Child abuse: religious organisations behind on child protection

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A third of religious organisations have failed to do checks that are mandatory under new laws designed to prevent child abuse, the NSW Children’s Guardian has revealed.

Ministers, priests, rabbis and pastors have until December 31 to complete a new working with children check, which eithers bars or clears spiritual leaders after examining police records and any misconduct findings.

”Failure to comply with the new check is a criminal offence,” NSW Children’s Guardian Kerryn Boland said.

National church officials have told Fairfax Media that despite Ms Boland stressing the urgency, and community anxiety over the royal commission on institutional child abuse, some churches still had not taken any action and remained ”slack” on the issue.

Church leaders are a priority group under the new laws, which apply to all people working with children. During a compliance program between October last year and June this year, the guardian’s office contacted churches to inform them religious leaders and paid workers were required to undergo a check if children attended the congregation, Sunday school or any service provided.

But of 700 organisations contacted, 103 didn’t respond, while another 140 said they would comply, but then took no action.

Baptist, Assemblies of God and Church of Christ denominations and the Jewish faith were targeted by the audit because they all have a non-hierarchical structure, with each church or synagogue autonomously employing staff. Lack of governance was a major cause of churches not complying with the child protection law, the guardian’s annual report said. New legislation came into effect in June to toughen the check into a mandatory licensing system.

”Being small and voluntary, organisations hadn’t gone through that process. There was a lack of understanding of what was needed,” communications manager for the Association of NSW Baptist Churches Aaron Veart said.

The association has hired a standards officer to rectify the problem. ”At the moment we are in the process of calling every church and re-calling every church,” Mr Veart said.

Assemblies of God spokeswoman Daryl-Anne LeRoux said its churches were required to adopt government policy on working with children, and the issue was raised at a state conference last month.

Nine of 268 Anglican parishes had not responded to the guardian’s office. ”Since June, new checks have become mandatory and the diocese has begun a major effort to ensure all parishes understand the new system and have begun the process of compliance,” Sydney diocese media officer Russell Powell said.

The Catholic Church was not audited because it has a centralised employment relations office which is an approved child protection screening agency.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald