Child Protection Procedures: Responding to Complaints and Allegations

Classification

Policy Number: HR201618-1.1G | Version/Last Updated: 1.1 December 2016 | Audience: Public | Commencement: March 2014 (reviewed 2016)

Implementation Resources

1.0 Scope

This document sets out the procedures to be followed in response to child protection complaints or allegations being made against employees (including volunteers), of Catholic systemic schools in the Archdiocese of Sydney. It provides consistent direction to the management of all child protection complaints and allegations made about employees and volunteers, having regard to the particular facts of each individual case.

2.0 Process for Investigation

Legislation (see definitions) establishes an allegation-based framework, where the veracity of any complaint is tested through an internal inquiry/investigation process. Within SCS, the process for managing complaints remains consistent for all complaints or allegations, whether they require a report to an external authority or not. SCS will respond to, make inquiries and/or investigate all allegations and complaints relating to conduct of employees in respect of children and young people once they have been brought to the attention of the organisation. An appropriate and proportionate response consistent with legislative obligations will be undertaken even if the complainant does not wish to take the matter further.

Steps in the process:

  1. Complaint/Allegation received and registered in Child Protection Database and matter referred to the Team Leader Child Protection.
  2. Intake Protocols followed.
  3. Initial Risk Assessment undertaken and assessment of the nature of the complaint.

3.0 Complaint/Allegation Received
3.1

When any complaint is received the initial assessment will determine the nature of the complaint.

3.2

Depending on the nature of the matter, it is referred to the appropriate member of the Legal, Staff Wellbeing and Professional Services Team, or other appropriate officer within the broader Human Resources Directorate.

4.0 Intake Protocols Followed
4.1

An initial assessment is undertaken and includes:

  1. Clarifying the allegation, if appropriate.
  2. Identifying whether the alleged conduct requires a report to external authorities such as the NSW Police, Federal Police and/or Community Services. If the alleged conduct is considered to be criminal in nature, SCS or the school (under the advice of SCS) will make a report to the NSW Police. It is a matter for the NSW Police to determine whether the matter is within its jurisdiction.
  3. SCS assists Police in relevant inquiries if required (SCS has a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the NSW Police). SCS will make such a report regardless of whether or not the complainant wishes to make a police report.
  4. If the alleged conduct is considered to be of a potentially criminal nature, the complainant will be informed that they may also contact the Police directly.
  5. If the allegation identifies a child to be at significant risk of harm, a report is made to Community Services as per SCS procedures. The complainant is also advised they may make a report directly to Community Services.
  6. It is possible that a report may be necessary to both authorities – NSW Police and Community Services.
  7. In such matters, SCS will not progress its own internal investigations until the NSW Police and/or Community Services have assessed the matter and advised SCS whether or not it can proceed. During this time SCS will continue to undertake a risk assessment in relation to the scenario and communicate closely with police and/or community services.
  8. If during an internal investigation, information arises that identifies a need for a report to the NSW Police or Community Services, SCS will make that report at that time and suspend its own process until such time as clearance is provided to progress.
  9. Identifying whether the alleged conduct requires a notification to the NSW Ombudsman.
  10. When relevant, informing Head of Agency for Part 3A Ombudsman Act 1974 (NSW) via Chancery for the Archdiocese of Sydney.
  11. Identifying other agencies that should be informed of process. For example, in the case of an external contractor, their own employer; the Provincial Leader of a Religious Order if the complaint relates to a Religious.
4.2

Strategies to respond to initial risk assessment are implemented.

4.3

An investigation plan is developed.

  • all matters will be appropriately assessed and investigated
  • in some cases SCS will engage an external investigator to undertake the investigation
  • some matters are exempt from reporting to external agencies (e.g. to the NSW Ombudsman). These may be assessed as suitable to be assessed and investigated by the school under the guidance of relevant SCS office staff.

5.0 Risk Assessment
5.1

A risk assessment is a standard process undertaken at the commencement of a matter, and is used to inform SCS of actual or perceived risks which are present or likely to arise, in a particular matter.

5.2

Risk assessment is an ongoing process required in complaint and allegation procedures and investigations.

