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Diocese seeks to reassure parishes on help with child safety compliance

New professional standards company Kooyoora Ltd 'some comfort and support' to parishes, Melbourne Synod told

Diocesan Chancellor Mr Michael Shand, QC, told Synod: "I know a number of parishes are understandably concerned about the number of hours and the commitment that's required to achieve compliance with these standards... We're not there yet but there is a concerted focus on meeting those standards."

By Mark Brolly

October 23 2017 

Diocesan leaders sought to assure parishes that they would be offered assistance in complying with child safety requirements as Melbourne Synod last month overwhelmingly adopted national Church legislation for safe ministry to children passed by General Synod at its meeting in Queensland only six weeks earlier.

The Chancellor of the Melbourne Diocese, Mr Michael Shand, QC, said in moving the Safe Ministry to Children Canon 2017 that he did not underestimate the challenge the legislation posed to every diocese.

“I know a number of parishes are understandably concerned about the number of hours and the commitment that’s required to achieve compliance with these standards,” Mr Shand said.

But he urged clergy and laity in this diocese to “take some comfort that we are well on the way to addressing the child safe standards”.

“We’re not there yet but there is a concerted focus on meeting those standards.”

Mr Shand cited the establishment this year by the Melbourne and Bendigo dioceses of Kooyoora Ltd, an independent professional standards body that has been appointed by the two dioceses to respond to all complaints of misconduct including sexual, physical, spiritual or emotional abuse by clergy or Church officers.

He said that while the former professional standards arrangements involved only one person, the Director, working from home, Kooyoora “is a real team now, a dedicated team with a focus on administering complaints, on attending to clearances – that means screening – and the area of training”.

“We do hope that by the Kooyoora Office of Professional Standards we will be bringing to this challenge – and I say this by way of some comfort and support to parishes – a very professional, dedicated focus on meeting these benchmarks.”

The Registrar, Mr Ken Spackman, said in his seconder’s speech: “Does the Canon and the existence of national church legislation invalidate the good and careful work that this Diocese has undertaken previously? – certainly not. Does it mean wholesale change to the way that we do things? – no, not really. Does it involve a necessary degree of compromise in order that our national church has a standard for child safety across all dioceses and is thus able to respond to public expectation – yes, probably.

“I, like Michael, appreciate that 2017 has been a challenging year in the space of professional standards and child safety. We’ve not only tried to deal with the external changes that I mentioned before but we’ve also implemented a new scheme company and a transition process to get to that. I appreciate the comments made last night about the need for greater support and guidance in this area and we are working on several initiatives… that will do that. The adoption of this Canon will add one of the final pieces of this complex puzzle, accepting that we still have the Royal Commission recommendations and consideration of a National Redress Scheme yet to be finalised.”

The Safe Ministry to Children Canon was carried on the voices in the Houses of Clergy and Laity and was one of seven church laws dealing with child accountability and accountability of Church leaders and workers to win the endorsement of the diocesan Synod at St Paul’s Cathedral from 17-21 October.

In an introduction to the safe ministry legislation, Diocesan Advocate Dr Ian Gibson said this Canon was an ambitious attempt to introduce a system of screening, due diligence and mandatory standards for everyone involved in ministry with children.

Mr Spackman said that the explanatory memo accompanying the legislation outlined 13 years of police and practice in the national Church to promote safe ministry to children and vulnerable people, but that “regrettably, this work has not, for a variety of reasons resulted in a uniform approach across the national church”.

He said the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had painstakingly examined this lack of uniformity through its work to examine diocesan policies, processes and practices and through the eight case studies the Commission conducted into Anglican institutions. The findings of Case Study 52, the Anglican “wrap-up” public hearing in March this year, are due by the end of the year.

“In their appearance before this hearing, leaders of the Church, including our Archbishop, undertook to develop core national minimum standards for safe ministry to children,” Mr Spackman said. “The raft of legislation before this Synod, and this Canon in particular, respond to that commitment.

“The objective of this legislation is simple: [1] to have a code of conduct for safe ministry to children; [2] to develop within that code minimum standards and guidelines for safe ministry to children; and [3] to implement standards of screening, standards of training and standards of safe ministry with Persons of Concern.”

During the debate on the Canon, the Vicar of St Columb’s Hawthorn, the Revd Michael Flynn, and one of his parishioners, Ms Janis Lampard, raised several concerns on matters including who was to report any offence (the parish or the diocese), possible clashes with privacy law and the workability of Canon.

“It seems likely that some of the questions on the volunteer form of this Canon run counter to the laws of criminal conviction and charge history where the disclosure of certain spent and quashed convictions and charges is not required after 10 years have lapsed,” Mr Flynn said. “So, for example, if you got done for drink-driving when you were 18 and now you’re 68 and helping our playgroup, you don’t have to report that under law and maybe… it’s an offence to even require they do.”

Mrs Leonie Bird, of Holy Trinity Kew, urged all to ensure that the interests of children remained paramount.

“We’re going to find this awkward, cumbersome, challenging,” she said. “This does not come out of a gentle inquiry but a bruising one and it’s forced us to look again at all of our processes.

“I’m sure each of you in each parish are going to find this a huge challenge.

