New South Wales v Victoria: A tale of two systems

April 9, 2017 by Vivien Resofsky
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Part Three of  a three-part series: A comparison between NSW and Victoria’s institutional child protection reforms.

Part 3: Where to from here?

Vivien Resofsky

Manny Waks, in his book, Who Gave You Permission? describes the way in which Jewish organisations, both religious and non-religious, reacted to his public allegations of sexual abuse at Yeshivah institutions.

“When I challenged the leaders – religious, secular and communal – to acknowledge the scale of the problem, address it and ensure that others didn’t have to experience what I did, their response was first to ignore me, then to downplay it and then to say it was being addressed. When I demonstrated that they were wrong on all counts, they shunned me. They ostracised me and my family, casting me and my parents out of the only community and life that we had known.”

NSW is looking good from a communal perspective

The recent Royal Commission Hearing examined the measures that our leading communal organisations have taken to reform how child sexual abuse will be dealt with in the future.

In NSW, reform began with the appointment of Professor Bettina Cass, who is well qualified to lead reform. The task force plans include the development of a foundational framework; a set of agreed policies and protocols for child protection.

These policies and protocols include the most important elements that require change.   The foundational framework will be widely disseminated across all organisations in the NSW Jewish community and the Jewish Board of Deputies will ensure regular updating and training of paid staff and volunteers twice a year.  Counsel for the Royal Commission asked Professor Cass, when its foundational framework will be completed and the response was it will be completed in June.

Victoria, not so good from a communal perspective

In Victoria, the organisations that have worked with the Jewish Community of Victoria (JCCV) and have played key roles in the response to child sexual abuse have either closed their doors or are closing their doors shortly because apparently, their work is done.

The JCCV’s Child Protection Reference Group has already been disbanded (date not reported) and earlier this year the Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence (JTAFV) announced that they will cease operating on June 30.  Both bodies will have ended their work without a foundational framework in place thus leaving each school, shule and club the challenge of confronting Jewish specific barriers to the protection of children, by themselves.

President of the JCCV, Jennifer Huppert, offered the JCCV Child Safe Policy as an example of embedding culture through leadership influence.  Part 2 of this series dealt with why I believe that the JCCV’s Child Safety Policy is not only a poor example of good practice, it will confuse affiliated organisations trying to establish their own policies.

The JCCV began the fight against child sexual abuse in 2005 when its Social Justice Committee held a community forum to “lift the lid” on child sexual abuse in the Jewish community.  Following the forum, the Social Justice Committee held a meeting, chaired by Tony Levy to plan a community strategy. The process of community consultation was stopped as The Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence (JTAFV), with the knowledge and agreement of the JCCV, took the lead child protection organisational role.

It is important to note that the JTAFV was not an affiliate of the JCCV when the agreement was reached.  The JCCV have since supported the JTAFV and ignored complaints about its practices.  According to the JTAFV, they operate independently, as well as interdependently, with Jewish Care, the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV), Hatzolah and the JCCV.

I have made private and public comments in relation to the work of the JCCV and The Jewish Taskforce.  One example is the article published by Gallus Australis entitled The Problem with The Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault in 2012.

Manny Waks raises concerns about the JTAFV:

“While I regard the shutting of the Victorian Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence as a positive development, I also regard this move as a cowardly act. Rather than take responsibility for what I would describe as their massive failures in dealing with the ongoing child sexual abuse scandal plaguing the Australian Jewish community (as noted in my book and elsewhere) – acknowledging their failures and apologising for them – I believe they’ve taken the easy way out by closing their doors. While the Taskforce may have done some good work over the years, including assisting in individual cases, based on what I’ve experienced and seen, they also caused immense damage. Debbie Wiener and The Taskforce should do the right thing and apologise to the community.”  (His recent statement on social media.)

The very organisation that was supposed to support victims of abuse has according to Manny Waks also caused immense damage.   President Huppert told the recent 2017 NSW Royal Commission that the JCCV “lead by example.”  If the JCCV is changing culture through modelling, what example are they setting by not commenting on the JTAFV’s silence in relation to the shunning of victims of abuse?

The JCCV have long used the excuse that they don’t interfere with the work of their affiliates, however the JTAFV were not affiliated to the JCCV when the communal response to child sexual abuse in the Jewish Community began in 2005.  The JTAFV became affiliates of the JCCV in 2008 and since then they have operated independently, as well as interdependently, with the JCCV.
The JTAFV were soon known as “community experts” despite their fact that they don’t claim to be qualified in child protection, policy, child welfare or trauma.

It takes hard work and commitment to create a Child Safe organisation.  The synagogue I have attended for the last 50-odd years mention that the shule’s child protection policy dates back to 2009.  On the surface, that looks like a fine achievement.

However, last year on Rosh Hashana when I went to shule, well over a year after the 2015 Royal Commission Hearing, I saw what I believe was an unsafe environment for children.  Very little attention, if any, had been paid to the physical environment before Rosh Hashanah, a day that many children attend shule with their parents.

The shule provides a children’s club so that children will be occupied while their parents attend the shule service.  By now we know that it is the responsibility of the organisation to keep children safe while they attend a program/service there.

As I observed the many children of all ages playing together, I felt a sense of joy as I watched so many of our beautiful children playing.  I have seen many of their parents grow up and I know many of their parents and great-grandparents.   As always, I looked around and thought about the miracle of my thriving community that grew after Holocaust.

After well over a decade of working to protect children, the protection of children is firmly embedded in me.  I soon noticed that children were disappearing and playing in secluded hidden areas where they could not be seen.  There were many such secluded nooks. There were gates leading down pathways that had not been locked or even closed. There were pathways that did not have gates.  There was not enough supervision. There were supervisors who did not know that they should supervise the spots that were hidden.

A child protection policy sets out the ways that risk of abuse can be mitigated.  The first strategy in this example would be to ensure that the physical environment is safe. This involves closing access to areas that are hidden, where children can’t be observed.

Another strategy has not been implemented. Parents have not yet been provided with education about how to mitigate the risk of abuse, nor had the shule advised parents to supervise and monitor their children – given the physical environment with access to many secluded areas.

The shule’s child protection policy of 2009 was prepared for insurance purposes.  It was not disseminated.  What use is a child protection policy that is not activated?
Just like most organisations that provide services to children, there needs to be a shift in culture, but how can culture be changed when the president of the shule has the mindset that community education is not that important because parents and members of the shule would most likely not attend such events? Isn’t it the role of the Rabbi and Shule Board to ‘sell’ educational events to their members?  Even if one person attends the first event, I am sure with the right education, more parents will attend the second event.

The good news in Victoria is there are some fine examples of organisations that have gone ahead create child protection measures and follow it through.  Yavneh College and Maccabi Sport are two such examples.

Leibler Yavneh was proactive in finding its own way in Victoria. Even though there was no Jewish foundational framework in place, and each organisation was left to drive the cultural change themselves, Yavneh leadership accessed an organisation that was able, in my opinion, to bring about a cultural change: “Our College sought to proactively develop a higher standard of child protection and conducted an exhaustive search of available resources.”

It then took then hard work, time and the engagement of the entire school –  from the school principal to the children for the school to become an accredited Child Safe Organisation. In conversations with parents and staff and even through advertisements for new staff, I have noticed that a healthy protective culture has permeated throughout the school.

So, where to from here?

It is time that we look at the bigger picture. It’s time to build good solid foundations and it begins with leadership.

How prevalent is child abuse in our community? What about physical abuse? Neglect?  What about the statistics The Taskforce is still holding in its archives? What about data that Tzedek and Jewish Care have gathered?

In Victoria, as gaps appeared in the JTAFV’s child protection framework, these gaps were filled by creating new agencies and by existing agencies taking on new roles.  The community must be confused. The current response to child sexual abuse is fragmented.   Valuable data held by a number of different agencies must be collected and collated to formulate strategies based on facts.

Moving forward, the first task involves preserving information.  Who will do this?  What will happen to the confidential records JTAFV still hold? What will happen to the cases of suspected abuse that JTAFV handled internally?   By their own admission, The JTAFV worked with Rabbis on cases of child sexual abuse where “there was not enough evidence to charge anyone.”
This information must not be buried.  And what about the information held by the now defunct JCCV Child Protection Reference Group?  Where is that?

The future – a united Australian Jewish community

Let’s change our systemic problems into systemic assets.

I would like to see all our Jewish communal organisations working together.  I like the NSW concept of a foundational framework.  I am hopeful that NSW will soon have one such framework in place. We need to have a unified, Australia-wide task force that welcomes working collaboratively, openly and transparently.  We need a task force which is made up of people who are professionally qualified in the subject matter of child abuse, its prevention and response.

I would like to see the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies task force and the JCCV’s child protection section fused into a single organisation, combining effort and expertise into a strong, culture-changing force.  This will put an end to the continued problems we have had in fighting child sexual abuse.   This will also provide foundations for our smaller Jewish communities in other states.

Finally, I would like to see resignations of communal leaders who have made assertions that are not theoretically sound and have ignored warnings that misconceptions are being spread throughout the community.  They ignored serious concerns about the child abuse methodology being implemented. Leaders, who through their actions and inactions, who have allowed this to go on, should resign.  They know who they are.

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.

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