Host, Nathan Luker, talks to child safety expert and lawyer at Moores, Skye Rose, about child safety, how leaders can best protect children and how kids are leading the way in speaking up about safety concerns.
In this podcast (30 mins), Nathan and Skye discuss:
- The 11 child safety standards that were introduced in Victoria, Australia, in 2022
- What’s changed in practice since the findings from Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse were handed down in 2017
- What evidence-based solutions leaders, organisations and children themselves are following to detect and respond to child abuse
- The importance of engaging children to speak up when something doesn’t feel right
- The role of data and technology in child abuse but also preventing, detecting and responding to child safety concerns
Nathan Luker: [00:00:01] Welcome to the RelyOn Podcast, a show that delivers practical insights for leaders to build better organisations where people can live, work and study. I’m Nathan Luker, co-founder, Rely, where we help some of the best-known brands to prevent, detect and respond to culture and conduct issues via our intelligent platform. In today’s conversation, I’m joined by Skye Rose, practice leader at Moores Solicitors. And we’re exploring a topic close to everyone’s heart, which is child safety. Welcome, Skye.
Skye Rose: [00:00:35] Thanks so much for having me, Nathan.
Nathan Luker: [00:00:38] Let’s start with your background Skye. You’ve had a really interesting professional experience to date. You started your career in corporate law at MinterEllison. You then moved into human rights, worked with various organisations. You held a pro bono role within New South Wales and Legal Aid. You currently specialise in workplace relations, human rights, discrimination and child safety. What a wonderful blend of experience. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What drives your interest in human rights and why you’re incredibly passionate about child safety?
Skye Rose: [00:01:11] Thanks, Nathan. Yes, it hasn’t been the most traditional career trajectory, and at times I have wondered what on earth am I doing? But I’ve always had a bleeding heart. And my parents certainly raised everyone in our family to look for ways in which we could be of service in society. And I think that’s really encouraged us to be quite creative. When I was at university, I worked with an organisation called Alive, which is a not-for-profit organisation at the time. And as part of that, on Friday nights, myself and a few friends would catch the train for an hour and a half out to Villawood Detention Centre, where we’d provide recreational programs to people that were, you know, seeking refuge in Australia but were stuck there for many, many years. And I think saying something like that so up close and personal had a pretty profound impact on me. There were kids in there, you know, who were mute, who were sewing their lips together, you know, engaging in hunger strikes and protests and I think that experience, while it was really horrific, really grounded me and made me appreciate very early on in my career what it is I wanted to do and what it was that lit my fire. And so I’ve been really lucky along the way to just find some brilliant opportunities that where I’ve been able to get that incredible intellectual stimulation, but also that altruistic fix as well, which is a big part of what drives me as a person and as a professional.
Nathan Luker: [00:02:45] No doubt that’s impacted your approach to driving value at the firm for child safety. Let’s start with the new child safety laws. They have recently been announced for Victoria. Can you help our listeners understand what the driving force has been behind the new laws and what’s materially changed from the past?
Skye Rose: [00:03:04] Yeah, sure. So the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the Betrayal of Trust Inquiry here in Victoria really shone a light on how, I guess the enormous task of trying to create much safer environments and organisations for children. And that really led to the introduction of the Victorian child safety standards. Here, they were in place for several years and I think laid the foundations for child safe organisations. And there’s now been enough time for us to really review and reflect on what’s really worked there. So there has been a recent review. We did have seven standards in place before and that’s moved to 11 standards. They came into effect on the 1st of July this year. But some of the things that are different that organisations really need to be mindful of, this increased focus and an increased obligation on organisations that work with children to provide culturally safe environments. So now for the first time ever, we’ve got a specific standard that prioritises cultural safety and the need to provide culturally safe environments for our First Nations people, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There’s also a much greater focus on empowerment of children because we know that when children are respected and they are encouraged to speak up, we’re much more likely to detect child abuse in those early stages.
Skye Rose: [00:04:38] One of the statistics that I always find really horrifying from the Royal Commission is that the average time before a person discloses was 23.9 years. And so the child safe standards really focus on creating environments where children are informed about their rights and encouraged to speak up and they know where to turn and that they’ll be believed. So that’s a really strong focus under the new standards. And then I think another really significant development, particularly for organisations that are faith-based organisations, is this stronger focus on equality and equity. So now organisations covered by the standards really need to have strategies in place that will support sexually and gender diverse people, not just people with disabilities or children with disabilities or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people or people from cold backgrounds. But people with that that have that full spectrum of diversity, including on the basis of their gender and sexual orientation. And so we do a lot of work at the moment helping organisations understand what that means in practice and how they go about balancing that obligation with their faith as well.
