CHILD RELATED SAFE CHURCH MATTERS
There are a number of Child Protection Obligations placed upon the Church. This page provides information about child-related Safe Church PCV matters and helps people in the Church understand the various issues and requirements (including Working With Children Check requirements) in relation to these.
The Working With Children Check
All people working with children under 18 years old and all appointed leaders in the PCV are required to have a current Victorian Working With Children Check (WWC Check). No person will be permitted to work with children under 18 or be an appointed leader in any PCV ministry or activity without a current WWC Check.
You are required to list your local church and/or the Presbyterian Church of Victoria on your WWC Check with the Department of Justice.
If your activities only relate to your local church then listing your local church is sufficient. If your activities take place at more than one PCV church then list the Presbyterian Church of Victoria in addition to your local church. Visit the WWC Check website to update your details accordingly.
This is especially important for ministers who may preach in other PCV churches and elders who may serve as assessor elders in other PCV churches.
APPOINTED Church leaders - Working with children check requirement
In October 2014 the State Government of Victoria enacted changes to the Victorian Working With Children Check (WWC Check). For the purposes of the legislation a minister of religion is anyone ordained or appointed as a recognised religious leader in an organised religious institution or an appointed leader of a local religious organisation in an institution who has general authority over operations or some of the operations of the congregation in the institution.
Advice given to the Safe Church Unit during consultation with the State Government means that the broadened scope of the WWC Check will mean that the following people in the PCV require a WWC Check in addition to those already holding a WWC Check due to participation in child-related activities:
- Ministers - regardless of whether or not their congregation includes children
- Board Members
- Appointed leaders of any ministry in the congregation – this includes music leaders, bible study leaders, Supply Preachers and specific ministry leaders (for example women’s ministry or English teaching ministry leaders) - regardless of whether or not their ministry area includes ministry to children
The legislation is broad in nature and on advice the PCV will err on the side of complete coverage. The message from government is that the WWC Check is the minimum standard and organisations should be careful to ensure that all appointed leaders have a WWC Check . The updated recommendation from the SCU is that all appointed leaders acquire a WWC Check regardless of whether or not their congregation has children attending. This is the most protective approach for leaders, the local church and the denomination.
Additional specific information for Supply Preachers is available here
The WWC Check application form is now only available online. Please contact the Safe Church Unit via email or telephone with further queries or should any assistance be required. A link to the application page on the State Government WWC Check site is in the Forms page of this website. There is no cost for the check for all volunteers in the PCV.
WHY DO I NEED A CHECK IF MY APPOINTED LEADERSHIP ROLE DOES NOT INVOLVE CHILDREN?
The Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have revealed two key areas of concern that the broadening of the Victorian WWC Check seeks to address:
- The need to change culture from "Child sexual abuse could never happen in my church" to "Child sexual abuse can and does happen in churches and everyone needs to be mindful of preventing it and ready to report it".
- The need to remove "blocks" when a concern is raised with a leader in a church and that leader is either not mindful of the possibility of child sexual abuse occurring, perhaps even disbelieving about this or doesn't believe it is their responsibility to take the concern further.
By legislating that all appointed leaders in churches and organisations have WWC Checks the state government is seeking to both broaden awareness of child sexual abuse and assist individual leaders at all levels of church authority taking responsibility to report concerns, suspicions or known child sexual abuse.
interim negative notices
If an individual receives an Interim Negative Notice upon applying for a WWC Check this means that the Department of Justice intends to reject the application and issue a Negative Notice - hence the individual will not be granted a WWC Check. The Interim Negative Notice means that the Department has not yet made a final decision in the application and the individual may make a submission and explain why they believe they should be granted a WWC Check.
The PCV or the local church will receive a copy of the Interim Negative Notice. Under the legislation, the individual must notify the PCV or local church within 7 days of being given an Interim Negative Notice. If the local church (either the Safe Church Representative or the Session) receive notification that an individual in the congregation has received an Interim Negative Notice this information must be immediately disclosed to the Safe Church Unit.
Any employee or volunteer of the PCV who is issued with an Interim Negative Notice must cease working with children and/or stand aside from their role until the matter is resolved by the Department of Justice. This is to allow the PCV to fulfil its duty of care to children in the Church, as well as to the person to whom the Interim Negative Notice has been issued.
