CBC Fremantle | In Touch

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Following on from Mr Burgio's wisdom and levity in school communications is not a task I relish, particularly as my message today may be confronting for some among us. However, child safety is at the forefront of everything that we do at CBC Fremantle, and the information contained in this newsletter is important for all of our families.

Given the history of the Catholic Church and the abuse of children in its care, there can be no greater cause for us as a Catholic school than to do everything possible to ensure the safety of our students. The greatest danger that can befall any school is to assume child abuse only happened in the past. Part of my role as the Vice Principal is to ensure that we work together to build the capacity of everyone in our community around child safety and child safe practices.

In 2013, the Australian Government established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This became the longest-running public inquiry in Australia's history, and the findings, which were released in December of 2017, were damning, naming the generations of abuse a 'national tragedy'.  As a result, a new and welcome era of child safety emerged in education. Schools and their governing bodies across the country adopted stringent policies, standards and frameworks to ensure the crimes of the past are never repeated. Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) committed to broad and deep personnel and policy structure around child safety which have been implemented by its schools.

One of the commitments we make on enrolment at CBC is that your son will be safe and feel safe. All of our child safety practices exist to ensure the most vulnerable of our boys are protected, and we continue to adopt and develop child safety initiatives for this purpose. Our staff undertake training in child safeguarding and parents are invited to information evenings. Our students engage in the Keeping Safe: Child Protection Curriculum which is integrated into many learning areas and our extended Mentor periods. Also, as part of The Rite Journey, while participating in the Abyss at Bindoon, Year 9 students engage in a reflective session that addresses the historical abuse in Christian Brothers' ministries. These conversations provide our students with information and understanding to enable them to be able to voice any behaviour they may be uncomfortable with, and encourage open and honest discussion should the need arise.

 "There are simple steps we can all take: open and non-judgemental conversations, filters and safe search options, privacy settings, digital device contracts, role modelling, and working together cooperatively as a community to prioritise child safety."

At the front of our College there is a water feature you may have seen, which is located down the steps on your right as you come through the gates. On it is etched the apology issued by EREA in 2017 acknowledging the ongoing pain and trauma caused by child sexual abuse. All students and staff visit the water feature on induction into the CBC community to remember victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and commit to a culture that champions child safety.

Earlier this week, Ms Maria Garbin and I were fortunate to be invited to the EREA Child Safeguarding Conference in Melbourne, which is a significant annual event attended by many delegates nationwide. While substantial changes have been made in schools to protect children since the Royal Commission, the kinds of risks that students face have also changed and the conference focused on these risks.

During the global pandemic, 1.5 billion children were unable to attend school in person and moved to an online environment for their learning. This transition into cyberspace was outside of the usual school firewalls and security settings, and sadly saw a dangerous rise in harmful online behaviours such as image-based abuse, insult tagging, cyber-ostracism, negative bystander behaviour, catfishing and impersonation, grooming and unwanted contact, extortion and blackmailing, scamming, stalking, problematic gaming and exposure to pornography. In Australia, there was a massive 340% increase in complaints to the eSafety commissioner, a 200% increase in posts on child abuse forums and a huge rise in image-based abuse. This should not become the new normal.

CBC and all EREA schools have a reporting mechanism for historical child abuse as Mr Burgio stated in a previous edition of Touchstone. In the modern world, abusers are one step in front of the law-makers and our role in schools has shifted to incorporate prevention of abuse online by educating parents and students. There are simple steps we can all take: open and non-judgemental conversations, filters and safe search options, privacy settings, digital device contracts, role modelling, and working together cooperatively as a community to prioritise child safety. Educating ourselves and our children early and often on how to use the internet and social media platforms in a beneficial way, and how to avoid the dangers that lurk therein, is our role as parents and educators. 'I didn't know' won't protect our young people from abuse.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Royal Commission's 409 recommendations is that we must listen to children. At CBC this term, we are creating a Student Safety Council where students will have the opportunity to raise questions, present ideas and discuss issues that concern them around child safety, particularly around the online environment.

In honour and respect for those who have suffered and survived abuse, and for those who will suffer it in the future, we cannot take our attention away from child safety.

Ms Jenny Knox
Vice Principal – Mission and Identity

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