• Child safety in a post COVID-19 world

    36m 35s

    Think Tank 6 features Professor Daryl Higgins and Douglas Russell from the Institute of Child Protection Studies and Brooke Irvine from Gymnastics Australia discussing child safety in a post COVID-19 world. As part of this Think Tank we are asking what are your concerns around safeguarding coming out of COVID-19 and what resources do you need to help keep children safe in a post COVID-19 world - please complete our brief survey - https://tinyurl.com/y96vrgpe

ICPS_SlidesYou can download a copy of the slides for Daryl and Douglas's presentation here


These are extraordinary times, the presence of COVID-19 means that each and every one of us, each and every one of us is facing our toughest ever opposition, although we stand apart. If we work together as a team, as a team, and play by the rules, and play by the rules, we'll soon get back to playing and watching the sport that we love. We need your support now more than ever, more than ever. Wash your hands and listen to the advice. If we play by the rules, we'll all get through this together.

Hello and welcome, everybody, my name is Peter Downs, manager of Play by the Rules. Welcome to Think Tank six in our series. This one is around child safety in a post COVID-19 world. Start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we're all sitting today and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

Today's topic is around child safety, and that's been a core issue for play by the rules since its inception, really for fifteen years or so now. And there's no doubt that COVID-19 has placed new layers of child safety concerns over what we already knew and what were already concerns to and to explore that today we're very lucky to have three guests. We have Professor Daryl Higgins from the Institute of Child Protection Studies and also Douglas Russell from the Institute of Child Protection Studies and Brooke Irving from Gymnastics Australia, which we all hear from in the next 20 minutes or so. And then we will open up for questions. So please type in your questions and comments as we go. So we'll reserve about ten minutes at the end for questions or so. So, so please, please do tha. To kickstart. Let's get into it. And I want to introduce you to Professor Daryl Higgins, who was a director at the Institute of Child Protection Studies. Hi, Daryl. What are what are we. My question to you after the kick start really is what do we already know around child safety and what kind of we don't know? What can we expect in a COVID-19 world? And like I say, new layers of child safety concerns.

Yeah, thanks, Peter. Well, I think we're in a lucky position in Australia because of the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which really shed a very strong light on the issue of not just child sexual abuse, but in fact, interrelated harms that children face in a variety of youth serving organisations. And of course, the sports sector was one of those that came under the spotlight. And so what has emerged from that and from existing research is that we do know quite a bit about the topic of prevention. And that's certainly what at the Institute of Child Protection Studies we're very focussed on is understanding how we can improve our approaches to prevention. And so to do that, as with any kind of public health problem like, you know, smoking or traffic problems or whatever, we need to actually have a good understanding of the causes or the risk factors. And so what we know is that child sexual abuse and in fact, other forms of harm to children occur at the intersection of three things. So the motivation of a potential offender, the vulnerability of a potential victim. And thirdly, the opportunity. And we know that, in fact, it's the third area, the one of opportunity where we have as as leaders within an organisation like a sports club, have the most capacity to bring about change in order to improve that.

The preconditions, if you like, to facilitate safety rather than abuse at each of those levels. And I want to just spend the next few minutes reflecting on how COVID-19 might affect those risks and also our ability within a sports context to mitigate them. I mentioned before the royal commission well, I was very honoured to be part of an international team that drew together a review of the existing literature around a whole range of different specific contexts in terms of risk factors. And one of those that we looked at in that report was sports specific risks. And what we found there was that there's been actually one really good study that was large scale study in Australia that showed that 16 per cent of males, females, sorry, and six per cent of males reported experiencing abuse in the context of their sports participation.

So we know that it's not a small or minor thing. It's actually a really important issue. And across a variety of different studies, the kinds of issues that came up as being a risk factor or a contributing factor to abuse occurring really can be summed up around issues of culture. So the cultural aspects of sports programmes that contribute and I'm just gonna list off a few things and I'm happy to share that power points later with listeners. But it's things like gender stereotypes, a kind of code of silence, the philosophy around, you know, the good of the team, the tendency towards victim blaming.