Queries about the Working With Children Check requirements in the PCV may be directed to SCU.
The Victorian Child Safe Standards
The Victorian Child Safe Standards are a direct result of the ‘Betrayal of Trust’ Victorian State Government Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse in Religious and Non-Government Organisations, held in 2012-13.
As a result of the Inquiry the State Government have introduced a number of new pieces of legislation, which have bipartisan support among all political parties in Victoria.
These standards are an excellent development in our community. The standards are intentionally designed to increase the safety of children in all organisations, religious or otherwise.
At the heart of the standards is the desire of our community to say “Never again” to the abuse of children within organisations in Victoria – this is a great thing and something the Christian Church absolutely aligns with. For churches and Christian organisations the Child Safe Standards provide further impetus to achieve best practice in protecting children now from harm and from the lifelong effects of child abuse. The standards are a great thing for children in Victoria and for the Christian Church.
The PCV complies with the Victorian Child Safe Standards. For further detail please contact the Safe Church Unit.
the reportable conduct scheme - from 1 january 2018
From 1 January 2018 all religious organisations (including the PCV), in addition to other non-religious organisations, will come under the Victorian Reportable Conduct Scheme. For more details visit www.ccyp.vic.gov.au
GENERAL CHILD RELATED SAFE CHURCH MATTERS
This section contains information on how Safe Church applies to issues relating to children. In accordance with Victorian law a child or young person in Safe Church material always refers to a person under 18 years of age. This section contains the following:
What is Child Abuse?
Child abuse is an act by a person or persons that endangers a child or young person’s physical or emotional health or development. In Victorian legislation and in the Safe Church Policy and Code of Conduct a child or young person is a person under 18 years of age.
There are different kinds of child abuse:
Failure to provide the basic necessities of life, such as love and affection, safety, food, clothing, hygiene, medical care and education.
Depriving a child or young person of love and attention which can include but is not limited to constant criticism, isolation, excessive teasing or terrorising. These actions and others are used by a person in a position of power to make the child feel worthless. It may also include actions that cause serious mental anguish without any legitimate disciplinary purpose as judged by the standards of the time when the incidents occurred.
All non-accidental physical injuries. This can include but is not limited to hitting, beating, burning, scalding or shaking, and actions that cause serious pain without any legitimate disciplinary purpose as judged by the standards of the time when the incidents occurred.
Sexual abuse includes involvement in sexual activities with anyone who is older, bigger, in authority or perceived authority or more powerful where a child or young person is unable to give informed consent. It also includes sexual activities with a person under 18 years of age (such as another child or sibling) where a child or young person is unable to give informed consent. These activities may be initiated by either party. This includes but is not limited to:
- touching in a sexual way
- oral sex
- sexual intercourse
- eroding the sexual boundary between two people through sexual innuendo
- unwanted or unnecessary touching
- overly long hugs
- online child exploitation (the grooming of children to create online material that is sexually exploitative of a child)
It can involve apparently consensual intercourse or sexual activity but the validity of consent is negated by the power differential or the fact that one person has a moral and spiritual responsibility towards the other.
It also includes permitting another person to undertake these activities with your knowledge or in your presence. It is not possible for a person under the age set by legislation to legally consent to sexual activity.
Online sexual exploitation of children
Online sexually exploitative abuse of children is growing exponentially in Australia due to the popularity of online activity and in particular, social media use by children. Always report online sexually exploitative abuse of children to police and SCU. For helpful parent and leader resources regarding this visit www.esafety.gov.au
Any of the above four forms of abuse within the context of a family is considered to be a form of domestic violence. It also includes social isolation and/or financial control or deprivation. Domestic violence can be carried out upon a child or young person or they can be a witness to violence. That is, to fall within this provision, the violence does not have to be directed at the child or young person.
Signs of Child Abuse
There are signs that abuse has taken place both in the child and in the abuser where this person is a parent or carer. These can include:
Child physical indicators include:
- consistent hunger, poor hygiene, inappropriate dress, chronically unclean
- consistent lack of supervision, especially in dangerous activities, for long periods
- unattended physical problems, medical or dental needs
- often tired or listless
- developmental delays
- flat bald spots on infant’s head.
