|Child||A person who is less than 18 years of age.|
|Underage Student||An enrolled student who is is less than 18 years of age.|
|MST||Melbourne School of Theology|
|College||Melbourne School of Theology|
|Staff||This is the general term used for all people employed by MST, whether full-time, part-time or casual. Volunteers and contracted workers are not covered under this Handbook.|
|Faculty||Those staff who have been designated and remunerated as teaching members of staff, and for which specific policies apply because of their role in teaching.|
|Executive Management Team||This group comprises the Executive Principal, Vice Principal (Academic), Vice Principal (Community & Operations), Vice Principal (Head of Eastern College Australia)|
|CSO||Child Safety Officer|
The purpose of this Policy is to guide Melbourne School of Theology (MST) in developing a child protective culture and in establishing and maintaining child-safe environments for the children and vulnerable people who are part of the MST community.
Melbourne School of Theology is committed to welcoming children and their parents or carers and providing a ‘child-safe’ environment, culture and programs for children and other vulnerable people who attend the services and other programs. We see such a commitment as flowing naturally from our vision and mission to operate according to biblical, Christian principles for living and for recognising the unique value and potential of every person, regardless of race, age, gender, ability or disability.
All children who come to Melbourne School of Theology have a right to feel and be safe. The welfare of children in our care will be our first priority. When children attend the College premises and remain with their parents, then the parents have the primary duty of care. When children are signed over to authorised workers in a College program, or who are enrolled when under 18 years of age, then that duty of care transfers to MST. The authorised leaders accept the responsibility of providing a safe and friendly environment where children are listened to, feel safe, have fun, accept challenges, learn and grow. We recognise the particular need for sensitivity for those from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds. We take into consideration the needs of children with disabilities and seek to include them and make them feel safe and welcome.
This Policy recognises both Federal and State legislation (See Appendix 1) and the spirit that seeks to protect and nurture the holistic development of children and young people. It reflects the operational principles of the MST Code of Conduct.
The purpose of this Policy is to guide Melbourne School of Theology (MST) in developing a child protective culture and in establishing and maintaining child-safe environments for the children and vulnerable people who are part of the MST education and faith community.
The provisions and duties of care expressed in this Child Protection Policy applies to:
- The Board of Directors, lecturers and all employees (including volunteers).
- All guests or hirers of the venue and its facilities.
- Any contractors, subcontractors, delivery persons or others engaged to provide services on the premises, whether or not they have direct contact with children whilst on site.
- All activities and programs organised by or with the approval of Melbourne School of Theology (MST), on the premises or off-site.
This Child Protection Policy was revised and updated to reflect the most recent changes to State and Federal law and guidelines towards being a Child-safe organisation. It was approved by the MST Board and adopted for use by Melbourne School of Theology on 6 July 2018 and has been revised according to the schedule.
1.2 Policy Review
The Child Protection Policy and Procedures will be reviewed annually, or to remain compliant with new legislation. Any proposed changes will be submitted to the Board of Melbourne School of Theology for approval at a properly convened meeting for approval before being adopted and implemented.
1.3 Operating Principles
Duty of Care: Means any legal responsibility that Melbourne School of Theology has to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those who participate in programs or activities of the College.
Vicarious Liability: Means any legal liability that Melbourne School of Theology may be determined to have for the conduct of those who act on its behalf (e.g. its staff and approved voluntary leaders).
Reasonable Standard of Care: Refers to the level of care that a user may reasonably expect that Melbourne School of Theology will take in providing any program, activity, service, or facility.
Reasonable Foresight: Refers to a responsibility that Melbourne School of Theology has, when planning activities for children and young people, to identify any reasonably foreseen danger/risk and take reasonable steps to prevent or avert such risk.
2. CHILDREN’S RIGHTS
2.1 Children’s Rights to Safety and Participation
The staff and leadership of Melbourne School of Theology encourage children who have completed their secondary education studies to enrol in Higher Education awards, and thereby feel a part of the College community. The College will seek their feedback regarding MST’s program and about matters that directly affect their sense of safety or wellbeing. We value diversity and do not tolerate discrimination in our words or practices or in those of others.
Part of our work with enrolled students who are underage is to teach and inform them of what they can do if they feel unsafe, threatened or upset by the behaviour of any staff member or student. We will listen to and act on any concerns they or their parents/carers raise with us.