Nathan Luker: [00:05:47] I think it’s important, is that being empowered to be part of decisions, understanding how those decisions affect them and that they’re going to be taken seriously is a major step forward to giving an individual agency.
Skye Rose: [00:06:01] Exactly right. Just being overlooked often in a process that is designed by adults for adults in a very defensive way that’s focused on compliance and not with their best interests at heart. Those processes and the decisions that are made will often be guided by the best interests of the children or they have been up until recently. But now there’s an expectation that children will be put at the heart of all decisions and all processes and that they will be trauma-informed and that children will be consulted on decisions affecting them. Absolutely.
Nathan Luker: [00:06:32] Skye, are there any evidence-based solutions to child abuse? I think we need to recognise some organisations have failed children in the past, but maybe leaders today having learnt from those experiences.
Skye Rose: [00:06:45] Yeah, definitely. Such a great question. And I think you’re right to recognise that there are many organisations who have had a pretty dark history when it comes to supporting children, the most vulnerable people in our community. But there are some great news stories of organisations who have looked in the mirror and understood how they’ve failed children and have really taken extremely proactive steps to ensure that that doesn’t happen again to the greatest of their ability. And I think a few examples that spring to mind of current leaders from my personal and professional perspective ones, the YMCA. So they’ve got some fantastic campaigns on things like Feel Safe, Be Safe. They engage so cleverly with children and young people and really amplify the voice that they have. I really like the way in which front and centre in all of their communications they voice that they’re committed to truly listening to children in young people, to amplifying their voices. So that engagement piece for an organisation that works so closely with youth is working really well for them. And I think that they’ve had some excellent traction there. That is, of course, just picking up on one of the child safe standards, which is focused on empowerment. And I think for organisations that want to be leaders in this space, we know an evidence-based approach requires them to look at all 11, to really properly engage not just with worker screening and working with children checks, but all facets of their organisation to make sure that they’re looking from top to bottom. And they’ve got great policies in place, great procedures, but they’re properly engaging with staff and volunteers. They’ve got the empowerment piece. So we really do need to look at across all of the standards for that best practice approach. And I think shifting focus a little bit, one of the other organisations that I’ve seen do really well in this space. I’m not wanting to play favourites, but I think Caulfield Grammar here in Melbourne has done an incredible job when it comes to engagement. One of the things that they’ve done is introduce this respect seminar, so they have both students and parents invited to the school and they bring experts in to cover off on things like understanding consent, understanding online child safety, understanding the impact of pornography as well, and the harm that can be perpetrated between children and young people, not just from an adult to a child. And then understanding gender diversity as well. I think there’s a lot that we can learn now from experts in this space, so it’s great to see organisations be really creative about the way in which they’re engaging with children and young people as well as families and communities.
Nathan Luker: [00:09:40] I think it’s a great point. We’ve also worked with a client in Victoria who has established a bystander working group and a bystander contact point at all levels of the organisation to empower those who have seen something, don’t feel necessarily confident to say something formally or just simply don’t know what to do and they do want that added protection, maybe even potentially anonymity to speak to someone, to point them in the right direction, arm them with resources at least. And that’s another one we’ve seen we haven’t seen too often. And it’s a great approach and it does address that obvious power imbalance between children and adults who abuse them or fail children. It’s one way that you can approach it. You’ve mentioned all of the standards. How can organisations better listen to children so they feel safe to speak up when they experience or witness abuse? Is it an easy answer? Is that a complicated process that needs to iterate over time? What are you seeing success look like in that space?
Skye Rose: [00:10:40] Yeah, another great question in terms of what success looks like. We know from the Royal Commission that organisations where people in leadership and positions of power are revered, they’re kind of godlike figures when children should be seen and not heard. They’re the situations, they’re the environments in which abuse is much more likely to occur. And so we do need to be really mindful of this power imbalance and amplifying the voices of children so that they feel comfortable coming forward. I think providing a safe space for people to speak up, children and young people included, is absolutely crucial if we’re going to prevent abuse in those early stages. I think we need to, recognising that power imbalance as well. Engagement with children does need to be child focused and trauma informed. It needs to be in a language that’s accessible as well. You won’t often hear children talking about abuse necessarily. That’s sort of a label that a lot of adults would put. But we need to be really mindful of the way in which we communicate with children of different audiences and abilities and levels of understanding, because how you correspond or how you engage with someone who’s four will be really different to how you engage with someone who’s 14. We need to recognise where they’re at in their journey of trauma as well, and make sure that there are supports in place for them if they need it.