Child behavioural indicators include:
- begging or stealing food
- extended stays in school
- attendance at school infrequent
- substance abuse
- states there is no carer or parent.
Carer behavioural indicators include:
- disorganised, chaotic and upsetting home life
- feels apathetic and that nothing will change
- isolated from friends, relatives, neighbours
- cannot be found
- expects too much of the child
- substance abuse
- exposes the child to unsafe living conditions.
Child physical indicators include:
- speech disorders
- lags in physical development or failure to thrive
- attempted suicide.
Child behaviour indicators include:
- habit disorders (sucking, rocking, biting etc)
- low self-esteem
- difficulty forming positive relationships
- inability to trust
- toileting problems
- neurotic traits (sleep disorders, inhibition of play etc)
- behavioural extremes (compliant, passive, shy, aggressive, demanding)
- overly adaptive behaviour (inappropriately infantile)
- reports emotional maltreatment.
Carer behavioural indicators include:
- treating children in family unequally
- does not appear to care much about the child’s problems
- blames or belittles the child
- is cold or rejecting
- withholds love
- finds nothing good or attractive in the child
- demonstrates inconsistent behaviour toward the child.
Child physical indicators include:
- unexplained welts and bruises
- unexplained burns
- unexplained fractures
- unexplained lacerations or abrasions
- head injuries
- human bite marks
- premature loss of teeth.
Child behavioural indicators include:
- verbally reports abuse
- wary of adults and adult contact
- consistent anger, aggression, hyperactivity
- behavioural extremes
- role reversal (such as the child pretending to be an abusive parent)
- developmental lags
- appears frightened of carer
- apprehensive when other children cry
- wears clothes over injuries
- seeks affection from any adult with no discrimination
- non-expression of needs
Carer behavioural indicators include:
- frequent visits with their child or children to health or other services with unexplained or suspicious injuries, swallowing of non-food substances or with internal complaints
- explanation of injury offered by the parent is not consistent with the injury
- family history of violence
- history of their own maltreatment as a child
- fears injuring their child
- uses excessive discipline.
Child physical indicators include:
- difficulty walking or sitting
- torn, stained or bloody underclothing
- pain or itching in genital area
- bruises or bleeding around the genital area
- venereal disease (especially in pre-teens)
- other physical signs that a medical practitioner may identify
- recurrent urinary tract infections.
Child behavioural indicators include:
- aggressive, overt sexual behaviour
- drawing pictures of people with genitals
- cruelty to animals without physiological basis
- pre-mature knowledge of explicit sexual acts
- sleep disorders
- taking frequent baths or showers
- starting fires
- poor peer relations
- wary of physical contact, especially with an adult
- onset of bedwetting, nightmares or thumb sucking
- reports of sexual abuse
- self inflicted injury
- discloses online sexual behaviour as a result of online grooming or coercion
Carer behavioural indicators include:
- very protective or jealous of child
- extremely protective of family privacy
- does not allow child to be involved in extra-curricular activities
- encourages child to engage in prostitution
- substance abuse
- geographically isolated and/or lacking in social and emotional contacts outside the family, and low self-esteem.
- Offenders are usually very ordinary people who could come from any background
- Offenders hold many different positions in the community and are often well respected
- Most children or young people who are victims of sexual abuse do not disclose at the time and many never do. Disclosures may be delayed weeks, months or years after the abuse began
- Most cases of child or young person sexual abuse are disclosed accidentally, where the victim behaves or makes a comment that alerted someone.