We are committed to protecting children from harm. ‘Harm’, as used in this policy, includes any and all of the following types of abuse or neglect of children and young people: physical; sexual; emotional/psychological; racial/cultural or spiritual/religious. (See Appendix 2)
2.2 Feedback from Children
‘All forms of abuse injures children, sometimes visibly, but often in profound ways that damage a child’s sense of identity, cause them to be anxious or fearful and reduce their capacity to participate in the community and opportunities of life.’
Children and young adults will have opportunity to reflect on their experience of College appropriate programs and to make comments regarding the standard of planning for and delivery of programs for their age-group. We will invite comments on other aspects of wellbeing, including staff conduct. Such feedback will inform Melbourne School of Theology and guide adjustments to practices, programs and training.
3. STAFF REQUIREMENTS
3.1 Employment of Staff and Volunteer leaders/ teachers working with Children
Melbourne School of Theology will be vigilant in the recruitment, selection and screening of all staff, leaders and volunteers to ensure they are safe and suitable to work with children and young people. It is important that every person who works with children under the auspices of this organisation upholds and exemplifies our Christian beliefs and values, especially in their interaction with children and other vulnerable people.
- Our statements of commitment to child safety and our behavioural expectations of employees and volunteers are included in all advertisements and Position Role Descriptions.
- We conduct reference checks prior to engagement, using an agreed set of questions. Conversations will be documented and kept as part of the employment file of successful applicants.
- We require and keep accurate, up-to-date records of Working With Children Checks status for all those working on the site with access to children.
- We have a clear staff and volunteer induction process that includes providing them with a copy of this Policy, the Code of Conduct and other relevant documents detailing standard operating procedures.
- All staff and volunteers are trained annually to refresh their knowledge of our policies and expectations in terms of conduct and protocol, especially where there has been document review.
3.2 Support and Training
We provide a system of support and supervision so people feel valued, respected and fairly treated. To this end we have developed a Code of Conduct to guide our staff and volunteers.
- Staff and volunteers are provided with a copy of this Child Protection Policy and the Code of Conduct that defines unacceptable conduct, boundaries and expectations for behaviour. Staff will sign a pledge stating they have read, understand and will comply with guidelines.
- Annual ‘Refresh, Renew, Update’ sessions are run for all program staff, to ensure staff awareness of the importance of child safety and familiarity with child protective practices and expectations.
3.4 Risk Management
Risk assessment and management practices are embedded in our procedures for all services, programs or activities authorised by MST. We use these practices to inform our planning and implementing of all aspects of operation at Melbourne School of Theology. Risk management applies to Work Health and Safety and specifically to the minimising of risks of abuse of any kind to under-age enrolled students who are in our care.
4. HANDLING OF COMPLAINTS AND ALLEGATIONS
4.1 Appointing a Child Safety Officer
A Child Safety Officer (CSO) is appointed by the leadership for responding to complaints made by staff, volunteers, children or other members of the MST community.
The Child Safety Officer (CSO) is designated as the Human Resources Manager.
The Child Safety Officer will be identified and their role explained at appropriate times during the year. Guests, staff and volunteers are expected to use either the Complaints Form or the MST Hazard and Incident Form to note concerns arising from observations or experience. (See Appendix 3 and 4) Copies of these forms will be kept by the CSO in their office.
4.2 Handling Complaints or Allegations of Child Abuse
Melbourne School of Theology is committed to conducting a thorough, unbiased and pastorally-sensitive investigation into any complaints or allegations of misconduct against a staff-member, leader or volunteer. Every person involved with Melbourne School of Theology should be confident that complaints will be dealt with honestly and fairly. Such investigation will seek to establish if the allegation has sufficient basis for it to be reportable.
The Victorian Police must be notified of all reportable allegations or convictions, no later than 30 days after the MST’s leadership becomes aware of the allegation or conviction. Melbourne School of Theology will fully co-operate with the Victorian Police and be directed by the investigation process. All steps required by the investigators will be followed, and we will respond to any recommendations made by the Victorian Police. All MST staff and leaders should be aware that allegations regarding their conduct outside of their involvement with MST are also reportable to the Victorian Police.
