Today represents a turning point in our understanding of child abuse in institutions and our shared responsibility to prevent it, with the publication of the report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
It should transform how we, as a society, view and treat children. From here onwards, we cannot ignore the need to listen to children, to take their concerns seriously and to understand that keeping children safe is everyone’s responsibility.
This report documents the significant long and short-term impacts of abuse on children within institutions. The testimonies provided to the Royal Commission have revealed the heavy burden of sexual abuse, particularly when that abuse remains concealed and unacknowledged.
It is thanks to the courage and persistence of survivors that we have been able to truly understand the extent of abuse in organisations, the impact on victims, their families and communities and the extent to which our most trusted institutions have placed organisational interests ahead of children’s safety.
From this day on, Australia’s institutions cannot ignore the devastating impact of child abuse. They cannot ignore the need to put children’s safety and wellbeing at the heart of their work.
Central to the Royal Commission’s recommendations is a call for all governments to implement legislated child safe standards and reportable conduct schemes.
Victoria has recently become the only jurisdiction to have both of these schemes in place, with the Commission for Children and Young People responsible for their implementation. We look forward to working with other oversight bodies around the country to prevent abuse and improve organisations’ responses to allegations.
We strongly support the Royal Commission’s focus on children’s right to have their voices heard and to participate in decisions that affect them. Children are more likely to be safe when they feel empowered and have confidence that the organisations they participate in will listen to them and act on what they say.
We are pleased to see that the report contains recommendations about independent and child-friendly complaint and monitoring systems across education, out-of-home care and youth justice services. As an independent oversight body, we see how these systems make a direct and practical difference to the safety and wellbeing of children.
The Royal Commission also recommends compliance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, which aims to ensure Aboriginal children in out-of-home care are placed with their families and communities. Through our work we will continue to advocate that Aboriginal children in out-of-home care can only be safe when they are connected to their family, community and culture.
We welcome recommendations to establish a national approach to promoting child safety, educate the community and children about child abuse, improve support for victims of abuse, and ensure allegations of abuse are reported, investigated and dealt with.
The release of this report vindicates years of courageous campaigning by abuse survivors and their families. We owe a great debt to the many survivors of abuse who have shared their stories with the Royal Commission. Indeed we owe it to them, and to children now and in the future, to make sure we deliver the fundamental changes needed to keep children safe.