5.3

Risk assessment includes identifying risks and implementing strategies to reduce those risks to:

  • children/young people
  • other students in the school
  • person subject of complaint
  • other staff in the school or office
  • broader school community such as students, parents, parish
  • reputation of personnel, the school or SCS more broadly
  • the integrity of the investigation.
5.4

The ongoing risk assessment of every process will determine whether any interim arrangements on an employee’s work status are required, in consultation with relevant external agencies (including the NSW Police, Community Services and/or the NSW Ombudsman). At times this will be necessary to ensure protection of a child/young person, preserve the integrity of an investigation process, or support the wellbeing of the child or the employee. The action taken during this time will be carefully considered and subject to review during the process. Such a decision will take into account factors such as the seriousness of the alleged conduct, whether there is a pattern of similar issues, vulnerability of the child/children or employee, capacity of the work environment to manage any risk factors, risks to breaches of confidentiality, wellbeing of the employee, Police or Community Services involvement, and safety of the parties.

Interim arrangements on an employee’s work status may include stand down, temporary suspension from duties, suspension or withdrawal of approval to work/teach, or any other variance/restriction on employment capacity determined to be reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances, based on a risk assessment and review by or under the authorisation of the Director of Human Resources.

6.0 Investigation Protocols
6.1

SCS adheres to the guidelines for investigation practices outlined in the NSW Ombudsman Guidelines as best practice. However, the process is constantly reviewed and may be refined at times, due to risk assessment or practical implications impacting upon the process. The following protocols are applied:

  1. The person against whom the allegation is made, is advised in writing of the allegations.
  2. Sufficient time is provided to prepare a response.
  3. The person invited to be interviewed may bring a support person, if needed.
  4. All parties have the opportunity to nominate witnesses.
  5. Information obtained in interviews is written up in a form of statement or recorded, with consent, and transcribed.
  6. In most instances the interviewee is asked to verify the record of their interview.
  7. If a student is being interviewed they are offered an adult support person of their choice.
  8. Parental consent is obtained for formal interview (depending on the student/s age).
  9. Counselling services are made available to the child, their family and the employee, recognising that regardless of the seriousness of any complaint, most complaints are stressful and impact on those involved.
6.2

A person who is the subject of an allegation is afforded fair process and support during the process. As the process is allegation–based there is no opinion formed as to its veracity until all the evidence can be assessed. Regardless of the finding, it is the intention of SCS that all persons should be treated with dignity and respect at all stages of a complaint process.

6.3

Any person who is the subject of a complaint has available to them, professional confidential counselling through the Employee Assistance Program (internal), and is encouraged to access this.

6.4

Any person who is the subject of a complaint has a right to obtain advice from their union, or legal advice, at any stage, and is encouraged to do so if required.

6.5

If an employee resigns before the completion of the investigation, the employer will assess whether the investigation should be concluded at that point or should continue. In respect of matters reportable to the NSW Ombudsman, a finding is required regardless of whether or not the employee remains within employment.

If an employee resigns before the completion of the investigation this may trigger a notification to the NSW Office of Children’s Guardian in some cases.

6.6

During the investigation all reasonable inquiries are undertaken and an investigation report is prepared, which documents the assessment and deliberations leading to the relevant findings.

  1. When all relevant information is obtained the evidence is assessed on the civil standard of proof. A determination is made as to:
    • whether or not the alleged conduct occurred
    • the appropriate finding recorded
    • appropriate action to be taken based on the finding
    • any issues arising, such as system issues, performance or safety matters
    • review of the risk assessment.
  2. Findings and outcomes are communicated to the person who is the subject of the allegation, and other persons as appropriate. These are provided in writing in most instances. The details of which persons are informed takes into consideration factors such as the seriousness of the matter, fair procedures, child wellbeing and protection, privacy considerations, confidentiality requirements and risk management.
  3. If a finding is adverse for an employee, and has employment implications, the matter is referred to Employment Services to provide the employee fair procedures in responding further to the findings and outcomes.
  4. Final reports to external authorities such as the NSW Ombudsman or the NSW Office of Children’s Guardian, are made when appropriate.
  5. The investigation file is secured confidentially within the SCS central office at Leichhardt.

7.0 Inter-agency cooperation

At times a complaint will result in more than one agency being responsible for reporting and investigating.

In such cases, SCS will work with the relevant organisation where appropriate. However, SCS will undertake its own reporting requirements and not rely on reports by other authorities. For example, if the employee under investigation is an employee of SCS and also of the NSW Department of Education, and both are required to investigate and report to the NSW Ombudsman and Police, SCS will make its own reports whether or not the Department is also making reports. However, it may be appropriate to work together on the investigation to reduce duplication and impact on those involved. Principles of privacy and confidentiality will be carefully considered and managed in such situations.