Also the power of individuals such as the coach. Some sports, of course, have a real emphasis on power, aggression and strength and competition, which can also normalise violence, both physical and sexual violence. And there can be a culture of bullying, harassment or intimidation that can occur and things like homophobia, sexism and subtle forms of gender stereotyping that can all contribute to vulnerability of an individual and more likely to excuse the behaviour of perpetrator and make it harder to speak up. We also know this is not exclusive to sports, of course, that adults are often acting in the role of parents. So, you know, in loco parentis. And so that gives them additional access to children and responsibilities and therefore can excuse inappropriate behaviour.

Things like travel, the kind of hands on nature of many of the skill development approaches to coaching. Use of locker rooms and showers. The physical layout of facilities and particularly the capacity to be alone or isolated with children and adults. And so those sort of things can be amplified if there's an absence of appropriate policies to address those. And really, it can be summed up by the opportunity for grooming both of young people themselves, but also of their parents and their families and the broader organisation. So one of the approaches that we take, and I think it's really important to think of what that now looks like in the context of COVID-19 is a situation or prevention approach. And we know that those kind of situational factors are not just specific to sports. But we know that they go on in all organisations. And we also have to do recognise that children may be more vulnerable because of the lockdown. They may have been in family environments that are less than ideal, that are characterised by the use of physical punishment and violence and family violence.

They could be subject to abuse in other institutions as well. And so we know that coming back to sport, they may actually be an increased vulnerability of the young people whom we are serving and working with. And we know from broader research that closed institutions. Where there's this lack of openness and accountability is where abuse is more likely to kind of be fostered. So, again, if we have children, young people in our clubs who come from those kind of backgrounds, or in fact, if we operate our club in that kind of way where we have a really ingroup mentality and we don't have much transparency from the outside world, we need to think about how, in fact, we might be replicating those kind of environments. So some of the solutions that I think we need to be thinking about is things like enhanced safety training. So knowledge just not about how to respond should a harmful situation arise, but how do identify risks and support and implement prevention approaches.

And so that involves three P's. It involves looking at people. It involves looking at places and involves looking at process. So we know that we have to focus on screening and supervision. It's a legislative requirement here in Victoria and in many other institutions. Many other states are following along that same process, but it's more than that. It's the kind of supervision and ongoing guidance that's needed of staff. It's also about places. And so being able to identify where risks are and including children and young people in that process to get their views of where risks might be. And of course, with the requirements of physical distancing, we might have already gone through a process of risk assessment of our facility. But that is likely to have changed because we might be using those facilities differently. We want to have less people in and because we know that one of the safety factors for children is observation and having other protective adults have access to them. And so if we are restricting that because of the health requirements, that could introduce new risk. So we have to kind of revise our risk assessment processes.

And then thirdly, and I know Brooke's going to be talking about this a little bit more, is that we need to be thinking about the processes that we have to mitigate those risks. And really that goes to addressing the underlying culture that many organisations have where children's voices are not necessarily valued and heard and where it's okay to speak up about concerns and to be able to call out inappropriate behaviour, not necessarily because it is abuse, but because it could lead to abuse. In other words, being able to stop grooming at the earliest possibility, at the earliest opportunity. So I'm going to hand over now to my colleague Douglas, who's going to talk a little bit about some of the measurement work that we've been focussing on at the Institute, because if we're talking about trying to achieve culture change and enhance the capability of staff within youth serving organisations, we need to know how we're progressing on that journey. So over to you, Douglas.

Thanks, Daryl. Hi, everyone. Peter. So I think one of the things that Daryl's pointed out is what's changed in organisations and thinking about how the measurements that you've been using to date have will be affected by COVID-19. So if we think about the fact that there might be less parents now with their eyes on on their children for less supervision. Is that something that we're going to need to consider? Or if you're from a peak body or sort of a state based organisation thinking about. Have you been doing some kind of measurement in regards to individual clubs, either compliance or going beyond compliance and thinking about cultures of child safety in each individual club and thinking about do we need to take another stocktake? Do we need to actually stop and say, right? We actually need to stop and realise that because of COVID-19, we've got less supervision and certain people that have left the organisation because of, you know, lay offs and things like that. And so we need to think about taking that stocktake again and working out what is it that is changed? And what do we need to put in place? And once you've done that, you're obviously going to need to think about resources and the organisations that you've been working with to date. And indeed, organisations like the Institute of Child Protection Studies are really keen to make sure you're getting the resources you want.

