Sunday, 3 September 2017

A Sustainable Culture of Child Safety: Filling in the Holes of the Swiss Cheese

This is an active response to a Catholic Education Melbourne workshop Child Safe Standards: Next Steps on the Journey presented at the Catholic Leadership Centre August 2017.

Key note speaker, Professor Daryl Higgins, Institute of Childhood Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University, stressed the importance of having multiple practices in place to ensure a Child Safe school. Higgins described the context of an organisation as having holes like those in Swiss cheese. The more layers of cheese we can provide, the less holes. Just as steering wheel locks were a visible deterrent to car thieves before car security improved, we need to send a strong, visible message that we promote and reinforce a Child Safe School.

The new Child Safe Standards through Ministerial Order No 870 became mandatory on the 1 August 2016. On 15 November 2016, further legislation was passed in Victoria providing the Commission for Children and Young People, powers to oversee and enforce compliance with the Child Safe standards by relevant organisations. 
Here is a link to an excellent VRQA 2 minute video summarising the processes so far
St Pat's and every other school in Victoria introduced a new Child Safety Policy and Code of Conduct in Term 4, 2016. The introduction of the standards, coincided with the beginning of my tenure as principal in Melbourne. Having now completed ten years as a primary school principal, I believe that the challenge to support the community to adjust to the necessary and ongoing changes to the school culture in relation to the ministerial order have been my greatest yet.

To comply with the Child Safe Standards, we have made a number of necessary changes to existing practices. Some of these have included the introduction of an Alcohol Consumption Policy in relation to school community events. This has meant a change to expectations around pizza nights, discos, working bees and our school fete. The Child Safe Code of Conduct is now visible on the visitor sign in ipad, including the importance of wearing lanyards and the registering of Working With Children Checks. Parents are expected to report to the office to pass on messages and pick up children instead of freely wandering through the school.

Catholic Commission Education Victoria 1 minute Child Safe Video 

The move from an informal and trusting environment to formalised visitor expectations has been a challenge for some of our parents. Changes in the way the school community has traditionally held events has been another challenge. As principal, I understand the enormous change of culture needed to comply with this legislation. It is our responsibility as leaders to educate our children, staff and our community to move beyond compliance to deeply embedding a sustained child safety culture. There are still many holes in the cheese. As we continually review our practices, we invite parents and children to be part of a newly established Child Safe Team. This will help to fill in the holes and engender much needed ownership and understanding about the need for change within our community.

On the 1 July 2017, the Children Legislation Amendment (Reportable Conduct) Act 2017 (Vic.), has been passed by the Victorian parliament, preparing the way for the introduction of a Victorian Reportable Conduct Scheme (Scheme). All of this legislation means further reviews of our practice. Ultimately, the message is that it must become the norm for Child Safety to be on every meeting agenda and part of every staff, parent and Parish discussion.

Next steps for our community:
  • Draw attention to Child Safe procedures with children, staff and parents during National Child Protection Week 3-9 September
  • Ensure the Child Safe Policy and other documents are visible on our website, newsblog and learning site
  • Initiate a Child Safe Team including teachers, parents and children
  • Work with the Student Representative Council to develop a child friendly Child Safe Code of Conduct and give our children a voice around Child Safety
  • Include Child Safety on the agenda of all meetings - staff, board and parents
  • Review camp and excursion Safety Action Plans
  • Use the CEM Embedding a Culture of Child Safety Reflection Tool with the community
Protecting the well being and sacred dignity of every child has been and still is an ongoing job for each and every member of our community. We invite all of you to be play your part in keeping our children safe. Together we can continually add layer upon layer of cheese to fill in the holes and create safe environments where every child can thrive and flourish.