Safeguarding everyone in the Church today and into the future

By Alice Cronin for Catholic Social Services Victoria

The roll-out of the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards for the protection of children, as presented by CEO of Catholic Professional Standards Limited (CPSL) Sheree Limbrick at the Friday morning session of Serving Communities with Courage and Compassion, a national conference for those working in Catholic social services, was an interesting and topical subject. 

Established by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the CPSL published a set of standards focusing on the protection of children in May 2019. Since then, approximately 1,000 people across Australia have been trained in applying the safeguarding standards, giving participants practical tools to ensure the safety of children.

With works commencing in November 2019, the CPSL – by way of a national reference group – has worked in consultation with the Australian Human Rights Commission and been informed by the Royal Commissions into disability, aged care and mental health to extend the standards to include vulnerable adults. Guided by the reference group, the existing standards were amended as a direct response to the trauma and abuse experienced by individuals at the hands of members of the church.

The amended standards are rights-focused, trauma-informed and strengths-based. They do not define victims. Instead, the focus is on all people having the right to be safe, while recognising the heightened risk of abuse for some. Audits of dioceses and parishes are underway – with ten completed – in the hope of testing the logic of the standard.

From these audits, six reports have been published, with an overall report focusing on the trends, gaps and strengths of the standards expected in May 2020. In 2021, it is projected that the audits will extend to Catholic social service organisations, preceded by a consultation process with relevant agencies.

It is important to note that these standards are not seeking to duplicate where there are already external oversights such as by state regulatory authorities. The commonality, however, is the unanimous commitment to making the church a safe place for everybody.

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