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"That type of thing wouldn't happen here"

Often at Poynting Consulting and Advisory we hear the statement, “That type of thing wouldn’t happen here.” We hear it from many sources:

·        From parents that have children enrolled in organisations for care, sport, and education

·        From front-line staff that work directly with children, and most concerning,

·        From child-focused business managers and owners.

Why is this such a big concern for PCA?

A belief that child abuse and neglect won’t occur in your organisation is an indicator of complacency. It’s an indicator that the organisation does not have child safety and wellbeing embedded in the organisational leadership, governance and culture. Instead, the organisation relies on a general belief that people are “good” and somehow intuitively know how to appropriately interact with children. It means that the organisation is not looking for indicators that children may be being abused and neglected. It means they assume their staff will never engage in inappropriate interaction with children – either intentionally or on purpose. In extreme cases, it means a dedicated offender could be given safe harbour.

It’s not enough to publish a statement about zero tolerance to child harm in glossy brochures for parents, and mention it once during annual child protection training for staff. A culture of complacency must be challenged by organisations if they are to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of children and young people. Something all business owners know is that you won’t find what you’re not looking for. When that thing we’re is the abuse and neglect of children by adults that are employed specifically to keep children safe, that is something that cannot be tolerated.

The first step to eradicating a culture of complacency is to shed the fear of admitting that the risk exists. When organisations do this, by publicly acknowledging the risk exists, they give permission to their people to challenge behaviours and attitudes. They give permission to ask, “Is this okay?” and to intervene when they see something that is definitely not okay. This begins to shift the organisation from always reacting to things that have happened to start to work preventatively to act before a situation becomes harmful.

To succeed in shedding a culture of complacency, organisations need to replace the old culture with a new one which sees, values and listens to children. In a child-safe culture, the safety and wellbeing of children is the lens through which all other initiatives and activities are viewed. Implementing this is not as simple as updating the Code of Conduct or introducing a Child-Safe Policy. These tools are necessary, but their value is in how they are used every day, not just in their existence. The child-safe culture must be championed at all levels of the organisation – by leaders, by owners, by front-line staff. Documents like Child Safe Policies are just the tools. It is the values of the organisation’s culture which will dictate how well those tools are used.

Next time the topic of abuse, neglect and harm comes up at a child-focused organisation you are associated with and someone says, “That type of thing wouldn’t happen here,” ask the question – “What has been done to make sure it won’t happen here?” Child safe organisations don’t just exist because we want them to. They are created through intention, action and commitment.

Bradley Poynting