Nathan Luker: [00:12:09] It’s a great point. I think the difference in risk and appropriateness of content is a critical aspect to note and also helping students be part of the solution in varying ways. And we spoke earlier about one school that we worked with, empowering that student leadership team there at the 16 to 18 year old level now, informing them about certain topics where they can act as a coach, as a mentor. And that one example is you mentioned pornography. That’s one of those items where it would be spoken about a lot. It would no doubt have a shadow aspect to the culture. It might be shared, all the sorts of things and empowering the prefects, not just what’s right and wrong, but also how do I handle a situation where I come in contact with this situation that I observe and I need to take a coaching mentoring position? It’s a wonderful way to integrate students into the solution.
Skye Rose: [00:13:02] Yeah, and I think working with a lot of university colleges in this space, I think there can be some real advantages in terms of that empowerment piece for people who are likely to be first responders. So whether it’s your SRC student council at a school or at a university or a residential college, but we need to be really careful that you’re not just catapulting them into a situation that could be really traumatising for them without appropriate supports in place because they’re not psychologists and know we can’t absolve ourselves of the responsibility to create that safe space. Even without them, they need support as well to be able to do that job without harm, because we know that people who are those first responders or receive that first disclosure, the impact on them can be really significant as well.
Nathan Luker: [00:13:54] Exactly right. And it’s that agitation point that schools are grappling with is that absolute triangulation there, the throughput of sorts, you can’t stop that leadership team or students being exposed to that undercurrent happening at a school. So pornography that’s going to happen. So you can’t control that. And getting that right between, the balance between the generalisation of being a dibby-dobber, to ignoring it, to calling it out, to coaching it, to managing your own trauma. That’s a really complex web, and I haven’t seen anyone get that right yet. And I think it’s a growing process where and it’s wonderful to see some industry groups sharing their experiences and cross school collaboration. I think we can get better in that space as well as vendors. But it’s, I watch this space topic, I think and no doubt you’d agree there’s a long way to go for all of us to get that model right.
Skye Rose: [00:14:44] Yeah, definitely. The crucial thing in all of this, though, is making sure that there are supports and safeguards in place for those people, that they understand that it’s not their responsibility, it’s not on them to fix an issue and that they understand what their role is as a first responder. So it doesn’t have such a heavy burden associated with that role.
Nathan Luker: [00:15:06] What more is there to be done? So what else do organisations need to learn from these case studies to get right? Is it a working committee to put together to understand the gaps? Do we need to consult the various stakeholders at our organisation to create that participation and build that muscle? It’s not something that can happen overnight. What’s the process?
Skye Rose: [00:15:27] Yeah, I think that’s something that so many organisations are grappling with and I think they really need to get the right people to the table and have a genuine commitment at the start. Organisations that are working with children in Victoria will already be across the fundamentals, so making sure that there’s leadership and that you’re setting that culture from the top down, you’re engaging the right people and you’ve got really robust policies and procedures and a code of conduct in place to make sure that everyone understands the expectations. You’re training your staff repeatedly because there’s turnover and people can forget the things that they need to be mindful of, particularly when it comes to some of those red flags. But there’s a lot more that can be done. And I would say it’s a really good idea for organisations to pause with the new standards coming into effect, particularly here in Victoria, and actually take stock of how they’re tracking, because there’ll be some key areas in which they’re not compliant and when they can do better and prevention is really should be the focus here because we none of us want to be involved in having to respond to a child safety incident that was completely avoidable. So making sure that you’re taking stock of or doing a bit of an audit of how your organisation is tracking and then working out what your key priorities are. I think it can seem a little bit overwhelming when you’ve got 11 standards and the guidance material in this area is quite prescriptive for smaller organisations or volunteer led organisations, not-for-profit organisations. They’re already trying to stretch their very precious resources. However, taking that sort of traffic light approach and just working out where your biggest gaps are, how to prioritise them and building everything else into a program that can be considered by a board over the course of a year is a really good place to start and it’s kind of the absolute minimum that the standards require anyway. So it’s certainly not the best practice approach. But not all organisations have got endless resources to be able to throw at this. So we’ve got to be really creative and focused in our approach to create those environments for children that are really safe.
Nathan Luker: [00:17:50] Skye, what role does data and technology play in the planning process and the continuous improvement places?
