Protecting Children – a Communal Imperative
By Nina Bassat
Protecting children and young people from the risk of abuse is a communal imperative. Yet the Jewish community is not immune to the occurrence of child abuse in organisational settings.
To seek to address this issue, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), has established a Jewish Community Child Protection Reference Group to provide information and resources for community organisations and victims/survivors and their families. The Reference Group, comprised of advocates in protecting children from abuse, will act as an additional resource for community organisations to assist them in reviewing and strengthening their policies and procedures.
Throughout 2013 the Reference Group will conduct community forums hosted by the JCCV to raise awareness of child protection issues. Our call to all community organisations is to examine existing policies against established benchmarks to determine whether improvement can be achieved. Public discussion of this very confronting and disturbing issue can be difficult for a host of reasons. We commend both the Federal and State Government for taking steps in recent times to hold public inquiries into the issue of child abuse in organisational settings.
What are the implications for our community? We are blessed with a wide range of schools, shules, youth groups, sporting clubs and other community organisations catering to the needs of children and young people. It goes without saying that these organisations are dedicated to the best interests of children and young people and to enriching our community. However (and this is the confronting and disturbing element of the discussion) there is a very small minority of people who work as staff or volunteers within organisations – in the Jewish and wider communities – who have an unhealthy interest in obtaining access to children and young people. For the vast majority who do not share these deviant tendencies, it is hard to fathom the risk and easy to dismiss such talk as fanciful and alarmist.
The Child Protection Reference Group has access to best practice material and will initially meet with leaders of community organisations to share information about policies, procedures and risk management. The wider community will also be invited to attend subsequent forums. The group’s role is limited. We will:
- act as an additional resource to assist community organisations to strengthen their child protection policies and procedures;
- promote resources to educate and empower parents regarding child protection; and
- assist with referrals to professional support services, where required.
Those are the current limits of our brief. It is not our role to:
- Provide direct services to victims/survivors or their families.
- Canvass specific allegations of child abuse made against any specific individual or organisation. (This is a matter for State authorities including Victoria Police and the Department of Human Services.)
- Intervene in the affairs of any community organisation.
The broad issue of ‘risk management’ is a fundamental responsibility for organisations charged with the care of children and young people. Children are inherently vulnerable. Parents expect – and the law requires – that children will be safe from harm or abuse at school, on camp, at a youth group, in a sporting club or in any other community setting. In many instances, community organisations already have well established and effective policies and procedures for ensuring that abuse in any of its forms is, to the greatest possible extent, prevented.
However, across the multitude of community organisations, approaches to risk management and the specific challenge of child protection will inevitably vary. In the absence of good risk management, organisations can unwittingly make themselves vulnerable to inappropriate staff and volunteers. In some of the documented cases in Australia and internationally, offenders have spent months and years befriending and grooming young people and their families only to betray that trust in order to abuse and exploit them.
Our role as a community is two-fold. First, we must accept – no matter how painful it may be – that these breaches of trust can and do occur in our community. Secondly, we should do nothing less than work towards prevention and deal with past wrongs by assisting victims/survivors wherever possible. We call on all members of the community to become better informed on issues of child protection and to engage in next year’s public forums with the aim of strengthening our wonderful community organisations and safeguarding our children and young people against the unthinkable.
Nina Bassat AM is President of the JCCV. This has been submitted on behalf of the JCCV and Jewish Community Child Protection Reference Group – Andrew Blode (Chair), Vicki Gordon, Anton Hermann, Katherine Levi, Jo Silver and Rimma Sverdli.