4.3 Steps in the Internal Response to an Allegation of Abuse
Step 1. Where possible, any person (including a child) making an allegation should be encouraged to fill out a Complaints Form and give this to the Child Safety Officer, who will share the allegation with the Executive of Melbourne School of Theology. A copy of this Form MUST be kept by the Child Safety Officer. The complainant may keep the original. This is an essential record of the event.
Step 2. The Child Safety Officer will meet with the child or the complainant, and hear the story, taking notes and seeking clarification, ensuring that the child feels listened to, understood and protected. (Some complaints may be able to be dealt with at this time, where there is misunderstanding; a lack of evidence of any abuse or no reportable act has been committed.)
Step 3. If, in the view of the CSO and/or the complainant, the allegation is serious and the danger is immediate, report the incident to the police. This takes the matter immediately out of MST’s jurisdiction. The police will determine if there is a case, and how to proceed. The Complaints Form will provide data for the police to assess.
Step 4. The accused person (staff member/volunteer or carer) will be stood down from duties and any access to children on the property, until the matter has been investigated and resolved. If the allegation concerns a student or a visitor, MST’s leadership should be notified to deal with the alleged perpetrator, ensuring the safety of children.
Step 5. The accused person should be encouraged to fill out an MST Hazard and Incident Report (Appendix 4). This ensures that their side of the story is heard and recorded. Another adult may witness the Incident Report if they personally observed the incident or alleged inappropriate behaviour.
It may be appropriate for the accused person to be debriefed and appropriate decisions made regarding his/her immediate status, that is, whether or not they remain on the property or can continue to work with children in the future.
Debriefing may also occur with all staff, respecting confidentiality. Allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards a child are upsetting to all staff members and volunteers and they will need support, encouragement, clarification and the opportunity to express their feelings.
4.5 Liaison with the Community
Re-establishing trust in the College is essential and should be dealt with as soon as is practicable. The community needs to be assured that a good process has been followed, and that all steps have been taken to ensure justice is done and that children are indeed safe.
4.6 When and How to Report an Incident of Child Abuse, Observed or Disclosed
Mandatory Reporting: Certain professions are referred to as ‘mandatory reporters’. This includes medical practitioners, nurses (including school nurses), members of the police force, counsellors and primary and secondary teachers and principals. Penalties may be incurred by those named as ‘mandatory reporters’ if they fail to notify the appropriate authorities if they have reasonable grounds for a belief (not proof!) that a child or young person is in need of protection, because they have suffered, or are likely to suffer significant harm (see Appendix 2), particularly physical or sexual abuse.
However, everyone has a moral responsibility to report all types of known or possible child abuse, where there is a reasonable belief that a physical or sexual offence has occurred or may be committed against a child. Such a view can be formed on the basis of:
- Direct observation
- A disclosure made by a child.
- A disclosure by someone close to a child (sibling, close friend, relative)
If you have formed a view that abuse is actually occurring or likely to occur, act appropriately:
- Do not investigate or push the child for details beyond what is required to validate your concern.
- Reassure the child that they are listened to, they are not at fault and it was right to report.
- Do not make contact with the alleged perpetrator. If the alleged perpetrator is a member of staff, the manager may ask them to fill out an MST Hazard and Incident Form, and stand them down from duties pending the outcome of the investigation.
- If an alleged sexual assault has taken place, clothing worn by the child should be retained for forensic examination
Maintain confidentiality – the ‘need to know’ test should apply.
An abuser could be a family member or relative, a member of the MST community, staff, volunteers or even another child. Be clear about what constitutes abuse. (See Appendix 2)
Making a report to an official agency is a serious decision and should not be made lightly. Having written information that establishes the cause of a concern or belief is important for accuracy and consistency. Your concerns should be reported to your supervisor, the Child Safety Officer or to the (MST’s Executive), but this does not release you from the legal obligation to make a report, if you believe such a report was not made on your behalf. (Vic Legislation) This information can be recorded on the Complaints Form.
4.7 Notifying the Insurer
When a report is made, the leadership will contact the insurer, GJ Insurance Consulting Pty Ltd.
General Principles for making a Report regarding Child Abuse
a. Clarifying, Recording Evidence and Specific Information about the Child
A Report is required if you believe, based on reasonable grounds, that a child has suffered, or is at risk of suffering, significant harm as a result of physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect AND that the child’s parents or caregivers have not, or are unlikely to, protect the child from such harm.