8.0 Confidentiality

The principles of confidentiality are applied to all complaint procedures. However, there are limits to confidentiality. The following principles are upheld in managing confidentiality in these processes:

8.1

All persons involved in a complaint process are requested to respect confidentiality of the process and other people involved. This is important for the dignity of all involved and the integrity of the investigation process.

8.2

Staff are expected to adhere to requests for confidentiality. Breaches of confidentiality will be taken seriously and could result in disciplinary outcomes. Staff will be advised at the commencement of the process, about not speaking or engaging with other staff, students, and parents about there being a complaint or, for example, what one has said in an interview.

8.3

Confidentiality does not restrict any person from obtaining any necessary professional advice or support at any time during the process, including, but not limited to, union advice, legal advice or professional counselling.

8.4

It may be necessary to have strategies in place to manage confidentiality with students and parents at school level. In certain circumstances, specialist advice may also be sought from relevant experts (e.g. psychologists, counsellors) regarding this area.

8.5

Confidentiality does not restrict the school or SCS from making reports to the NSW Police or Community Services.

8.6

Schools and SCS may be subject to strict confidentiality requirements from external authorities such as NSW Ombudsman, Community Services and NSW Police.

8.7

Any person unsure about the scope or meaning of confidentiality should seek advice or guidance from relevant SCS staff and/or the Principal.

9.0 Complaints of a Historical Nature
9.1

At times SCS receives a complaint of a historical nature. That is, the alleged conduct may have occurred at the school before it was under the authority of SCS, or the alleged perpetrator is no longer an employee or volunteer at the school.

9.2

SCS will undertake an assessment of the nature of the complaint and the agency/ies responsible for managing the complaint. Appropriate referrals of the complaint will be made to those agencies and the complainant will be informed of this. For example, the complaint may be referred to the Chancery of the Sydney Archdiocese, Provincial Leader of a Religious Order, Department of Education school, other Education Authority, Bishop or Education Office in another Diocese in NSW or Australia.

9.3

If SCS is the agency responsible for the matter, then the appropriate investigation process will be implemented as outlined within this document.

9.4

Contact with the NSW Police will be made by SCS when necessary, even if the matter is historical in nature.

9.5

A person reporting an allegation of a potentially criminal nature is encouraged to make their report directly to the NSW Police. SCS will make a report to the police if the information is identified as possibly criminal in nature, regardless of the decision of the complainant to report to the police.

10.0 Anonymous Complaints or Reluctant Complainants
10.1

Anonymous complaints will be assessed and managed where practical, as per this document. There are many reasons why people lodge anonymous complaints. Whilst anonymous complaints may be difficult to investigate effectively, they will be taken seriously, reported if necessary and reasonable inquiries undertaken where practical. The steps and principles in this document apply equally to anonymous complaints.

10.2

Reluctant complainants (i.e. those who can be identified but may not wish to proceed or take matters forward), will be advised that SCS has a legal obligation to report and respond to certain complaints involving children and young people. Whilst the complainant’s wishes will be considered, and all attempts to respond to the complaint sensitively, will be undertaken, SCS will still make contact, report to external authorities and investigate all complaints as required, even if the reporter does not wish this to occur.

11.0 Records and Disclosure
11.1

SCS may seek or provide information from certain ‘prescribed agencies’ in accordance with Chapter#16A of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (NSW) if required, for a relevant investigation or risk assessment.

11.2

A record of the investigation must be held by SCS and, where a matter is found to be reportable conduct, a copy provided to the NSW Ombudsman’s Office for oversight.

11.3

Investigations into matters found to be exempt are held by SCS, and the NSW Ombudsman’s Office may audit the records of their investigations.

11.4

Records at SCS are kept securely and separately from personnel files.

11.5

The Head of Agency nominated by the NSW Ombudsman Act, for Sydney system Catholic schools, receives a monthly report from the Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools or their delegate, of all matters falling within the jurisdiction of the NSW Ombudsman.

11.6

A person who is the subject of a complaint may request access to records held by SCS in accordance with the relevant Enterprise Agreement, the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW), or other relevant legislation.

12.0 Explanatory Notes and Definitions
12.1

Child

A child is a person under the age of 18 years. With respect to matters notifiable to Community Services, a child is defined as a person under 16 years.

12.2

Young Person

Young Person: a person aged 16 or 17 years.

