A Commission of Inquiry (Commission) is underway in Tasmania to investigate how the Tasmanian Government could better protect children against child sexual abuse in government institutional contexts – Department of Education, Department of Communities (children growing up in Out of Home Care (OOHC) and incarcerated at Ashley Youth Detention Centre), and the Tasmania Health Service.
The Commission is generating interest from the media relevant sectors leading to horrific stories of childhood abuse that occurred while children were in the care of these government departments that continues to devastate individuals and families.
Reading these stories is heart breaking and can feel hopeless, so, as Christians, how do we respond?
This Commission (just like the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse) shows the need for systems that thoroughly check individuals wanting to work and/or volunteer with children and young people AND the need for systems that regularly check that children are being cared for and their voices being listened to. The Commissions show the need to,
· Listen to children and believe their truth
· Act on the advice and ideas of children in the design of systems there to care for them, and
· Ensure all people (paid and volunteer) working with children to understand the importance of child safe training.
Specifically, in the OOHC sector, we need more child safety officers, more foster carers, more respite carers, more mentors – we need to ensure every child in care has sufficient adults around them caring and advocating for them.
The Order by the Tasmanian Governor to establish the Commission starts with, Whereas all children deserve a safe and happy childhood. This value underpins the work of Fostering Hope, every child deserves to be a kid, it is a time of life that can’t be repeated, and it shapes how we enter adulthood in every way.
For children removed from their families of birth, they already have vulnerabilities, trauma, broken attachments, that mean they are more susceptible to being abused or taken advantage of and are less able to protect themselves. Every child in care has suffered at least one broken attachment, but it is not uncommon to have suffered multiple, and their ability to then attach safely or know what a safe attachment isn’t there. Children in care often receive mixed messages about which adults are safe and unsafe. All these factors combined make them vulnerable to being taken advantage of, tend toward making poor choices, increasing possibility of being ostracised from friendship groups, school, and safe people – all this potentially further reinforces a negative self-identity and worth.
As Christians we are called to care for the vulnerable, the orphan, the fatherless AND to protect all children. The children the Commission is seeking to protect aren’t children growing up on the other side of the world, they are children in our suburbs, at our schools, and interacting with each of us.
The OOHC sector needs more foster carers, more respite carers, more mentors, and more people willing to come alongside people opening their homes to children growing up in care. Carers need their churches and communities to understand the impacts of trauma, broken attachments and to put particular supports in place for children in care and their carers.
I may be dreaming, but wouldn’t it be amazing if Christians in Tasmania rose up to meet this need, churches became places that cherished and cared for all children, offered hope where there was darkness, families were restored, foster and kinship carers were celebrated, and were safe for everyone. The dark stories being shared as part of the Commission could be replaced with stories of abundant hope and light.