“If there is for you a problem with the implementation of what is now being proposed, I respectfully request you to rethink. Our priority should be interests of children as paramount and that overarching principle will guide us in the path which we must painfully follow in the months and years ahead.”

Mr Shand, responding to the debate, said: “All institutions that deal with children face considerable challenges, particularly in Victoria… Where there is injury or loss through child abuse, the onus has been shifted by the law to the institution to prove that the institution’s taken all reasonable precautions to prevent the occurrence of that child abuse.

“It’s all the more important to have an intentional set of standards by which to measure all the activities and work of the Church in the Diocese…”

Synod agreed to an amendment proposed by Mr Shand that the legislation should come into force on a date to be fixed by Archbishop-in-Council or on 1 July 2018, whichever occurred first.

Before the legislation was considered, Bishop Stephen Hale, the Lead Minister of the St Hilary’s Network in Kew, successfully moved that Melbourne Synod commend General Synod for its commitment to child safety and recommit itself to the safety of children under its own care in churches and associated Anglican institutions in the diocese.

“Further, we commit to undertaking all necessary training of our staff and volunteers, to improving policies, maintaining standards, having guidelines and working to make all necessary changes to our Church and institutional culture to ensure the safety of children,” the resolution said.

Bishop Hale said the requirement that any Canon passed by General Synod also be passed by each of the 23 diocesan synods in order to be adopted was challenging and would take about two years to become a reality.

“The watching world expects that the Anglican Church of Australia and its dioceses will adopt these pieces of legislation in order for us to be able to be say that we have done everything that is required in order for our churches and institutions to be places that are safe for children, young people and indeed for any person,” he said.

“We all know the burden of implementing the current guidelines and requirements. We all know that these Canons will impose further requirements upon each of us. We all know that there is a huge tension in seeking to implement all of these requirements. We also all know that this isn’t the end but it will be an ongoing challenge because there will be further requirements in time. It is encouraging to note that the Anglican Church of Australia has been commended by the Royal Commission for taking such an active lead in this area… We should also acknowledge the remarkable contribution of people such as Garth Blake in Sydney and Michael Shand in Melbourne in pushing and enabling us to embrace all that has come before and all that lays before us at this Synod.”

Bishop Hale said his favourite speech on this matter at General Synod was by former Melbourne priest, now in Kalgoorlie, the Revd Elizabeth Smith.

“Elizabeth, in her own unique way, captured the tension that we all feel about these requirements. She talked about when she was ordained, she had thought she was going to be ordained to preach the gospel, to conduct services of worship and to visit people who were sick… These days she feels like she spends about 70% of her time doing compliance… She then went on to talk about the challenge of implementing these requirements in her far-flung and small parish. And she finished by saying that as much as it was a challenge, it was important, and she was going home with a determination to do what was required and was praying that God would help her to do it cheerfully. I think that captures the sense we probably all feel…

“We need to take training seriously whether we’re in a small or a larger parish. The bigger churches are willing to be of help so no one should feel they are alone in this particular challenge… We have been running training sessions all year… Recently (former St Hilary’s Vicar) Peter and Merrill Corney did the training as volunteers in our church… At the end of it, he commended us for the training and said that it was incredibly helpful and he indicated that if it had been in place in his day, it would have saved an enormous amount of grief in some of the situations he faced.

“The Child Safe Canon won’t be as big a burden, I think, for us in Victoria because of the implementation of the Victorian Child Safe Protocols and Procedures. But it is nevertheless significant and requires our strongest support.”

Bishop Hale’s Senior Associate Vicar, the Revd Tracy Lauersen, said in her seconder’s speech the main reason for the unity shown at General Synod over the 17 Bills it had to consider “was because there was a palpable sense that in the light of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Australian institutions, including our Anglican institutions, we felt a common burden to make amends, to change the future story regarding the safety of children and vulnerable people in our churches and to create a roadmap for better structures around the way we conduct ministries to our children”.

“Our church now faces a choice… to lift our game and to ensure that child safety is guaranteed,” Mrs Lauersen said.

The Priest-in-Charge of St Margaret’s Eltham, the Revd Keren Terpstra, expressed concern that because the Melbourne diocese had asked the parishes to draw up their own procedures and policies for child safe standards, “that we’re going to end up with 350 different permutations”.

“In light of the fact that the national Church has been looking towards a unified way of approaching child safety, what are we going to do in our diocese about that?” Ms Terpstra asked.

“And I’m sure I’m not the only vicar who has been wrestling with this… I’m very aware that I’m the one who under the legislation will bear the responsibility and the consequences if it is not completely legal. This is a heavy burden placed on clergy.

“This is a plea from me, and I’m hoping that my colleagues will join me in this, for some kind of leadership and some help in making sure that what we do is best practice in this diocese.”

The Revd Rachel McDougall, Vicar of St John’s Bentleigh, concurred with Ms Terpstra but alerted Synod to resources that were available, with the Victorian Council of Churches providing a toolkit for faith communities so that they can be compliant with Victorian child safe legislation. See http://www.faithvictoria.org.au/news-a-articles/438-child-safe-standards-for-faith-communities-victorian-council-of-churches.