12.3

Employee

An employee is defined as any person who is engaged by the Archdiocese of Sydney Catholic systemic schools, whether or not they are employed in connection with work or activities that relate to children in a paid or volunteer capacity; as well as any person engaged by SCS to provide services to children and young people. This includes contracted staff, such as special transport drivers, cleaners and maintenance contractors; sub-contracted staff, such as canteen managers; trainees, such as those on student placement or work experience; clergy visiting schools; and volunteers, such as parent helpers. Any reference to employee in this policy encompasses all categories outlined above.

12.4

Civil Standard of Proof

The matter is considered sustained if the investigator is satisfied that the case has been proved on the balance of probabilities.

12.5

Final Report

For matters that require reporting to the NSW Ombudsman Office, the final report comprises a copy of the investigation file. The file is forwarded to the Ombudsman, who has oversight of the agency’s process. The Ombudsman will review the file and advise SCS whether or not it is satisfied with the process prior to closing the matter. SCS will inform the employee when the Ombudsman closes its file.

12.6

Findings

Findings are made on each complaint at the conclusion of the process. The NSW Ombudsman and Office of Children’s Guardian Guidelines provide headings for findings of investigations within its jurisdiction and SCS relies upon these (see relevant fact sheet for details). Matters not in that jurisdiction rely on commonly used industry-relevant terminology.

Findings of matters managed at school level are determined by the Principal in consultation with SCS staff. Findings of matters managed by SCS are determined by the relevant SCS staff in consultation with the Team Leader Child Protection.

12.7

Head of Agency

The Archbishop of Sydney is deemed to be the Head of Agency, as per Part 3A of the Ombudsman Act 1974 (NSW), for Sydney systemic schools. The Head of Agency may delegate certain responsibilities for oversight to the Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools.

12.8

Complaint/Allegation

For the purposes of this document, a complaint or allegation is considered to be any issue raised regarding the conduct of an employee of SCS in relation to children or young people, where such conduct is considered to be of a nature which may constitute reportable conduct in accordance with the Ombudsman Act 1974 (NSW).

12.9

Reasonable Inquiries

  • child or young person subject of the complaint is interviewed and relevant parent consent obtained
  • employee given reasonable notice of complaint
  • other witnesses interviewed
  • relevant documents, e-communications or other items of evidence are obtained
  • full details of allegation put to the employee who is the subject of the complaint
  • the employee is given full details of the complaint in writing, with a support person present, and given an opportunity to respond (in writing and/or in person).
12.10

Reportable Allegation

A ‘reportable allegation’ means an allegation of reportable conduct against a person, or an allegation of misconduct that may involve reportable conduct as defined by the Ombudsman Act 1974 (NSW). A reportable allegation must be reported to the Ombudsman and may result in an employee’s name being forwarded to the NSW Office of Children’s Guardian following a relevant completed employment proceeding.

12.11

Reportable Conduct

In accordance with the Ombudsman Act 1974 (NSW), reportable conduct is defined as:

  • any sexual offence or sexual misconduct committed against, with or in the presence of a child (including child pornography offences)
  • any assault, ill-treatment or neglect of a child
  • any behaviour that causes psychological harm to a child
  • whether or not, in any case, with the consent of the child.
12.12

An exempt allegation

Reportable conduct does not extend to:

  • conduct that is reasonable for the purposes of the discipline, management or care of children, having regard to the age, maturity, health or other characteristics of the child and to any relevant codes of conduct or professional standards (Code of Professional Conduct – internal)
  • the use of physical force that is trivial and negligible, but only if the matter is to be investigated and the result of the investigation recorded under workplace employment procedures
  • conduct of a class or kind exempted from being reportable conduct by the Ombudsman under 25C (4) of the Ombudsman Act 1974 (NSW). Examples of this include allegations of physical assault, insofar as they fit specific criteria for children in different age groups and there is no alleged harm or injury to the child.

Note: matters not requiring a report to the NSW Ombudsman must still be recorded, investigated and an appropriate finding made.

12.13

The Legislation

13.0 Supporting Documents
13.1

Related policies

13.2

Supporting documents

14.0 Appendices

Frequently Asked Questions – Responding to Complaints and Allegations

15.0 Classification
15.1

Reference: HR201618-1.1G

15.2

Mandating Policy: Child Protection Policy: Responding to Complaints and Allegations

15.3

Version: 1.1

Last modified: December 2016

This policy supersedes all previous policies relating to matters contained therein. In so much as any aspect of this policy may appear to be in conflict with another Archdiocesan system or school-based policy, then precedence is to be given to this policy.

15.4

Audience: Public

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