Implementing the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards in overseas ministries

Last month we discussed the trends that we have seen in the CPSL safeguarding audits, in particular those areas of the Standards where we have seen common issues or areas of non-compliance (you can read last month's column here). 
This month we will focus on one specific Indicator in the NCSS – Indicator 1.3.2.  This Indicator requires that Where the Church Authority’s governance includes countries other than Australia, the entity must apply these Standards taking into account relevant international declarations and local legislation.”  We know that many Church entities have mission works overseas, often in developing countries where the work may be conducted in rural and/or remote areas.  How does one apply the NCSS in these situations, where often the local laws and customs are very different to what we know in Australia, and where child safeguarding may not be seen as a priority?
First, we should note that implementation of the NCSS in such situations will not be a one-time effort – in many overseas settings, the cultural norms and behaviours would appear to accept or condone many situations which would be seen as inappropriate in Australia, for example in some cultural contexts, it is not considered unusual for children to sleep in the same bed as adults.  Similarly, the use of corporal punishment for children, whilst perhaps not encouraged, may also not be considered a prohibited behaviour.  In these settings, where child protection legislation and education is still immature, a Church entity will need to proceed slowly and with support of the local community if they are to have any chance of success in implementing the NCSS within their ministry. 
CPSL recommends that a staged approach to implementation be developed, combined with education and raising awareness for children’s rights as part of the overall message of dignity, respect and equality for all people.  The staged approach should initially focus on ensuring fundamental child safeguarding practices are in place.  These include: 

  • promotion of the child safety commitment and child safeguarding policy – this may involve translating these documents into the local language, using diagrams, pictures or other methods to deliver the safeguarding message;
  • requiring all members, staff and volunteers who work with the overseas mission to understand, acknowledge and abide by a Code of Conduct;
  • ensuring appropriate screening is in place for employees and volunteers who represent and work with the Church entity.  Note that in many jurisdictions working with children checks do not exist and police checks may not always be reliable, so appropriate vetting processes need to be in place, including referrals, interviews and other background checks to ensure that an individual is suitable to fulfil a ministry role;
  • conducting a comprehensive risk assessment of the activities undertaken by the mission and ensuring all key personnel understand these risks and know how to address/mitigate them;
  • ensuring there is ongoing training, education and awareness of safeguarding requirements, combined with constant, consistent emphasis by ministry leadership (i.e. modelling the required behaviours at all times);
  • developing a fit-for-purpose complaints handling procedure which can be applied effectively within the context of the local setting, whilst taking into account the safety of the victim as well as the safety of those who are investigating/addressing the complaint; and
  • engaging with families, carers, children and the local community to understand their issues and concerns, build trust and solicit their input on safeguarding practices.

The implementation of the NCSS in overseas jurisdictions is a complex, time-consuming activity but one that can bring great rewards for both the Church entity and the local community.  CPSL has seen some excellent work that has been conducted by Church entities overseas when implementing the NCSS, starting with small gestures such as the introduction of a Code of Conduct, requesting personnel to actively promote child safety practices in welfare and school settings and encouraging members of the community to come forward with their safeguarding stories and suggestions.  These small acts slowly chip away and can work to gradually overcome barriers to implementing child safety.  In this way, the African proverb that “It takes a village to raise a child” rings true!  In addition, the success of the Church entity in implementing child safety requirements into its overseas ministry can be enhanced by partnering with other local aid agencies or child focused organisations, and working collaboratively in the implementation of safeguarding practices appropriate to the context of the specific jurisdiction.
Finally, it should be noted that the implementation of the NCSS in overseas jurisdictions will require constant monitoring and support from the Church Authority and the Church entity’s leadership team.  The overseas ministry should have a formal, staged implementation plan and should be reporting regularly to the Church Authority and the Church entity’s safeguarding committee on their progress against the plan.
For more information, refer also to the support materials for Criteria 1.3 on the CPSL website.
To begin discussing a safeguarding audit with CPSL and to obtain a copy of the Schedule 2, please contact Tania Stegemann, Director of Compliance – or call 1300 603 411.