Skye Rose: [00:17:58] Oh, it’s such a help and a hindrance in some ways because we know, particularly since COVID, that a lot of abuse has moved online and technology now does provide unprecedented access to children on so many different platforms that parents and people, organisations working with children, just have no idea about. There are some really interesting statistics in the last few years that look at that hindrance and then I’ll sort of come to ways in which technology is actually being used to address these risks. So there’s you might be familiar with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They’re really the world’s clearinghouse for reports of child abuse material online, and they work really closely with the AFP led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation. Now the reports between 2019 and 2020 have increased exponentially. So we’re seeing it’s increased from 14,000 reports a year to 21,000. Again, it was up last year as well. And I think there’s no doubt that the Safety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, has noticed a similar trend there. They’ve found that reports that cover child abuse material or are mostly concerned with child abuse material have increased 115% in between 2019 and 2020. But it’s not all bad. I think it’s really important that we’re focused on the risks there, but we are starting to see, you know, organisations harness technology to identify or detect child abuse and respond to it as well and to great resources that your listeners might be interested in. One is Oho, and they provide a way of organisations actually automating the screening process, the worker screening process, making sure that the relevant checks, whether they’re police checks, working with children checks, blue card checks are all up to date and reducing that potential for human error. Now that is a technology or a tool that can be used by organisations to minimise that human error, but it’s not necessarily going to pick up on or detect abuse online that is happening, you know, straight in front of you, but you can’t necessarily see. However, we are starting to see organisations like schools run routine sort of forensic tests on keywords on their email platforms, for example, and sometimes even use of emojis, which I thought was really novel. And running that through a process almost annually or six monthly to pick up traffic between staff members and students in particular, and just make sure that there’s nothing there that jumps out that’s of issue. I’ve seen that used really successfully by one of our clients and it actually detected hundreds of emails between a teacher and a student that really crossed professional boundaries and enabled them to actually take a proactive response to that issue before it progressed to anything of greater concern for that child and the school.
Nathan Luker: [00:21:20] A wonderful example, I think with the standards as well, we need various levels of data and technology intervention to fulfil the standards and create a continuous improvement plan. There are a range of ways to do that. Workplace surveillance is a hot topic in whistleblowing and psychological safety circles. With child safety, though, there is a different discussion that needs to be had. And your example there does probably cross that line of workplace surveillance and the pros and cons, but in the lens of how it’s being used, incredibly appropriate. You’re relying on a young person to speak up when there’s a very clear power imbalance between a child and an adult. And I think that’s a really interesting way of how you can take a different perspective to listening and safeguarding that individual. Do you think that will become commonplace? Yeah. What do you think about that?
Skye Rose: [00:22:09] So in the context of workplace surveillance, it can be used as a really effective tool in making sure that people are abiding by professional boundaries. But I think it’s still we still need to keep our strategies focused on empowering children as well, because if they’re empowered to speak up, you’re going to become aware of this much earlier in the piece. And I’ve got two great examples. In the last week we’ve been working with several clients, and students have been the one to say, actually this teacher or this sports representative has been contacting me outside of hours and it’s making me feel really uncomfortable. And the fact that they feel confident coming forward and know that they’ll be believed and that they’ll be supported is fantastic. So I think that the two strategies, the surveillance and the empowerment piece can work really well together to provide a greater safety net so that you’re picking up on and identifying those behaviours at the earliest opportunity. Just taking surveillance on its own is never going to quite be enough. That empowerment piece is just really crucial as well.
Nathan Luker: [00:23:20] I think it depends what it’s paired with, isn’t it? So workplace surveillance for productivity tool to assess efficiency and increase I guess the output of a work function is a whole different kettle of fish compared to what surveillance when it’s paired with a safety discussion like this. And you’re absolutely right, we do that a lot. We blend information sources for our customers to try and understand trends, to have prevention interventions, and also with young persons. We obviously need to give everyone agency, but to get true involvement between a young person, a family, etc., they need to know that we’re here to help too. We’re on the watch and we’re on the lookout because this is a complicated topic. You cannot just rely on people speaking up out of the shadows for your entire strategy.
Skye Rose: [00:24:06] Yeah, exactly right.
Nathan Luker: [00:24:08] Skye, this has been a quick rundown of all the things that you could do to prepare and to respond. There are a few points I want to go a little bit deeper onto and with some of our experiences. But I think it’s important to note, irrespective of where you’re based in Australia, the new laws are a wonderful map. They’re a great way for any organisation that deals with young persons to use the standards and the minimum standards. There is to start a conversation, to start to create a gap assessment of where you’re at, irrespective of how you’re impacted by the actual rules themselves. We’ve seen some great examples from customers we work with. We’ve started to be more intentional with their strategy, even though they’re not captured by the laws. We’re involved right now in our Listen Up Speak Up culture framework with a listening tour that’s taking place, speaking to families, speaking to young persons, integrating experts into the discussion as well, to start to understand all the data sources available to them. What are we doing? Well, where can we improve? And then creating a multistage plan of how they’re going to create action, an intention behind standards. Have you seen this type of work happen regularly outside of Victoria? Are people taking this seriously at other organisations and should they use the standards as a map of other resources to help organisations who want to get started today?