So I'm I'm really interested in finding out, you know, through the chat function in today's presentation. What resources does your organisation need to support the development and measurement of a child safe culture? So please put your ideas down, because I know the Pete is going to collate those for us and we'll be able to either talk to those later this morning at the Question Time or indeed, Daryl, myself and our team here can start thinking about getting some resources on our safeguarding portal. So, again, thinking about this sort of post COVID-19 world that will be entering and bringing us the opportunity to discuss safety both physically and from an interpersonal point of view. So a lot of the discussions you'll be having with young people coming into clubs, parents, coaches, the community in general will be about physical safety and thinking about does this give us an opportunity to really ramp up those discussions about interpersonal safety as well and almost combine those two?

And I know that I think talking about with children and young people and indeed getting the voices of children, young people heard is something that organisations in Victoria are really struggling with, because, as Daryl pointed out, the Victorian standards, one of those and like the national principles, is hearing and empowering children and young people in regards to safety. So, again, the national principles don't necessarily just mean safety from sexual abuse. It does mean other forms of abuse and other ideas related to safety. So thinking about how you can get children and young people involved and reflecting individually or with your colleagues. And again, you know, please feel free to put some ideas in the chat function. How are you planning on hearing the voices of young people in regards to what their concerns are about safety? Are they concerned about the fact that the parents aren't there? Are they worried about things that are happening between, you know, children and young people themselves that peer to peer concern?

I think one of the other things to discuss is having discussions that have concrete outcomes. So making sure that you're having discussions with organisations like Child Wise, like ourselves as a research institute interested in developing those evidence based resources that can support child safety. So as much as we a research institute that really enjoys collecting data and putting out really important bits of work, that sort of point out what's happening at a very high level, we're also very interested in working with individual clubs and bodies. We've done some fantastic work with Gymnastics Australia, with Brooke in regards to our Children's Safety Survey and trying to hear the voices of children and young people and getting the findings of those instantly given to to organisations such as Gymnastics Australia and Individual Clubs. So by using measures like that and indeed Safeguarding Capability Survey, which looks at the capabilities of the workforce, we're really covering off with that that one peer people that Daryl was talking about. So thinking about how is it that we're measuring the capabilities of people and the concerns of people who are involved with our sports organisations. And has that changed if you've got some kind of measurement from before COVID-19 or indeed, let's get a real good baseline as soon as we get back into the new normal and think about where we need to go to from here.

What are those things that we need? What help do we need? And who are the right people to go to for that? And it could be those state bodies and national bodies that you've got for each individual sport. It could be something like the new Sports Integrity Unit, or indeed it could be sort of a consultancy group or a research institute such as ourselves. So I know Peter's planning on talking about some of the fantastic work that Brooke's done with Gymnastics Australia, and I think it'll be talking about code of conduct. So, again, you know, along the same lines, thinking about does your code of conduct need to have an update as a result of the changes to the ways people, places and processes are all working together to either protect or be a risk to safety for children. Thanks, Peter.

'm in Brooke's been driving that, similar to other national sports bodies and state sports bodies and the state umbrella bodies such as Office of Children's Guardian, Vicsport, etc.. they've done a mountain of work in this area in acknowledging that there's still a mountain of work to to go and this COVID-19 is presenting in new new challenges to us. So, Brooke, in a practical sense, you know, where where to from here in terms of some of the practical outcomes that we're looking for and considering in a COVID-19 environment.

Yeah. Thanks, Peter. Well, I guess organisational culture is such an important part of child safety and is linked to policies and procedures. So as your policies and procedures really set the expectations around acceptable behaviours, but even more importantly, is making sure that your policies are enacted and constantly reviewed and updated, not just sitting on your shelf gathering dust.

