In mid-January 2019, the Healing and Support section of Zimmerman Services was relocated to a self-contained cottage in Newcastle West, providing a safe space wholly dedicated to survivors and their families to access and use as part of their individual healing journeys. As part of this transition, the Marist Brothers’ healing and support worker was collocated and provides collegiate support from its diocesan compatriot’s cottage. The cottage is used for individual appointments, group work and has been offered as a meeting space and resource for community survivor groups. On advice from survivors, the Diocese did not announce the establishment of Zimmerman Cottage other than through the word-of-mouth survivor networks.
On 27 May 2019 Bishop Bill Wright established, by canonical decree, the office of Director of Safeguarding. The Director of Safeguarding has a “whole of Diocese” mandate and is empowered to:
- ensure that safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults is an integral part of the Diocese
- ensure that the Diocese adopts best-practice safeguarding policies and provides expert advice to diocesan leaders
- oversight and support the Diocese's parishes, directorates and services in their compliance with:
- statutory obligations to safeguard children and vulnerable adults
- safeguarding standards, principles or guidelines promulgated by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
- the Diocese's codes of conduct, policies, procedures and protocols relevant to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.
The Director of Safeguarding was made a senior leader of the Diocese who reports to the Vicar-General and was appointed to the Diocesan Leadership Group, which is chaired by the Chief Executive Officer and includes the Bishop, Vicar-General, Chancellor, Chief Operating Officer and the directors of Catholic Schools Office, CatholicCare and Pastoral Ministries.
Over the following months Zimmerman Services was transformed into the Office of Safeguarding. As part of the Diocese’s promotion and participation in National Child Protection Week, the Office of Safeguarding was officially launched on 2 September 2019. The Office was afforded a significant enhancement to the resources that were present in Zimmerman Services, with an additional investigator, healing and support caseworker and administrative worker, as well as the establishment of two new positions, executive co-ordinator, and alternative dispute resolution co-ordinator. The additional resources allowed the establishment of an internal leadership structure to meet the expanded mandate of the Director. A central part of the Office of Safeguarding’s launch was the establishment of its own website, which features an extended statement of commitment from Bishop Wright to safeguard children and vulnerable adults in the Diocese https://officeofsafeguarding.org.au/
In mid-September, Volume 4 of the Cunneen Special Commission of Inquiry was released. The report highlighted a systemic weakness in the way Zimmerman House managed information back in 2012 and that “commendable” remedial action was undertaken to address the weakness when it had become apparent. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Case Study 43 report remains unpublished; the Diocese is hoping the invaluable information in the report will soon be made available.
In late-October, two members of the Office of Safeguarding gave a very well-received keynote presentation at the Australasian Association of Workplace Investigators Conference in Sydney on the Diocese’s response “post royal commission”. In early November, the Office of Safeguarding participated in the OCG’s review of CatholicCare’s Permanency Support Program accreditation process.
The Office of Safeguarding is in the process of establishing an alternative dispute resolution service to further promote the quality of care and service offered to children and their families, with a graduated launch at a select series of school sites commencing in 2020.
There were a number of major statutory and church-based developments in the area of safeguarding during 2019. In May, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, and Catholic Religious Australia, endorsed the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards (NCSS), establishing the first national safeguarding compliance and audit regime for a major faith in Australia. The Office of Safeguarding is charged with leading the Diocese to implement the NCSS as part of the Diocese’s preparation for its external audit by Catholic Professional Standards Ltd (CPSL). As part of its preparations the Office of Safeguarding engaged CPSL to present a series of training workshops for operational leaders on implementing the NCSS, the first two sessions were held on 19 and 20 September, with more than 80 of the diocesan operational leadership attending, including the Bishop and other members of the Diocesan Leadership Group. A further two sessions are scheduled for early 2020.
The Children’s Guardian Bill 2019 will be enacted on 1 March 2020 and will establish the Office of the Children’s Guardian (OCG) as the paramount safeguarding statutory authority in NSW. The bill will modify and transfer the “reportable conduct scheme” from the NSW Ombudsman’s Office and establish a statutory safeguarding standards regime for NSW. The Office of Safeguarding is liaising with the OCG on both these fundamental changes.
Between 1 January and 15 November 2019, Zimmerman Services/Office of Safeguarding undertook the following safeguarding activities:
Investigations: total of 56 active investigations of which 48 were commenced in 2019
Risk assessments: nine individuals assessed as potentially posing an elevated risk (separate from investigation-based risk assessments)
Audits of schools: 12 audits of schools conducted including six COSI child-protection audits
Training: 22 training sessions delivered to about 1100 personnel (excluding the CPSL training mentioned earlier and the various induction sessions held across the Diocese for new staff, which include a safeguarding information component).
The Diocese continues to work with survivors who seek some financial redress for the harm caused them from being victims of historic child sexual abuse. To avoid unnecessary litigation, over the past decade the Diocese has developed a voluntary protocol to facilitate a mediated settlement of such claims. Details of options available to survivors can be reviewed on the Office of Safeguarding website: https://officeofsafeguarding.org.au/redress/
Between 1 January and 15 November 2019, the Diocese:
- finalised settlements with nine survivors who chose to bring claims for personal injury against the Diocese
- submitted 19 RFIs (requests for information) in relation to applications made to the National Redress Scheme.
During 2018, submissions were received from survivors seeking some form of acknowledgement of the abuse that occurred at Marist Brothers’ High School, Hamilton. An extended process of liaising with survivor representatives from CAN, (the Clergy Abused Network, a Hunter-based survivor advocacy group) was conducted. Over the months, a diocesan working party co-ordinated the design and building of a significant memorial, jointly with Marist Brothers Australia, open to the public and built on the grounds of the school that was Marist Brothers’, Hamilton. An agnostic service was developed in consultation with CAN representatives and on the evening of 28 March 2019 about 120 people attended a dedication ceremony to the memorial. The Diocese remains committed to the development of a collective memorial for all those affected by child sexual abuse.
In the wake of Lina’s Project: The Atonement, staged at Newcastle Town Hall to about 500 people on the evening of 15 September 2017 (http://www.linasproject.com.au/), Bishop Wright set that date as a Perpetual Day of Remembrance within the Diocese. The 2019 Perpetual Day of Remembrance adopted the theme of Shining the light of Christ and included:
- liturgical participation as part of the masses held in the diocese over the weekend of 14-15 September, supported by resources produced by the Diocese’s Liturgical Council
- a liturgical community resource for households who chose to celebrate by holding a vigil on 14 September
- the staging of Lina’s Project: The Atonement in the parish of Forster-Tuncurry on the evening of 15 September.
Alongside these activities, in response to a proposal put forward by a survivor, Healing and Support joined with the Diocese’s Communications Team to engage with a photographic artist who worked with two survivors to undertake the development of their personal visual stories. The two participants received bound pictorial storybooks and their stories were published in the September Aurora.
Between January and November 2019, Healing and Support (Zimmerman Services):
- maintained an average of 55 client contacts per month
- supported 13 clients through court proceedings
- staged an all-day workshop in conjunction with the Marist Brothers for male survivors and their partners or support people
- held eight group-work sessions for emotional and/or spiritual support
- provided four consultations to other religious entities.