Skye Rose: [00:25:23] Such an excellent question, Nathan. I think that this is the very issue that many national organisations have been grappling with because we know that there’s such a complex patchwork of laws across Australia. They’re not consistent. They’re all changing constantly. So for national organisations that need to hold themselves to the highest standard, if they want to take a nationally consistent approach, they’re having to look to Victoria and more recently South Australia in terms of as guiding their entire national framework. So I think the answer is yes. If organisations aren’t necessarily required to comply with the child safe standards in the same way that they are in Victoria, this is the standard by which they should judge themselves. This is what they should be striving for because it absolutely represents best practice in this space and you can’t really hold yourself up to be an organisation that is taking a best practice approach if you’re not striving for the highest standards. So I completely agree that organisations really need to be looking to both the national principles and the Victorian standards as guiding their approach on the difference between the two. The national principles for child safe organisations don’t have a stand alone standard for cultural safety, with a focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who we know are also more likely to experience abuse based on the Royal Commission. I think they represent currently from memory approximately 3% of Australia’s population, yet they represented 14.3% of all participants in the Royal Commission, which is just an absolutely unacceptable and staggering statistic. So I think that the Victorian standards have a role to play and there’s such excellent guidance material published by the Commission for Children and Young People on what that means in practice. Now it can be a bit overwhelming if you’re approaching this for the first time, but it is possible, and once you’ve actually got the foundations in place, everything actually runs a lot more smoothly. I think when there were huge changes to occupational health and safety legislation a decade or so ago, now a lot of organisations are throwing their hands up in the air going, this is going to fundamentally change the way we work. And now it’s just business as usual, embedding health and safety concerns into your risk management frameworks. And I think that the same should apply for child safety. Initially it will require a complete shift in cultural mindset and getting all your ducks in a row, but once that’s done, it should hum and you’ll reap the benefits. Communities will reap the benefits because we’re going to see a significant reduction in opportunities to harm children and greater potential for us to truly protect them from abuse and harm of any kind.
Nathan Luker: [00:28:16] Well said Skye. You’ll be surprised where it takes you. We’ve been on a number of client engagements. We’re not based in Victoria. They’re using the standards. One or two have actually been in recent discussion with us in strategy meetings using the Moores toolkit to formulate their approach.
Skye Rose: [00:28:31] Such great examples Nathan. I think you’ll get some really creative solutions if you engage children and young people in the discussion. Some of the best outcomes and solutions that I have seen have been creations of our younger generation themselves. It’s not been something that adults have imposed on children, and I think there’s a lot that we can learn from them.
Nathan Luker: [00:28:58] Exactly right. It makes it a place that students want to be a part of. Families that are attracted to build a sense of community and leaders can be proud of that they become an employer of choice. It’s that there’s a lot of outcomes here other than just complying with the law. Skye, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a wonderful chat. We’ll need to do a round two at some point in the future. We’d love you to finish the sentence. Great cultures rely on…
Skye Rose: [00:29:23] I love this question. I’m a lawyer, so I’m not going to give you a multiple choice answer, but I’m going to give you a longer one because I can’t just pick one thing.
Nathan Luker: [00:29:34] But it could be a paragraph, if you like.
Skye Rose: [00:29:36] For me, it’s leadership, it’s integrity, it’s accountability, and it’s continuous improvement. And there’s a quote that I really love by Lieutenant General David Morrison, who spoke about rife sexual harassment and assault in our armed forces. And he said the standard that you walk past is the standard that you accept. And that really resonates with me. And so great cultures rely on all of those things and making sure that you stand for the values that you hold dear is really important too.
Nathan Luker: [00:30:14] Really well said. That quote’s actually up on our wall in the office, which you didn’t know about, but we’re a big supporter as well. Thanks so much, Skye. Really appreciate it.
Skye Rose: [00:30:23] Thanks so much for having me. Look forward to round two.
Nathan Luker: [00:30:31] Thanks for listening to RelyOn. You can access the show notes from this episode, download resources and listen to other episodes at relyplatform.com. If you enjoyed the episode, we welcome you to submit a review or send an email to email@example.com.