So now is a perfect time if you haven't done so already to review your policies and particularly your codes of behaviour. So the sporting world is different now with the use of technology to deliver sport rather than face to face delivery. Whilst we know face to face delivery is absolutely coming back. Clubs have started to diversify and we will see more of a blended approach to coaching and delivery in the future.

So therefore, making sure that our codes of behaviour are up to date and that everyone involved in the sport. So your coaches, your athletes, your parents, making sure that your codes of behaviour also include the use of online technology is really important. So have an acronym within a couple of months ago, which I thought was really adaptable and easy to remember. So I wanted to share it with you today.

And it's PEER, which stands for prepare, engage, educate and respond. So to use it in this context. I think clubs need to and organisations need to prepare by reviewing their policies and codes of behaviour. Make sure that they're designed to protect children and young people. Make sure they have clear expectations around the required behaviour for everyone. We expect parents to behave in a certain way. We expect children and athletes to behave in a certain way. We expect coaches to behave in a certain way. So you need to find these in your codes of behaviour.

Do your codes of behaviour, cover the use of electronic communications and social media? Now that we're changing. Things like messaging athletes, ensure, sharing images, ensuring that parents have provided consent and with their children during online training. What about change rooms and bathroom arrangements, transporting children, giving gifts? The use of language and tone, all of these are really important to define and for everyone to understand. So whether you currently have codes of behaviour to review or you need to prepare them? Either way, you need to engage your entire community.

Because involving your community within your organisation or within a club, the staff, the parents, the family, it will help you to create a shared understanding of and responsibility for child safety across your club or organisation. It's become part of that culture piece. It helps to build the culture within a club or organisation. So ask your community advice about what the codes of behaviour should include. Get the voice of children and young people, ask them what they think. But keep in mind that they might not be specific legislation requirements for sports specific requirements that need to be added. Let the community know how to access the policies and codes of behaviour and what the expectations are for everyone when dealing with children. This adds accountability across your entire club and organisation as well. Talk about child safety. Have open and honest conversations about it, about what's appropriate and what's not. And encourage this. Call out the bad behaviours or report them if required, which is the education piece.

One of the best ways to build a sports as a child safe environment within sport is to provide education and awareness. I think education can either be formal or informal, which is where that awareness comes in. Make sure your staff and volunteers know how to use the technology properly. If you're switching to the online environment, things like making sure you know what settings to use and tips such as auto lock the room after everyone's joined, add a password, add waiting room functions to make sure that you avoid unauthorised access. Make sure that you know how to remove participants. If you can identify them, make sure they have you. That your coaches and staff have backup plans if something goes wrong. Just end the session. A key concern at the moment, and Daryl touched on this a little bit as well, is also the restrictions in the number of people in one space. So this means that some parents are not allowed into venues or are further away from their children at practise now.

So educating the parents on the codes of behaviour, helping to outline the expectations, may also help the clubs and organisations to make parents feel safe and comfortable to return to sport. And it will also aid in keeping your children safe because they know the expected behaviours as well. Make sure your staff and volunteers have trained in child protection or at least know what where to go in a club and who that person is that you can talk to. If an incident occurs. Well, if you just don't feel right about something.

Perhaps one of the athlete's behaviours has changed. They may normally be bright and bubbly, but recently they've been really reserved and withdrawn. What's going on? How do we deal with that situation? The coach noticed something in the background when online session that makes him feel uneasy. Where do we go? What do we do? This is also relevant for parents and athletes in similar situations. So how do organisations respond to breaches of codes of behaviour and to child safety complaints? So it's really important to understand child safety reporting requirements and not only within your organisation, but also understanding the state and territory legislation, things around mandatory reporting. And if it's required. If an incident occurs, who do you go to or how can you minimise further harm and support the well-being of those involved in incidents? These are all really important things to know and understand. And whilst respond was my last section. It's never really nice to end on what seems to be a low note, especially after talking about all the things you need to do or you shouldn't have done.