Further Information about Child Abuse
- In the vast majority of child sexual abuse cases the victim knows the offender. They may be related to the victim in some way or associated with the victim’s family in some way
- The offender is usually male. This has been confirmed by every major study
- Offenders are usually heterosexual
- The majority of adult sex offenders report beginning their offence patterns in adolescence
- The sexual abuse will usually continue until someone stops it. Re-offending rates for sex offenders are high
- Boys and girls of any age can be sexually abused
- Children and young people must never be assumed to be lying about a claim of sexual abuse
- Offenders practice deceit and are very adept at disguising their actions
- Knowing about sexual abuse helps keep children and young people safe and protects them from it When adults talk openly about sexual abuse, tell them what to do if they are threatened and give them permission to tell someone who can help, then offenders lose some of their power over the child
- Offenders work actively to keep the abuse secret
- Child sexual abusers prey on children or young people and the people around them. They actively manipulate those who care for the child or young person to make them more vulnerable
- Offenders manipulate the system and can make themselves appear to be very respectable
- Some offenders work to undermine the child or young person’s reputation so that they won’t be believed
- Increasingly, sexual offending against children is happening via the use of digital communications with children using smart phones and tablet devices, even via the use of apps and pop-up ads on children's websites. Offenders pose as celebrities or other children and convince and coerce children into performing sexual acts online. These offenders cynically exploit children's innocence and ignorance about sex.
- Offenders recruit vulnerable children or young people and use coercion to prepare them for abuse.
myths about child abuse
- Child abuse is rare In reality and sadly, child abuse is quite common. In terms of sexual abuse of children, statistics provided by Victoria Police to the GAV in October 2015 are that:
"One in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused in some way before the age of 18 years.
These statistics are across the whole community and there is no research or statistics to suggest that churches will be any different. Many sex offenders remain entirely unknown to the criminal justice system and may never be arrested or charged. "
- People lie about child abuse to gain attention and sympathy In fact, it is far more common for people to deny they were abused than to claim they suffered abuse when they had not. In terms of sexual abuse, the vast majority of sufferers of sexual abuse as children do not come forward to police or speak up about it due to the pain and difficulty of doing so. Sadly, most people feel they will not be believed. Court records also show it is very rare for people to fabricate accusations of abuse.
- Memories of childhood abuse are "false memories" Traumatic amnesia is well-documented for war veterans and victims of natural or man-made disasters. Suppressed or traumatic memories of childhood abuse often manifest in adulthood as flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive thoughts. When survivors do choose to speak up about the abuse the process of doing so often allows or forces them to think of and remember, for the first time in many years, deeply traumatic experiences in their lives.
- Children grow out bad childhood experiences Most adults continue to be deeply affected by childhood abuse. Survivors need lots of support and care to recover and lead healthy lives.
- Christians don't abuse children There is no research or statistics to suggest that Christians and church goers do not abuse children. Sadly, the sheer number of historical child sexual abuse survivors and known child sex offenders in churches across the globe demonstrates this.
- Children are likely to make up stories of abuse Studies and research across the globe demonstrate that children can readily distinguish between fantasy and reality. Social workers, therapists and specialist law enforcement officers are trained to detect fabricated reports. Further, there are known patterns of behaviour and attitudes of offenders against children and these patterns have been well-documented via both criminal justice systems and academic researchers across the globe. When children speak about abuse, or when adults speak about suffering childhood abuse there are "hallmarks" and common behaviours and traits displayed by people who abuse children and these are well-established.
- Children encourage sexual abuse by acting seductively Any incident of child sexual abuse is entirely the adult's responsibility. The adult is in the position of power in the relationship and is responsible at law for any sexual conduct with children.
Possible Outcomes for the victim
All abuse is harmful. You should also bear in mind that one event may seem insignificant to an outsider but it may be part of a pattern of abuse.
The more frequently and severely someone is abused the greater the damage. The greater the esteem in which the child or young person holds the abuser, such as a parent or authority figure, the greater the damage. The more vulnerable the child or young person, because of age or development, the greater the damage. The more isolated the child or young person is the greater the damage. The quieter a community is about child abuse, the greater the damage.
Victims of abuse can experience shame, fear and confusion. They may blame themselves. They may find it difficult to trust other people, particularly those in authority. They may be silent for a long time. They may deny or repress the events.
Child abuse may result in many different things for the victim, including:
- rejection of God
- loss of trust in people
- inability to form positive relationships and difficulty with love and trust
- physical injury
- developmental injury
- criminal behaviour, including juvenile crime and violence
- mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and suicide
- drug and alcohol problems
- self harm
- eating disorders
- depression and other psychological and psychiatric disorders.
Domestic violence also results in negative outcomes for children and young people, regardless of whether it is directed at them or at another member of their family. Domestic violence can involve any of the four forms of abuse performed by one or more member of a family towards another member of the family. Children and young people are affected when they live with domestic violence because they fear for their own safety and the safety of someone they care about. They are also at risk of injury and can learn inappropriate behaviours that result in their becoming abusive themselves.
