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New national office for safeguarding to streamline child protection

Key message: Archbishop Coleridge said the new national office will assume key functions of CPSL and will supervise independent audits of Church institutions, the training of Catholic leaders and the development and review of national standards.

THE Catholic Church is to set up a new national office for safeguarding to streamline and co-ordinate efforts to protect children.

“The Catholic Church in Australia is bringing into a single entity several national agencies working in the area of child protection and safeguarding,” Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said.

One of the agencies to be merged is the Catholic Professional Standards Limited, an independent body that was set up in response to the findings of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

Archbishop Coleridge described the CPSL as “pivotal” in developing National Catholic Safeguarding Standards.

It has trained Catholic leaders, and started safeguarding audits of dioceses and religious institutes.

Alongside the CPSL, other national agencies include the Australian Catholic Centre for Professional Standards (formerly the National Committee for Professional Standards), the Implementation Advisory Group and Australian Catholic Redress Limited, that facilitates diocesan engagement with the National Redress Scheme.

“We didn’t plan such a disjointed national approach to safeguarding and professional standards beyond the Royal Commission,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“But different entities emerged as the need arose – without too much thought for coordination.”

A CPSL report for June shows that 150 of 264 church entities (57 per cent) had formally engaged with the CPSL to reach service agreements or complete audits.

Only nine audit reports were completed, including a handful of diocese – Rockhampton, Darwin and Ballarat.

Another 15 audits are due for completion this year.

Brisbane, the only archdiocese to complete an audit, was found to have met strict standards including a “robust and formal training program” and “strong procedures in place for complaints handling, including formal risk management practices to address potential incidents or concerns”.

However the report found complaints handling could be improved, and there was an overlap of services.

“… Concerns and complaints are handled by a variety of areas including the Queensland Professional Standards Office (external resources outside of the archdiocese), Office of Safeguarding Services, Archbishop’s Office and the financial administration area,” the Brisbane Archdiocese report said.

“These areas have their own list/register of complaints and the archdiocese could benefit from consolidating the records into one central database.” At a national level, the proliferation of Catholic entities has come at a time when various state, territory and Commonwealth bodies have also been established, adding regulation and risking still more duplication.

Archbishop Coleridge said to see the decision to bring various national organisations into a single entity as a diminishment in the Church’s commitment to child protection and safeguarding was “seriously mistaken”.

“For more than 18 months, guided by some of the leading authorities in child safety in the Church and elsewhere, we’ve been moving towards the single national office that’s long been intended,” he said.

In a statement on June 1, CPSL’s board said it “anticipates being engaged in the planning for the new entity and until decisions as to the work of the new entity and transition plans are clear, CPSL will continue with its current work”.

Archbishop Coleridge said the new national office will assume key functions of CPSL and will supervise independent audits of Church institutions, the training of Catholic leaders and the development and review of national standards.

It will also incorporate functions currently entrusted to other national organisations, including the oversight of a new national protocol for handling complaints of sexual abuse.

“The new office will retain the operational independence that Catholic Professional Standards Limited has enjoyed,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“We are confident this national entity can deliver on our commitment to the safety of children and vulnerable adults while also eliminating duplication and reducing costs at a time when all Church institutions are under financial pressure.” 

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