And knowing that community sport is at this point has very limited resources, that there is a positive. There are lots of examples out there. There are lots of templates that you can use. There are lots of sports and various organisations that are happy to share because it is really important to have policies and codes of behaviour in place, especially in this environment.

Right. Thank you. Thanks, Brooke. People are commenting on how great it is to have a at that practical advice. There we'll go. We'll go straight into some questions and I'll stick with you, Brooke, for the first one there, because it's familiar possibly to you, because it kind of familiar. But it's it's good to tackle. How do we tackle the mindset of parents that we're told that's just part of sport when they were younger and relaying it onto their children? Also, the fear of not being selected, being the priority of parents rather than safety due to expectation of outcomes.

Big, long question.

You could tackle the first bits it is, again, as as Daryl and Douglas have talked about. It's that culture change. It's trying to change that culture. And that is not an easy thing to do. But again, changing those behaviours and expectations and having them out amongst your community so that it does start to change slowly, slowly. Behaviour change is never an easy thing to do. But I think by starting to change those expectations and making sure that you do have those those codes and in a positive form as well. And I think the second part of that question was around selection, a priority of parents in terms of competition, expectation of outcomes and things like that. Yeah. Again, a very difficult thing to tackle, and I guess it's more in that High-Performance space that can be community sport as well where's that parent that just has that drive to achieve and to make sure that their child is the next child that's going to be an Olympian. Because, of course, that's that's what's going to happen again. It's just trying to to educate them and make them aware of processes of procedures. If this cut off scores and having that information available to parents, I think is where sport in the past has really been lacking, is that we don't educate the parents. We wait. They drop their child off of sport. They do the activity. We keep them outside the training environment. We need to start inviting the parents in to getting them to be part of their children's sporting environment and get them to understand where the processes and procedures.

But, you know, I coaching is not just coaching all of children and young people, it's coaching of parents, too, isn't it?

Yeah, absolutely. And having information available. So parents, we tend to forget parents in a process when the coach is dealing directly with an athlete. We tend to forget that the parent needs to know and understand, not just drop off times and pick up times, but their expectation. Are they going to achieve? Are they going to succeed? Am I going to move up in a level? Those things are really important for parents to understand as well.

Yeah, yeah. We've got a good one from Scott. I just got here and it's kind of summarising a little bit of what you said I might go to Douglas for this one.

Can you share how community clubs can practically engaged children in forums to truly tackle what makes them feel safe and unsafe? This can be intimidating for club members.

Sure, and I think that also links in a bit to to how requesting to invite parents in and thinking about the different ways that you can get children and young people involved as a community, as a sports community. So rather than just having the child in there when there's practise time or a lesson, but actually thinking about other activities that you can do that the children and young people are invited to and indeed their parents and other family members, where you can sort of have a celebration of the achievements of all of the different children, young people who have been going up different levels and making certain particular teams. But then also, you know, feeding into that conversations and questions and ways of measuring, you know, are parents happy with the way that the club is dealing with safety.

Do they have any concerns and making sure that we're doing that in a range of different ways. So ICPS, for example, has, you know, a very quantitative sort of online based survey that we do as part of our data collection and our research project. But having, you know, focus groups and again, I'm using very research terms here, but just having children and young people come in and talk about their experiences of safety in the club and, you know, taking notes in regards to that and then thinking how can we then relay this information back to both parents and the coaches, but also to the children and young people. And I think one of the most important things to do is to make sure that children and young people are aware that when they are sharing their experiences and having their voice heard, that it's actually being utilised as well. So feeding back to the children, young people, this is what we've done in response to the discussion we had with you, whether that discussion was one on one discussions, whether it was group discussions, whatever mode of conversation you're having, make sure that the children and young people see the benefit of it as well as parents and other stakeholders.

All right, great stuff. Thanks. Thanks, Douglas fair. Yes, there's some some nice suggestions and practical thoughts coming in.

Is it worth informing parents that the organisation, organisation, sport places the safety of children first? A flyer, etc.? Yes, absolutely. I would say that. That's certainly true. Maybe it will kind of wind it up I'll go back to Daryl and again, trying to paraphrase some of the comments and things in here.

