In our last blog we commented upon the conclusions of the Royal Commission (RC) in respect of out-of-home care after 1990. Volume 11 of the RC report considers out-of-home care in the period spanning the end of World War II to 1990 and covers what was learnt about survivors’ experiences of, and institutional responses to, child sexual abuse in residential homes, missions, reformatories and hospitals.
The Royal Commission’s (RC) final report includes a volume specifically dealing with institutional responses to child sexual abuse in contemporary (post 1990) out-of-home care.
The out-of-home system in Australia is similar to the UK in that when a child is considered to be unsafe living with their family or in an informal care arrangement, they are placed with alternative carers on a short or long term basis. These placements usually occur after there has been some statutory intervention.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Childhood Sexual Abuse has published its final report. Chapter 13 specifically considers Childhood sexual abuse in schools and makes a number of recommendations to prevent abuse from happening, and where it does to ensure an effective response.
As reported last week the Royal Commission has published its final and lengthy report. It covers many subjects, themes and organisations and in the next few weeks there will be further commentary on this blog about some of those topics and crucially the recommendations made.
One theme which has run through the work of the Royal Commission has been that of redress. Two years ago a redress scheme was recommended and it has now, in an amended version, been approved in principle to take effect from 1 July 2018. Redress means many different things to different people. As Lambeth Borough Council sought yesterday, amid some confrontation, to approve a scheme which seeks to make the path to redress simpler, it is clear that it is by no means straightforward to achieve. Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (SOSA) retweeted a range of negative comments about the scheme which had taken over a year to draft and had had significant input into it from SOSA itself and its legal team. Yet it still remained the subject of damning criticism from some.
One issue which will always be a challenge is how to assess a monetary value in compensation for the abuse and its consequences. The Royal Commission recommended a scheme with maximum payments of A$200,000 (£114,760); the Australian Government Scheme implementing the Royal Commission recommendations will award up to a maximum of A$150,000 (£86,070); the Lambeth Scheme has a maximum payment of £125,000; the Northern Ireland recommendations which have made no progress since being published in January 2017 were for payments of up to £100,000. These are maximum payments for the most severe abuse. These may or may not be life changing sums of money, for some whatever the sum it is the recognition of the harm done which is what the money represents and for others no sum however big or small will compensate for what happened and what the consequences of the abuse have been. No matter what approach an organisation takes in assessing a monetary value for redress it is likely it will not be considered right by all victims and survivors. Making that assessment can be very difficult for all involved and a clear and easy formula for making a fair assessment which could be understood and applied by all is needed and remains elusive.
The Royal Commission’s 2015 report concluded that redress should include not just monetary payments but also a direct personal response as well as counselling and psychological care. The final report has expanded the response to victims and survivors to include the provision of a much wider, integrated and cohesive range of support services. Those recommendations include that there be a dedicated system of community-based support services which provides advocacy and support, including counselling and case management. The creation of a national service to assist victims and survivors understand the legal options and navigate the legal system is proposed, along with a national telephone helpline and website to provide information and assistance. The national service should, the Royal Commission concludes, be funded by the Australian Government and provide advice including about accessing, amending and annotating records and options for initiating police, civil litigation or redress processes. It will be interesting to see which of these recommendations are effected and which will be similarly recommended by the inquiries in England and Wales and Scotland when they in due course report on redress and support for survivors.
Written by Paula Jefferson, partner and head of abuse and neglect at BLM.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse sat at 9.30am on Thursday the 14 December in Sydney for the last time.
The Chair Justice McClellan noted that on 12 November 2012 Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the creation of the Royal Commission, which was to be a national commission held jointly with each of the States and Territories.
In the past six months the Royal Commission has continued its work as it nears its end date and final report (due in December). As ever many of the recommendations it makes are not specific to Australia but are of wider application and remit and worthy of consideration for good safeguarding practice and procedure elsewhere in the world including recommendations for reform to criminal justice, reporting abuse disclosed during the seal of the confessional and the misconceptions about memory which impact upon the responses to disclosure.