Three perspectives on 12 months of the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards
Tuesday, 19 May 2020
30 May 2020 marks one year since the release of the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards. We asked CPSL Board Deputy Chair Patricia Faulkner and two representatives of Church entities who have undergone a safeguarding audit for their reflections on how the Standards have helped to evolve the conversation and work of safeguarding across the Church.
On this page you will find interviews with Patricia Faulkner, CPSL Board Deputy Chair; Sr Margaret Barclay, Presentation Sisters Wagga Wagga Congregational Leader; and Michael Myers, Diocese of Ballarat Professional Standards Coordinator.
Patricia Faulkner, Deputy Chair, CPSL Board
How do you see the conversation around safety and protection for adults at risk changing in Catholic communities?
“When CPSL was established, the conversation was around how the Church would make a response to the findings of the Royal Commission and how the Church could give assurance to people that it is changing and that it is a safe place.
“I think the conversation then evolved from how you respond to the Royal Commission through to a discussion of what a set of safeguarding standards should look like. With the adoption of the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards by ACBC and CRA in 2019, the conversation has now moved on to a discussion of how to best use these Standards: how do you support the people implementing the Standards and how do you make people comfortable with opening themselves up to scrutiny via the audit process? And, very importantly, how do you keep in touch with the people who were victims and survivors, and ensure that they remain part of this ongoing process and conversation?”
12 months on from the release of the Standards, what are your reflections on their impact?
“Firstly, we should celebrate the achievement of getting a consistent set of safeguarding standards across Australia, which is a remarkable achievement. As we continue our operations, and complete more audits, and get more feedback, then the Standards themselves will continue to evolve. The Standards should always be seen as representing the best knowledge we have at a certain point in time – as knowledge develops, so will the Standards. The Standards will be reviewed on a regular basis.
“In terms of impact, I think the Standards have given Catholic communities support in understanding what makes a child safe environment and the structures that need to exist in order to maintain that safety.
“I also think the Standards represent somewhat of a culture change process within the Church. The way in which the Standards are implemented is a very supportive and learning way of doing things.”
Looking forward, what still needs to change in order to create safer Catholic communities?
“There needs to be an acceptance in Catholic communities that practices and processes should be opened up to scrutiny, so that a culture of transparency is created alongside a culture of child safety. There has to be an openness to feedback about how you create safe places for children and vulnerable adults. Crucially, there also has to be attention paid to survivors and victims so that their voices continue to be maintained in the evolution of the system.”
Sr Margaret Barclay, Congregational Leader, Presentation Sisters of Wagga Wagga
The Presentation Sisters of Wagga Wagga were the first Catholic Church entity to undergo a live safeguarding audit against the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards.
As the first Church entity to undergo an audit, what was your thinking going into the audit?
“For us we saw it as a learning opportunity which springs from our commitment around safeguarding and well-being of children and ‘adults at risk.’ We are a congregation that has worked with children and families most of our lives. We were at schools for many years and then moved into other ministries with people who experience chronic disadvantage. The well-being of children and adults is in the heart of our congregation. We take the safety of children very seriously”
While the Presentation Sisters have worked on refining their safeguarding policies and practices over the course of the years, Sr Margaret explained that implementing the NCSS and undergoing an audit helped to add “depth” to their policies and processes.
“The Standards are very explicit. It was challenging to go through documentation with its many indicators and we knew we had some gaps. However, once we received recommendations from the CPSL team as part of the initial audit, we started to address those gaps”.
Sr Margaret explained that professional standards and safeguarding is a standing agenda item on the monthly leadership meetings and that safeguarding is not something “out of sight, out of mind”.
What does it mean to you to lead a child safe organisation?
“We have to 'inculturate’ safeguarding in all aspects of Church so we start with ourselves. It’s not just, 'we’ve been through a Royal Commission and have our policies so let’s move on’ – it’s trying to keep the importance of child safety and our need for ongoing education before all of us. We have a Professional Standards Team that continues to work together.
“Children are impacted by our relationships and the way we treat them. It is terribly important that children feel safe and valued. If they don’t feel safe and respected, how can we expect them to take on responsibilities for their own lives, to find employment, to be a parent down the track if they have been injured psychologically and emotionally in their earlier lives?”
“One year on from the audit, we can be honest and say it was a challenging and detailed process but I think it’s really important given that the Royal Commission went on for five years. We have policies in place but the other important element is ongoing education - to keep child safety and care of adults at risk before our minds at all times.
"As leaders in any Church ministry, we need to have some insight into the suffering of survivors and listen to them on how the abuse has impacted their lives. It is important to reach out to people pastorally and sit with them so they can experience our understanding and compassion.”
Michael Myers, Professional Standards Coordinator, Diocese of Ballarat
The Diocese of Ballarat was the first Catholic diocese to undergo a live safeguarding audit against the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards.
12 months on from the release of the NCSS and from your audit, what are your reflections on the Standards?
“First of all, I think that CPSL in developing the Standards has done the Church in Australia a huge service because they are a national set of standards, so now everyone is working from the same page.
“When the Standards first came out they frightened me a little, because there are so many indicators to address. They are still challenging in a sense for the Diocese, but I think that the idea of setting standards and auditing against them has been a very positive one for us as it has enabled us to develop a road map about how we develop our safeguarding activities.
“I think that to audit the Standards makes them work, enlivens them if you like. It is the audit and the discipline of the audit that makes it more real in terms of how the Standards apply to an entity. No-one likes to be audited but it does provide a discipline which has not been available to church entities in the past. We have never had oversight on a national level with nationally consistent standards before.
“Another positive is that since undergoing the audit, I’ve had other dioceses and archdioceses talking to me about the process and implementation of the Standards. Prior to the introduction of the Standards, conversations would happen around safeguarding across different Church entities but we were all doing different things. Now, we are working towards the same goals, using a single set of standards.”
Why did the Diocese of Ballarat decide to put themselves forward as an early adopter?
“We’re a high profile Diocese in terms of our history. I was keen to get some sense of how we were going in relation to safeguarding. Our audit was a bit difficult because the Standards had just been introduced when we were audited, but I was really keen – we had put in a lot of work over a number of years – really keen to find out where we stood. To find out what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong. And now I have a road map, a safeguarding implementation plan that we are working through. We’ve got updated policies, new procedures, and we’ve done a lot of work but we still have a lot to do.”
Did the process of audit create changes in the Diocese in the conversations around safeguarding?
“When I started it was hard to get traction on safeguarding – parishes felt like they had enough to do without safeguarding. Then the Victorian Child Safe Standards came in and they gave me a framework, tools and laws, to help get people on board with the culture of safety. The Standards and the audits further assisted the process.
“Now, when I send out our new policies – an updated Safeguarding Commitment Statement or a revised Code of Conduct – I’m getting feedback about them from parish safeguarding officers, parish secretaries and the clergy, who are now more engaged.
“The more structure you have, the more people start thinking about safeguarding in the same way. Instead of starting from scratch, when I talk to a parish about safeguarding, now there is a body of knowledge and a framework to talk to people about, which is very helpful.”