New South Wales v Victoria: A tale of two systems

April 6, 2017 by Vivien Resofsky
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Part One of  a three-part series: A comparison between NSW and Victoria’s institutional child protection reforms.

Part 1 – NSW

Vivien Resofsky

The child sexual abuse incidents that were revealed in 2015 at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Case 22) hearing involving  Sydney’s Yeshiva and Melbourne’s Yeshivah sent shock waves throughout the Australian Jewish and non-Jewish communities.

Case 22 highlighted the fact that communal organisations did not support victims of abuse and that this compounded the already unimaginable pain for victims/survivors and their families.

It took the Royal Commission, with all its powers, to get answers as to how the Chabad Lubavitch dealt with child sexual abuse. By now, we all know about the non-reporting of abuse by certain Rabbis due to messirah and the punishment for repercussions for those who reported the crimes.

Now, two years later, as the Royal Commission winds down, Jewish communal leaders were re-called by the Royal Commission for another public hearing.

This time, with the benefit of knowledge about Jewish culture, Counsel for the Royal Commission asked our leadership questions in relation to reforms of the Jewish practices that so shocked us all.

Both States were represented by their own roof bodies. Jennifer Huppert, President of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), spoke on behalf of Victoria.  Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass, who is the Chair of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ task force on Child Protection, spoke on behalf of NSW.

We heard that these two similar roof bodies have adopted different methodologies to guide their respective communities.

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies took immediate action after the 2015 Royal Commission Hearing.  One month after the Hearing, it had established a task force on Child Protection. The president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Jeremy Spinak, explained:

We can’t simply say, ‘Well, the Royal Commission’s over, there’s nothing left to do.’ The solemn comments made following the commission hearings will count for naught if we don’t follow-up with serious, meaningful, grass-roots change. That’s what the task force is seeking to do.”

NSW’s reform methodology

 The challenge must be daunting for roof leadership bodies tasked with the responsibility of leading the creation of safe children’s environments throughout the community.

The objective of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ Task Force is to bring together all community organisations that deal with children and young people – schools, yeshivas, synagogues, youth groups, sporting groups, youth camps.

Professor Bettina Cass was appointed Chair of The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Child Protection task force.  Professor Bettina Cass is a well-qualified person to lead reform.

In her career, Professor Cass has combined traditional sociological and policy studies with ‘applied’ work for government and public bodies, both nationally and internationally.  Her academic research was always informed by understanding of how policy works, and her policy development work was always informed by sociology, and both have gender equity as a central focus. (http://www.womenaustralia.info/leaders/biogs/WLE0466b.htm).

 The task force began its work by developing a foundational framework; a set of agreed policies and protocols for child protection.

These policies and protocols include:

  • the communal responsibilities of child protection,
  • the statutory obligation to report child abuse to the police,
  • to treat victims of abuse and their families with respect and understanding
  • to ensure that they receive the professional services and support which they require,
  • and to promote Child Safe policies and practices across our entire Jewish community.”

The NSW task force plan to reach the many Jewish organisations that provide services to children by widely disseminated the foundational framework across all organisations in the NSW Jewish community. The taskforce will ensure regular updating and training of paid staff and volunteers twice a year.

Effectively the plan is to provide individual organisations with practical hands-on guidance.

Every organisation dealing with child protection must have a proper child protection policy.  They must follow the guidelines in the legislation brought about by the various commissions and enquiries into child sexual abuse.

They must identify the risks, have stated aims, outline governance, a detailed complaints policy, a code of conduct, a reporting policy, a periodic review schedule, all in a detailed policy document.

Not only that, legislation calls for organisations to institute measures that are related to their own culture. The 7 standards call for self-reflection. They call on organizations to name aspects of the Jewish culture that is interfering with the protection of children and the cause of fear to report abuse.

What impressed me especially was the way in which Professor Cass described how the task force would work with rabbinic councils.

“Across the board, it is clear that rabbis must have the view with respect to child protection that part and parcel conforms to the law of the land.  I have spoken with Eli Cohen about the ways in which the Rabbinical Council works with the NSW task force.  There must be a consensus on the way in which rabbis wish to work with the NSW task force in arriving at a foundational set of precepts about child protection.  And there must be consensus with leaders adhering to precepts for protecting children.”   

What are these precepts?  Counsel for the Royal Commission asked. “Clear line of reporting, protect and respect for young children and their parents,” was the reply.

Vivien Resofsky is a social worker whose specialist training (in both Australia and the USA) underpins her extensive practical professional experience in areas relating to child protection and domestic violence. She has worked with children and families at Jewish Care, The Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service and DHS Child Protection and is an accredited trainer of several programs.
Her writing has appeared in numerous publications; for the Australian government; and for the wider media, including The Herald Sun, The Courier Mail, and The AJN. Vivien is also the author of the highly regarded Wesley World series of books which are parent/child guides to personal safety.
Vivien’s work, which has focused primarily on child abuse in the past ten years, draws together research and evidence-based theory, practical experience and programmes with evaluated, evidence-based success.

PART 2 – VICTORIA  will appear t0morrow

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