• Obligation to Report a Sexual Offence obligation under the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic);

The threshold for reporting allegations of reportable conduct is much lower than these other reporting obligations.

Any allegations of criminal conduct, including physical violence, significant emotional or psychological abuse, sexual offences and significant neglect must be reported to the Victorian Police as the first priority

4. Record-Keeping

Where parish staff, employee, volunteer, contractor, parish priest or religious associated with the parish forms the belief on reasonable grounds that a child or young person is in need of protection, written and dated notes of their observations and concerns should be recorded to assist in a referral/report of child abuse.

All verbal and written communications regarding child protection matters (including notes of observations, student disclosures, meetings and telephone calls) must be properly documented. The documented records should include dates and times and enough detail to record key conversations, especially those relating to the student’s disclosure. The records of child protection will be stored securely.

It is critical that the parish maintains accurate and comprehensive records of these policies, procedures, work systems and strategies should the courts ever call on such evidence in relation to a claim against the parish for damages in respect of child abuse. The parish maintains records of these reportable allegations, written reports and reportable conduct investigation findings indefinitely.

Any staff member, volunteer or parishioner who would like any guidance about how to report a breach of the St James the Apostle’s Code of Conduct or a matter of concern may contact the Office of Professional Conduct, Ethics and Investigation on 03 9267 0221 or after hours on 0417 774 504.

5. Policy Authorisation:

Policy Owner: Parish Priest and Parish Pastoral Council, St James the Apostle Parish, Hoppers Crossing North
Policy Approval Date: November 2016
Policy Review Date: November 2019