On Friday 11 January 2013, the Governor-General appointed a six-member Royal Commission to inquire into how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.
The Royal Commission is tasked with investigating where systems have failed to protect children, and making recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices to prevent and better respond to child sexual abuse in institutions.
The Royal Commission has developed a comprehensive research program to support its work and to inform its findings and recommendations. The program focuses on eight themes:
- Why does child sexual abuse occur in institutions?
- How can child sexual abuse in institutions be prevented?
- How can child sexual abuse be better identified?
- How should institutions respond where child sexual abuse has occurred?
- How should government and statutory authorities respond?
- What are the treatment and support needs of victims/survivors and their families?
- What is the history of particular institutions of interest?
- How do we ensure the Royal Commission has a positive impact?
This research report falls within theme one.
The research program means the Royal Commission can:
- Obtain relevant background information
- Fill key evidence gaps
- Explore what is known and what works
- Develop recommendations that are informed by evidence, can be implemented and respond to contemporary issues
‘Lots of adults don’t care enough about kids and this stuff is going to keep happening. Until they see us as having good ideas and believe us [when things go wrong] nothing will change.’ (MX-2)
History tells us that children and young people are at risk of sexual abuse within institutional contexts. This is partly due to their relative powerlessness and inherent vulnerability, but equally to a lack of, or inadequate, systems and structures to protect children from unsafe people and respond when safety concerns are raised. Although studies have identified better practice approaches to protecting children in institutions, many have failed to consider children and young people’s views on what they need to be safe and how they would like institutions and the wider community to respond when safety concerns emerge.
In 2014, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse commissioned the Institute of Child Protection Studies (ICPS) at the Australian Catholic University, with colleagues from the Queensland University of Technology and Griffith University, to develop an understanding of how children perceive safety and consider it within institutional contexts. Specifically, this study explores:
a) how children and young people conceptualise and perceive safety;
b) children and young people’s views on what gives rise to these perceptions;
c) children and young people’s perceptions of safety within institutions;
d) what children and young people consider is already being done to respond to safety issues and risks in institutions;
e) what children and young people consider should be done to respond to safety issues in institutions.
This study is being conducted in three stages:
2. Conceptualising safety;
3. Considering children’s experiences of safety and institutional responses.
This report provides an overview of the major themes emerging from Stage 2 of the project, which conducted 10 focus groups with pre-schoolers, children and young people in the ACT, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. One hundred and twenty-one children and young people, ranging in age from 4 to 18 years, participated in focus group discussions in a variety of institutional and jurisdictional contexts. Participants interacted with early learning centres, schools, sporting groups, holiday camps, church groups, out-of-home care agencies and hospitals. Three reference groups provided advice on the methodology and methods, and trialled proposed tools.
Findings from these focus groups will help inform the development of an online survey that will gauge children and young people’s experiences of safety in a variety of institutional contexts, and determine how well they believe institutions are responding to their needs.