However, it is important to realise that many abused children and young people develop great personal strength, and that they do not necessarily become violent or abusers themselves.
When a child discloses
Whenever a child under the age of 18 tells someone that they are being or have been harmed or abused this is known as a disclosure. Children rarely make disclosures but when they do it indicates that they feel they can trust the person they disclose to and most likely are seeking help.
Guidelines for handling disclosures of sexual abuse by children are here
The disclosure process to follow when a child discloses other types of abuse (for example, physical abuse or neglect) is:
1. Listen, listen, listen…and do not add anything.
2. When listening to a child remember:
- that children often talk about difficult or painful things in a roundabout way
- that children need assurance from adults that it is OK to talk about upsetting things
- children often feel ashamed and frightened and find it hard to find the right words to explain
- being observant will help you pick up non-verbal clues about what is wrong
- a child may drop hints when something is wrong, for example, “I don’t like so and so. Do you like him/her?”
3. Tell the child, “You are not to blame”.
4. Do not press the child for information or push the child to reveal the details of the abuse. Do not ask leading questions, rather listen carefully and if possible take notes of what the child states, including any dates, times or locations of the alleged abuse.
5. Reassure the child, “You are right to tell and I take what you say very seriously.”
6. Tell the child that you and the church are there to help and you will be telling the Safe Church Unit what has been said so that the child can receive help.
7. Do not promise not to tell anyone else. Rather, say “There are people who can help you and I will tell them.”
8. Finish on a positive note and tell the child “I am pleased you told me this. You are not alone.”
If you consider that the child is in immediate danger call the Victoria Police 000. Stay with the child and then call the SCU 0499 090 449.
If there is no immediate danger then as soon as possible after the disclosure make handwritten notes of exactly what the child said and the date and time of the meeting.
- Sometimes a child discloses abuse to a person who the child feels safe with or trusts. In this situation carefully listen, reassure the child and tell them you will help them.
- Make notes of exactly what the child has said and note the date and time
- Contact Victoria Police if you consider the child is in immediate danger and then contact the SCU
- If no immediate danger contact the SCU as soon as possible OR alternatively contact DHS Child Protection and then contact the SCU
The SCU must be contacted in all cases of disclosure of abuse by a child. The SCU/PCV reports all child abuse disclosures to Child Protection or Victoria Police
Reporting Child abuse - failure to disclose
The advent of the Betrayal of Trust suite of laws in Victoria in 2014 compels all Victorian adults to disclose situations where they either know child sexual abuse is occurring or have reasonable grounds to believe that child sexual abuse is occurring. Thus, failure to disclose child sexual abuse is now a crime in Victoria, punishable by a jail sentence. Effectively, this legislation makes every adult in Victoria a "mandatory reporter" of child sexual abuse.
The CYFA protects the reporter by ensuring that:
- The identity of the reporter is not revealed without written permission or unless a court or tribunal decides that it needs this information to ensure the safety of the child
- If the report is made in good faith the reporter is not subject to any liability for defamation or breach of confidence
- A reporter who makes a report in accordance with the legislation is not liable for the eventual outcome of any investigation.
When to make a report
A report to the SCU or to Department of Human Services (DHS) Child Protection is to be made when an individual or organisation within the PCV forms a belief on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of protection from physical injury or sexual abuse.
Here, the following guidelines from the DHS Child Protection Practice manual apply:
“Forming a Belief
To form a belief, the reporter must be aware of matters and hold any opinions in relation to those matters that lead them to reasonably believe a child is in need of protection (s.186 Children, Youth and Families Act Victoria).
A ‘belief on reasonable grounds is formed if a reasonable person in the same position would have formed the belief on the same grounds' (s.184 (4) CYFA Victoria).
For example, there may be reasonable grounds when:
- A child states that they have been physically or sexually abused
- A child states that they may know someone who has been physically or sexually abused (sometimes the child may be talking about themselves)
- Someone who knows the child states that the child has been physically or sexually abused
- Signs of physical or sexual abuse leads to a belief that the child has been abused”.
