This FAQ page will be updated as and when the people of the Diocese ask questions about the Office of Safeguarding and what the Diocese is doing to ensure the safety and well being of children and vulnerable adults to whom the Diocese ministers and interacts with.
Q What is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?
A ADR is a collective term for processes in which a trained impartial person (ADR practitioner) assists those in dispute to resolve the issues between them.
Q Is my complaint or dispute eligible for ADR at the Office of Safeguarding (OoSG)?
A For a complaint or dispute to be eligible for ADR at the OoSG:-
A complaint or dispute will be ineligible for ADR at the OoSG if it involves alleged conduct by a diocesan employee, cleric or religious that may amount to conduct defined in Schedule 1 or Scheduled 2 of the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012.
Q Do I have to participate in ADR at the OoSG?
A No. There is no obligation to participate in ADR. Each participant to a complaint or dispute must provide their written consent to participate before ADR may be adopted.
Q Is ADR at the OoSG confidential?
A ADR is confidential in so far as mandatory reporting legislation and diocesan safeguarding policy allows. Each participant to the ADR process, and any support people, will be required to sign a confidentiality agreement.
Q If I agree to participate in ADR what may be expected of me?
A While participating in ADR you will be asked to:
Q How do I contact the diocese’s “child protection” team?
A The diocese’ “child protection team is called the Prevention and Response Service (PaRS) of the Office of Safeguarding. PaRS can be contacted in multiple ways:
Q Where is the “child protection” team located?
A The Prevention and Response Service is located at 50 Crebert Street, Mayfield. Our office hours are 08.30 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays).
Q Why have investigators? Is it not the job of the police?
A The Police are responsible for investigating criminal conduct. Where the alleged abuse involves criminality the Prevention and Response Service of the Office of Safeguarding (OoSG) reports the allegations to Police and the Diocese provides all possible assistance to the Police should they conduct a criminal investigation.
However, there are a broad range of risky, even dangerous behaviours that are not criminal but can cause harm to children and vulnerable adults. The Bishop has empowered the OoSG to investigate allegations that the Police or statutory child protection authorities are not empowered to. This is part of the Diocese’s commitment to safeguarding. Also, the Diocese is required to undertake investigations of diocesan ‘workers’ under the reportable conduct scheme. This scheme is imposed by NSW law and is oversighted by a statutory authority (soon to be the Office of the Children’s Guardian).
Q What are they investigating?
A As we said earlier, there are a broad range of risky, even dangerous behaviours that are not criminal but can cause harm to children and vulnerable adults, including ‘reportable conduct’. Bishop Bill and the senior diocesan leadership has empowered the OoSG to ensure that diocesan ‘workers’ act in accordance with safeguarding legislation, church derived standards and diocesan codes of conduct and policies as they relate to children and vulnerable adults.
Q Who are they investigating?
A The OoSG is authorised to investigate diocesan workers, which means any person engaged by or acting on behalf of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, including employees, volunteers, contractors, clergy and religious. There is a detailed description of what constitutes a ‘diocesan worker’ on this website, go to https://officeofsafeguarding.org.au/reporting-abuse/reporting-abuse-committed-by-a-diocesan-worker/
Q Who are the investigators?
A The ‘investigators’ within the OoSG are professionals with appropriate tertiary qualifications and drawn from a range of backgrounds, including law enforcement and statutory child protection. OoSG personnel are employed by the Diocese and answerable to the Director of Safeguarding. There is more detail on OoSG personnel on this website, go to https://officeofsafeguarding.org.au/about-the-office-of-safeguarding/people/
Q What if, as a parent, I don’t want an investigation to occur?
A Part 3A Ombudsman Act 1974, defines Diocesan schools as a ‘designated non-government agency’ and as such we must have systems for preventing, reporting (to the Ombudsman) and investigating reportable conduct. All staff and volunteers in Diocesan schools fall within the scope of Part 3A and may be investigated for alleged ‘reportable conduct’ which includes sexual offenses, misconduct, assault, ill-treatment, neglect and behaviour that causes psychological harm to children. The Office of Safeguarding is the Diocese’s specialist child protection service who works with the Ombudsman to ensure the Diocese meets its obligations under Part 3A.
Q How long does the investigation process take?
A The length of the process varies depending on a range of factors including the nature and seriousness of the allegations. Generally speaking, in matters that require a statutory response such as Police or the Department of Communities and Justice, will take longer than matters that are less serious.
Q Are we lay people being investigated? If so, why?
A As noted earlier, the OoSG is empowered to investigate allegations of reportable conduct or breaches of professional standards against diocesan workers. A parishioner is not a diocesan worker, neither is a parent of a child attending a school. However the Diocese has thousands of lay people as ‘workers’, as well as religious and clergy.
Q Who needs to attend safeguarding training?
A All diocesan workers will receive some level of safeguarding information or training.
‘Diocesan workers’ means employees, religious working in Diocesan roles, volunteers and contractors acting as agents of the Diocese.
Safeguarding training courses are discussed in detail on this website, go to https://officeofsafeguarding.org.au/safeguarding-training/. Safeguarding training includes information about the indicators of abuse and neglect, how to respond to disclosures of abuse and a person’s reporting obligations. It is compulsory for most diocesan workers, the details of who is expected to attend what is set out on the training web page.
Parishioners or family members of diocesan school students or who attend St Nicholas Early Education Centres and OOSH programmes or work with CatholicCare Social Services or DARA, who are interested in learning more about the Diocese’s safeguarding practices and wish to attend training are welcome to do so, at no cost. Contact the Office of Safeguarding, phone 02 4979 1390 during normal office hours,.