I really liked the three P's, Daryl, in terms of people, places and processes. I think in this in this world, the people part of it in terms of risk management. Now, with COVID, there's so many unknowns. Where is a good starting point for a local club who certainly values child safety? What's a good starting point where there are so many unknowns presented despite the COVID-19 situation in terms of.

Yeah, yeah. Look, two things, Peter. One is I actually think of the three P's that the people one is the smallest one because it is very hard to be able to predict who as a person might pose a risk. We have a lot more control over places, and that's where we can put in place the situational prevention approaches. And an element of that is, as Douglas said, involving children and young people leading to assess their use of risks and so forth. And, of course, the processes, you know, which includes defining acceptable codes of conduct, etc. But in terms of people, I think, you know as well as doing the kind of mandatory thing of, you know, working with children checks, etc., the more important issue is actually asking before we have people join our organisation, why it is that they want to be involved and assessing their suitability and then to have ongoing kind of supervision practises.

So it's not just a case of screening in the right people or screening out the wrong people, but rather having ongoing supports for people, because that's where you're going to uncover that you know, yes, there might be a coach somewhere who really isn't on board with the messaging of the club, you know, who hasn't really or as Brooke was saying, you know, the kind of culture change and and and the ways that, you know, the messages we want to be getting across as a club of how we do business.

And you're going to fund that. You're not going to find it out unless you ask the questions. And so having as part of your, you know, supervision processes within your leadership structure, within the club to to have that kind of mentoring and accountability of staff. But you just want to emphasise that I think it's the smallest of the three P's, because it's the one that we we don't know what's going on inside somebody's head. We never can. And so we're best to put most of our energy into into the other areas. And of course, by bringing about cultural change, hopefully people who have an inclination to want to harm children will recognise that this club is not going to tolerate my kind of behaviour. So this is no place for me.

Excellent. Thank you. Thank you very much, Daryl. People are answering their own.

Other people are answering questions that are coming on the comments, which is great, which it saves us. They saves us the job. I'm going to bring it to a conclusion there. I have to say, you've already. All of you mentioned resources and support that's out there and the work of sports organisations and umbrella bodies. There's there's a lot of help out there. I want to make a particular shout out to if you are in New South Wales, the Office of Children's Guardian. You may or may not be aware do a lot of great work and every resources to support clubs and associations in New South Wales. The Office of the Children's Guardian. And Vicsport as well are doing a tremendous job in Victoria. I know there are others. My apologies for missing them out, but those are the two that spring to mind have been mentioned here as well. So check it out. There is a lot of help and assistance available through sports. I know other bodies as well in this area and it will be evolving as we've heard.

Just to summarise, I think trying to get the quote from Tony from Football Victoria, often a challenge with engaging parents is first helping them to understand the sport itself. Back in the old days, children would follow their parents sporting preferences. But that happens less these days. Thanks. Thanks, Tony. Thanks, everyone, for your SportWest in W.A.. Yes. Thank you for they are doing excellent work. Yes.

Yes indeed. There are plenty of help out there. I will draw it to a conclusion there. We have all the comments and keep them coming in because we will address them post the forum as well. I want to thank Professor Daryl Higgins and Douglas Russell from the Institute of Child Protection Studies and Brooke Irving from Gymnastics Australia as well. Thank you to you for your contribution today. This recording of this Think Tank will be on Play by the Rules in within a week. I'm trying to get them there with the full transcript and subtitles and some of the responses to the questions to coming in. So thank you very much for your participation today. We are back next week for a Think Tank around domestic violence and violence against women. So please join us for that one. You'll see that promoted this week.

Thank you again, Daryl, Douglas and Brooke. And we hope to see you again in future Think Tanks. Thank you.

These are extraordinary times, the presence of COVID-19 means that each and every one of us, each and every one of us is facing our toughest ever opposition, although we stand apart if we work together as a team, as a team, and play by the rules, and play by the rules, we'll soon get back to playing and watching the sport that we love. We need your support now more than ever, more than ever. Wash your hands and listen to the advice. If we play by the rules, we'll all get through this together.