Emerging trends and insights from audits

In this column, we look at one of the key benefits of conducting audits across a large organisation such as the Catholic Church - the analysis of patterns and trends arising from audit results.  CPSL has been conducting audit activity for around 15 months now, with audits having been completed for dioceses and congregations, both large and small, and ranging across a variety of ministries and activities in Australia and overseas.  Whilst audit results have varied for individual entities, there are clear patterns emerging regarding overall implementation of the NCSS.  Some of these trends are outlined below.

Standards 1 and 9 focus on leadership, governance and improvement.  In general, there is good compliance with the Indicators in this Standard, with the exception of risk management and implementation of the NCSS overseas.  We will explore the challenges and opportunities of implementing the NCSS to overseas ministries in next month’s column.

However, in relation to risk management, our audits indicate that whilst the majority of entities have a formal risk management policy or document, there is a lack of understanding, particularly within religious institutes, of the safeguarding risks relevant to the activities of their members.  For example, entities need to understand where their members, volunteers and employees minister or volunteer, and which personnel are participating in activities with a higher safeguarding risk exposure.  This assessment is important, to ensure that those working in a higher risk environment receive additional training, support or oversight where required.


Standards 2, 3 and 4 were relatively new expectations for entities when the Standards were published in May 2019.  In our earlier audits, compliance with these Indicators was generally poor, with strategies to address these Indicators still being developed.  We are now seeing significant improvement in this area, with entities developing simple, innovative and effective ways to engage with children and families.  We are particularly encouraged by the collaboration between entities, and the sharing of materials and ideas in this area.

In relation to Standard 4, all entities audited to date have struggled with the development and implementation of child-friendly complaints materials.  CPSL has been providing advice and sharing of good practices in this regard.

Standards 5 and 7 relate to management of people within church entities – leaders, employees, ordained and consecrated members, volunteers and contractors.  These are the Standards where the most frequent gaps have been identified to date.  In general:

  • Safeguarding is not yet embedded into recruitment processes as intended by the Standards.
  • Performance appraisals are not always conducted and where these are in place, they do not assess compliance with safeguarding requirements.  CPSL has provided guidance and support to almost every entity audited to date in relation to this area.  In addition, performance appraisals for clergy and religious is a very new concept and most entities are still developing an understanding of how to practically implement this requirement for their members.
  • Professional/pastoral supervision requirements are still being implemented and in some cases, there has been minimal or no assessment of who within the entity requires supervision.
  • Several entities audited to date have not had a formal induction or training program in place.  In other cases, safeguarding training has been provided for ordained or consecrated members, but the same training has not been rolled out for employees and volunteers.
  • Training on cultural safety is another relatively new concept specified in the Standards.  The majority of entities audited to date have not developed adequate strategies to address this requirement.

Standard 6 has been the strongest in terms of compliance to date.  Audit results indicate that entities have focused their efforts on ensuring that complaints management processes are in line with the requirements identified by the Royal Commission.  It is evident that the scrutiny of the past has had an impact in this area.  Professional Standards units or dedicated complaints handling individuals/teams now exist in larger entities and these personnel have specific expertise in this area.  In smaller religious institutes, the leader typically deals with any complaints and all leaders who have participated in audits to date are acutely aware of their responsibilities in this area.

As noted earlier, risk management has been identified as a challenge for entities and there is a strong correlation between risk management and Standard 8 which focuses on creating safe physical and online environments.  Two specific issues have been identified from audit results: Firstly, a general gap regarding having processes in place for the monitoring of internet usage and online activity.  Secondly, we note a lack of appropriate due diligence and risk assessment when providing church facilities for hire to third parties, or when providing access to contractors to work on church premises. 

CPSL will be using the results of audits and the analysis of patterns and trends to further inform both the progress of the audit program, as well as the development of additional tools and resources to assist entities in their safeguarding work.  In line with the NCSS, CPSL’s own process is an iterative one and we are always looking at ways to continually improve our services and assist entities in providing safe environments for all.

For more information on CPSL's audit activities over the past 15 months, please see the CPSL's 2020 Impact Report here.

To begin discussing a safeguarding audit with CPSL and to obtain a copy of the Service Agreement, please contact Tania Stegemann, Director of Compliance – tania@cpsltd.org.au or call 1300 603 411.