The following information will be required when making a formal report to Child Protection Services:
- The child’s name, age (date of birth is preferable) and address
- The name, age and address of any known siblings
- Your reasons (observations or disclosures) for believing that the child is at risk of abuse, or actually being abused or neglected
- Your assessment of the immediate danger to the child
- Current whereabouts of the child or vulnerable person (if not in the home)
- Your description of injuries or ‘sign’ behaviours you have observed
- Any other information you may have of relevance to the investigation
b. Reporting. Making a report is to lay a serious allegation of a criminal offence against another person, so clarify your perceptions (talk to the child or your colleagues) and decide the best method of reporting. You can make your report to:
- Melbourne School of Theology Child Safety Officer, using a Complaint Form. Attach your notes to the form, keeping a copy. The CSO may decide to take the concern to the Executive Principal or to act unilaterally or on your behalf.
- The Police. The police are the most appropriate first responders if the report is regarding behaviour taking place o MST’s premises. Again, fill out a Complaint Form, attach your notes and call 000. The Child Safety Officer may also decide to call the police as a first step.
- Child First (Family Information and Support Team) – is a family-focussed and community-based intake and referral service.
- Child Protection Services (1300 655 795 BH, or 13 12 78 AH) is a statutory service provided by DHS to protect children and young people at risk of harm and to work with families to ensure these risks are mitigated.
APPENDIX 1: DEFINITIONS OF ABUSE AGAINST CHILDREN
Types of Abuse
There are five common types of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, neglect and racial/cultural.
Physical abuse is any non-accidental physical injury resulting from practices such as:
- Hitting, punching, kicking, beating (marks from belt buckles, fingers).
- Shaking (particularly babies).
- Burning (irons, cigarettes), biting, pulling out hair.
- Alcohol or other drug administration.
SEXUAL ABUSE, INCLUDING ‘GROOMING’
Sexual abuse is any sexual act or threat to perform such upon another person. It occurs when a person uses their power and authority to take advantage of another’s trust to involve them in sexual activity. It does not necessarily involve genital contact but is any act which erodes the sexual boundary between two persons. It may appear consensual, but the validity of consent is negated by the power differential.
Sexual grooming is a pattern of behaviour aimed at engaging a child, as a precursor to sexual abuse. Examples include inappropriate special time with the child, inappropriately giving gifts, ‘accidental touching’, allowing the child to sit on lap, having secrets. In isolation, such behaviours may not indicate the risk of abuse occurring, but if there is a pattern of behaviour occurring, it may indicate grooming. Grooming behaviours often mimic the kind of relationship-developing strategies that Christian ministries use for the benefit and wellbeing of children, that is, gaining the trust of the child, demonstrating care and concern, spending time, visiting in the home, finding out about family, friends and hobbies. However, grooming to involve a child in sexual activities for the personal gratification of an adult is a crime.
EMOTIONAL OR PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE
Emotional abuse is the chronic attitude or behaviour of one person, which is directed at another person, or, the creation of an emotional environment which erodes a child’s development, self-esteem and social confidence over time. Behaviours may include devaluing, ignoring, rejecting, corrupting, isolating, terrorising or chronic and extreme domestic violence in the child’s presence.
Neglect is characterised by the failure to provide for the child’s basic needs. And includes any serious omission or commission which jeopardises or impairs a person’s development. Examples include the failure to provide food, shelter, adequate hygiene or schooling for a child.
Bullying can be defined as repeated, unreasonable, unwanted behaviour conducted by an individual or group against another person, which has a negative impact on health and wellbeing. This includes aggression, verbal, emotional/psychological or physical acts that intimidate or threaten. It often involves an abuse of a power differential between the bully and the victim.
Other Forms of Abuse
RACIAL, CULTURAL OR RELIGIOUS ABUSE
Racial abuse is any harmful conduct that discriminates against, or demonstrates contempt, ridicule, hatred or negativity towards a child because of their race, ethnic origin, skin colour or other evidence of ‘difference’. It may be overt, such as racial vilification or discrimination, or covert, such as demonstrating a lack of cultural sensitivity or positive ideas about a different ethnicity.
Religious or cultural abuse is similar to racial abuse but is directed towards expressions of religious faith or practice or cultural dress, identifying styles of cultural expression or practices.
‘The harm that is caused by racial, religious or cultural abuse targets the child’s identity.’
