Prevention of Child Abuse in Your Faith Community

September 12, 2019 - 7 minutes read

One of the main findings of the five-year Royal Commission was that many institutions were lacking clear procedures when it comes to preventing and responding to child sexual abuse. Another was that prevention strategies were inconsistent across the states and territories and that a national approach needed to be established.

These findings led to the creation of the National Office for Child Safety and the development of ten National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. The aim of the principles is to create a national, uniform approach to child safety. The principles stipulate that organisations should:

  1. Embed child safety and wellbeing into the organisational governance and culture.
  2. Inform children and young people of their rights and enable them to participate into decisions that affect them.
  3. Inform and involve families and communities in child safety and wellbeing matters.
  4. Uphold and respect equity and diversity.
  5. Ensure people who work with children are suitable and are supported at work.
  6. Put in place child-focussed processes for complaints and concerns.
  7. Train and equip staff and volunteers that work with children.
  8. Make sure the organisation’s physical and online environments promote child safety and wellbeing.
  9. Undertake regular reviews to ensure child safety is adequately implemented.
  10. Develop policies and procedures documents that explain how the organisation is a safe place for children.

What is a ‘child safe organisation’?

Before churches and other organisations that work with children can put these principles into practice they need to have a good concept of what a child safe organisation is.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) a child safe organisation is one that “puts the best interests of children and young people first”. This involves creating an environment where children’s safety and wellbeing is at the centre of all the organisation’s values and actions. It also includes engaging with and valuing children and young people, creating conditions that reduce the risk of harm, and improving the identification of and responses to allegations or suspicions of harm.

The Royal Commission however found that many organisations failed in some or all of these principles. For example, they often failed to protect children from abuse or to listen to children who tried to disclose abuse. Many also failed to respond appropriately when abuse was discovered.

Putting child safety into practice

Tips for prevention of abuse

  • As a starting point, examine the ten national principles and determine how you can best implement them and embed child safety into your church or charity.
  • Create safe church policies and procedures and child protection policies for your church or faith centre.
  • Put sound recruitment practices into place, including background and Working-With-Children (WWC) checks.
  • Provide guidelines and training for all employees and volunteers that work with children. This may include leadership training, establishment of clear boundaries and a Code of Conduct policy for staff to sign.

For further reading: 

Mandatory child abuse reporting

All states in territories in Australia have laws regarding mandatory reporting of child abuse. These are not uniform but differ between regions.

However, in all jurisdictions a person working with children that has a “reasonable” belief or suspicion of child sexual abuse is obliged to report it to the authorities. This includes medical personnel, teachers, childcare operators and ministers of religion. In some jurisdictions (currently Victoria and the Northern Territory) this obligation applies to any adult that suspects child sex abuse – whether they work with children or not.

For types of abuse other than sexual abuse (physical, emotional, neglect or exposure to family violence) there may be an obligation to report your suspicions – depending on the jurisdiction.

Further reading: Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) – mandatory reporting laws by state and territory.

Tips for responding to allegations of abuse

  • Learn to recognise the signs of child abuse. These may include unexplained injuries, anxious or aggressive behaviour, or developmental delays or regression.
  • Set up procedures for investigating and reporting suspected abuse. For this you will need to become familiar with the mandatory reporting requirements of your state and territory as outlined above.

Further reading: 

Financial protection through insurance

While the priority is to create rigorous child protection systems, insurance cover provides financial protection in case things do go wrong.

Ideally you should do this through church insurance providers (rather than commercial ones) that can best understand the needs of your organisation. For information on church insurance and public liability for non profit organisations, go to our insurance page. You can also contact us directly on 13 000 FAITH or by email.

Further reading: 

AHRC – Child Safe Organisations.
Sexual abuse self-audit questionnaire for churches (scroll down to find the form).

Also check out other articles on child and youth safety on our website.



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