Submission to Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 25 Nov 2012

1. I am grateful to the Royal Commission’s Secretariat for this opportunity to provide commentary on the establishment of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. My background is in the history and sociology of childhood generally but also child welfare in Australia, and I have researched the legal and administrative contexts of the removal of Indigenous children from their families, in relation to the structures and policies of Australian child welfare agencies more broadly. I have also spent some time in Ireland where I became familiar with the various enquiries that have taken place there, and I believe there are some useful lessons that can be learnt from the Irish experience.

2. My main comment relates to the concern identified in the Consultation Paper to ‘identify what public and private organisations and institutions should do to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring’, as well as ‘what should be done by organisations and institutions when allegations are raised’, and possibly to examine ‘the need for changes to any laws, policies or practices within institutions, organisations and government agencies to better prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. The aim, then, is to identify what needs to be done to prevent child sexual abuse, what procedures ought to be in place when allegations are raised, and what policy, legal, administrative or structural reforms might be required.

3. The concern is that in order to achieve this aim, it is important to understand how and why child sexual abuse occurred in public and private institutions in the past, and what has been problematic about the institutional practices and procedures up to the present time.

4. It is clear from the experience so far In Australia but also in the course of the detailed Irish inquiries that what is at issue is as much a failure of organisational culture and institutional design, and it would be unfortunate in the extreme if the terms of reference excluded an examination of that aspect of the institutional abuse of children.

5. In my view, then, it is very important for the Royal Commission to include in its terms of reference an examination of the ways in which:
(a) the systems of management, administration, supervision, inspection and regulation of those institutions, and
(b) the manner in which responsible persons executed their functions
contributed both to the occurrence of the abuse and any deficiencies in the response to the abuse.

6. A clear view of how child sexual abuse is to be prevented and responded to adequately in the future will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to achieve without a well-founded understanding of exactly what it was about the management and organisation of public and private institutions responsible for the welfare of children that made it possible for so many to have suffered such traumatic childhoods.