This involves the perpetrator using their position of authority at MST or having a higher understanding of biblical teaching or God’s will to manipulate a child for their own use or benefit, or to pressure a child using guilt, shame, or a strong “works” based ethic. This is not reportable to a Government Child Protection agency, although in extreme circumstances can be classified as emotional abuse.
Cyber-bullying occurs when a person uses any form of telecommunication to sexually groom, bully, suggest an inappropriate relationship be formed, or engage a child in sexual language or behaviours. The explosion of electronic communications (Facebook and other social media sites, text-messaging, internet chat rooms etc.) has seen a sharp increase in cyber-bullying.
STATISTICS OF ABUSE
It is very difficult to know precisely the amount of child abuse that occurs in Australia, as many acts go unreported. Statistics of reported acts, though, are available through government agencies.
Child Protection Australia 2010-11 report reported that there were 237, 273 notifications of child abuse involving 163,767 children in Australia. The types most commonly substantiated were emotional abuse (36%) and child neglect (29%), with sexual abuse making up 14%. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2002) revealed the following breakup of perpetrators: 74% natural parent, 10% step-parent or de facto, 7% other relative or sibling, 5% friend or neighbour, 4% others (including strangers). In 2011-2012, there were 23,175 substantiated notifications of child abuse or neglect for children aged 0-17 years, relating to 14,677 children (9.2 per 1,000 children in NSW).
Researchers believe that the reality of abuse in Australia is a lot worse than the statistics. There are estimates that as many as 1 in 20 men in Australia may sexually offend against a child. As many as 1 in 5 children will be sexually abused during their childhood. On average it takes a girl 7 years to tell someone about such abuse, and for men the average is well over 25 years, if they ever do.
APPENDIX 2. MST COMPLAINT FORM (SAMPLE)
[To be used for Formal Complaints regarding discrimination, harassment (including sexual harassment), vilification, victimisation or bullying against yourself or another person, as observed by yourself.]
APPENDIX 3. MST INCIDENT REPORT FORM (SAMPLE)
[This form is to record the details of any incident involving the writer of the report, especially where there was an accident, near miss or emotional reaction involving another person.]
ADDENDUM: RELATIONSHIP REPAIR AND RESTORATION
As a Christian organisation we understand the Gospel of Christ to have at its heart a recognition that human beings fail at times to live up to the standards of behaviour enshrined in law, in the teachings of the Bible and even of our personal beliefs and values. The Good News (Gospel) is that there is a pathway to forgiveness, relationship repair and restoration.
Justice demands that a person accused of an illegal or improper act should find both impartial judgement and penalty in the law. This means that:
- Allegations do not constitute an offense until proven beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, the process of investigating an allegation of behaviour that has the power to harm or abuse a child must be full, formal and impartial. Thus, persons who are part of the process, that is, a victim, a complainant or an accused person, should not carry out an investigation.
- If a person is found to be guilty of the alleged offence, then appropriate penalties and sanctions must be applied via the judicial system. Whilst impartial third parties may undertake an investigation; they are not able to judge in the legal sense. They can present findings and establish a case to be answered. Such a case should then be made through the appropriate legal system, which will determine guilt and an appropriate penalty.
- If, after full, formal and impartial investigation it is found there is no case to answer, then the accused person must be exonerated and their standing legally restored. In matters relating to Child Safety and Abuse, misinformation and unsubstantiated allegations have the power to ruin a person’s reputation and career, as well as that of the organisation. This is unjust and fails to apply with integrity the same standards outlined in this policy to protect a child. It is unjust to hold and treat a person as guilty if they have been exonerated by an impartial investigation and a legal verdict of ‘Not guilty!’
Relationships Matter! At Melbourne School of Theology, we highly value relationship at all levels of operation. We acknowledge that mistakes are made, and offence caused in relationships. Where this occurs, we seek to follow a Relationship Repair and Restoration process, as follows:
- Recognise that one person’s words or actions have caused offence.
- Give opportunity for both parties to express their point of view and acknowledge the other. (This must only happen in a mediated, safe context, where both parties are willing to seek understanding and restoration.)
- Where offence has been caused, apology (at least) should be made, and forgiveness received.
- An agreement will be made on how the relationship will progress from this point on. No retaliation or blaming going forward. Limits to contact and interaction agreed.
- .Ideally, this process should promote learning, insight, empathy and restored trust.