How to make a report
The Safe Church Unit is available as a first point of contact for reports concerning child abuse. The Safe Church commits to treating all reports with the utmost discretion and seriousness. All allegations of child abuse will be reported to the relevant external authorities (Child Protection or Victoria Police).
Contact Details for Reporting
If a child is in immediate danger call Victoria Police 000
Then call the SCU 0499 090 449
In the case of allegations or suspected abuse there are two options:
- Call the SCU 0499 090 449. The SCU will then make the necessary contact with the Department of Human Services - Child Protection or Victoria Police.
- Call the Department of Human Services - Child Protection. Local Child Protection numbers are listed below if calling within business hours OR if after hours call Child Protection Emergency Services 131 278. Reports of child abuse can also be made to Victoria Police. Then call the SCU 0499 090 449 to notify that Child Protection have been contacted.
Department of Human Services –
Child Protection Contact Details for Reporting
Eastern 1300 360 391
North and West 1300 664 977
Southern 1300 655 795
Barwon South Western 1800 075 599
Gippsland 1800 020 202
Grampians 1800 000 551
Hume 1800 650 227
Loddon Mallee 1800 675 598
After Hours Child Protection Emergency Services
Support and Referrals
Safe Church Unit: 0499 090 449
After Hours Child Protection Emergency Services: 131 278
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
the 'betrayal of trust' laws concerning child sexual abuse
In 2014 the Victorian Parliament passed new laws designed to protect children from sexual abuse, known as the 'Betrayal of Trust' suite of laws. These laws are now in effect and have bi-partisan support in the Parliament.
These three pieces of legislation relating to child protection issues have been added to the Victorian Crimes Act (1958) (the following information is extracted from the Department of Justice fact sheets for each offence):
Failure to Protect:
The offence will apply where there is a substantial risk that a child under the age of 16 under the care, supervision or authority of a relevant organisation will become a victim of a sexual offence committed by an adult associated with that organisation. A person in a position of authority in the organisation will commit the offence if they know of the risk of abuse and have the power or responsibility to reduce or remove the risk, but negligently fail to do so.
A relevant child is a child who is, or may come, under the care, supervision or authority of a relevant organisation. The child does not need to be identified. This means that the risk is not that a particular child will become the victim of sexual abuse. Instead, the substantial risk could be posed to any child who is, or who may be in the future, under the organisation’s care, supervision or authority.
The maximum penalty for failing to protect a child is five years’ imprisonment for each individual who failed to protect children in the organisation from a known substantial risk to their safety from sexual abuse in the organisation.
Failure to Disclose:
Any adult who forms a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed by an adult against a child under 16 has an obligation to report that information to Victoria Police or DHS Child Protection. Failure to disclose the information to the relevant authorities is a criminal offence.
The maximum penalty for failing to disclose child sexual abuse is three years’ imprisonment.
This law has in effect made every person aged over 18 years in Victoria a mandatory reporter of child sexual abuse.
The ‘Grooming’ offence
The offence of grooming concerns predatory conduct undertaken to prepare a child for sexual activity at a later time. It includes establishing a 'special' friendship with the child. Grooming can include the conditioning of parents, other adults and church leaders to consider the relationship with the child 'normal'.
Indicators of grooming behaviour include an adult doing such things as
- giving extra praise or attention to a child
- making a child feel special through gifts and treats, even of small or negligible monetary value
- sending text, voice, email or online messages (for example through social media) to a child on a regular basis
- asking the child for personal information
- spending time alone with a child
- talking about sex and sexuality with a child
- sharing secrets with a child
Grooming is now a crime in Victoria punishable by a jail sentence. The offence can be committed by a person aged 18 years or over. The maximum penalty for grooming is ten years’ imprisonment.
Any organisation which works with children is affected by these laws - this includes churches and religious organisations. People in governance roles and senior staff of these organisations need to be aware of their obligations in relation to these offences. The pastors or religious clergy, ministry leaders and ministry volunteers in churches and other ministry organisations will also be affected.
These offences apply to all adults and therefore all PCV staff and volunteers need to be aware of this offence. Failure to meet the standards could result in criminal conviction.
For further detail on these laws visit www.justice.vic.gov.au