Q What is an information module?
A Informational modules are relatively brief training opportunities developed by the Office of Safeguarding (OoSG) that may be delivered by local leaders. Modules are largely passive presentations of information, in written form presented through PowerPoint and audio-visual material.
All employees (paid) will attend an Information Module within 3 months of appointment at the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, and all volunteers (excluding Parish volunteers) will attend an Information Module within 6 months of commencing.
Q What is a training course?
A Safeguarding training courses are more in-depth training packages, developed by the OoSG and presented by OoSG staff. The training courses are interactive, including audio-visual material with written information presented through PowerPoint, printed material handed out on the day and analysis and discussion of practice scenarios reinforcing key learning.
Q Is safeguarding training the same as child protection training?
A Yes, ‘Safeguarding’ is the new terminology. Any Child Protection training that has been undertaken in the past five years through Zimmerman Services (now the Office of Safeguarding) meets its equivalent obligation under the new Diocesan Standards for Safeguarding Training in 2020 and beyond.
Q How do I know if I need to attend a training course?
A If you are engaged in ‘child-related work’ then you are required to attend the applicable training course.
Child-related work is defined by a worker’s requirement to have a working with children check (WWCC) from the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian (OCG) and the Diocese’s Human Resources being obliged to verify and record the worker’s WWCC with the OCG, before the worker can commence. The OCG website has useful information Office of the Children’s Guardian
Q How often do I need to attend safeguarding training?
from Sean Tynan, Director of Safeguarding
A sequence of anonymous letters were received by the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle (‘Diocese’) and subsequently passed onto me. I have three letters, received on 22 and 30 August and 12 September. All three letters were signed off ‘Concerned Catholics’. The first two letters were written in response to an article in the August edition of Aurora that was about the Office of Safeguarding (OoSG), the last letter was in response to an article about the OoSG in the Newcastle Herald on 3 September.
The letters were thematically consistent, all featuring variations of the statement “Leave the lay people out of this”. The letters argue that diocesan leadership is actively seeking to transfer blame for the historic child sexual abuse that occurred in the Diocese, from the clergy onto the laity and that this is being done (largely) through the OoSG. ‘Concerned Catholics’ also expressed grave reservations at the prospect of the OoSG having the responsibility to oversight the Diocese’s compliance with the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards and its authority to conduct inquiries.
Initially I was defensive and dismissive of the letters. How could anybody genuinely believe diocesan leadership were attempting to shift blame? Were ‘they’ not aware of the multiple public statements of acknowledgement and apology made, first by Bishop Michael and subsequently by Bishop Bill? How can the letter writer ignore the Service of Solidarity in 2008, the 2010 full page statement published in the Newcastle Herald, Bishop Bill’s eloquent opening statements to the Cunneen Special Commission of Inquiry and then to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Lina’s Project and the Perpetual Day of Remembrance. Orally, in written form, using electronic audio-visual medium, across the internet and even in concrete, there is an overwhelming weight of evidence that, led by our bishop, diocesan leaders have acknowledged and taken ownership of historic child sexual abuse in the Diocese, in schools, parishes and homes.
Whilst my arguments are valid, my initial response was unhelpful. I missed the point. ‘Concerned Catholics’ were sufficiently motivated to write (three times) voicing their concerns about proposed actions to be taken in the Diocese. Whilst I fundamentally disagree with the letters’ central proposition, there are important and clear concerns about the roles, responsibilities and powers of the OoSG. This and their chosen pseudonym supports the proposition that the letter writer(s) are engaged in the life of our Diocese. They have a right to voice their concerns and are deserving of a considered response. I am replying through the OoSG website and our ‘FAQ’ page because there was no return address on the letters and they recommended that there be a public response to their letters. However, it is easier to have a dialogue when people are prepared to identify themselves.
The letters posed nine questions. I have responded to those questions as part o the FAQ listed above. In summation, the OoSG is empowered to ensure that diocesan ‘workers’ act in accordance with safeguarding legislation, church derived standards and diocesan codes of conduct and policies as they relate to children and vulnerable adults, this includes volunteers. The OoSG has no authority to investigate parishioners or visiting congregants. However, our primary role, the most important thing we do, is to provide support and advice to members of the diocese about issues of safeguarding. During normal office hours, workers, clergy, religious, volunteers and parishioners are able to ring a specialist worker in the Office of Safeguarding and discuss their concerns. We are also responsible for leading the Diocese to be compliant with the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards. This means helping develop and implement policies, documents and other tools to support local communities in achieving these standards, in preparation for the Diocese being audited (tested) by Catholic Professional Standards Ltd (CPSL).
I understood from the letters that when ‘Concerned Catholics’ demanded that the Diocese “leave the laity out of this”, ‘this’ refers to the pending compliance regime. I am unable to give such an assurance. The whole of our Diocese will be affected by a cycle of safeguarding reforms that will continue through the coming years. The expectations placed on us are either statutorily driven (e.g. the new Children’s Guardian Bill is expected to be passed by NSW Parliament this year) or established by the collective will of our Catholic Church in Australia, translated into national standards and implemented by CPSL.
I would appreciate an opportunity to meet and talk with ‘Concerned Catholics’. I extend an open-ended invitation to contact me so we can discuss the issues raised in these letters and what, if anything, we can do to address your concerns. Thank you for your letters.