Royal Commission report on child abuse – implications for the Jewish community

At our annual conference on 26 November 2017, the ECAJ adopted a detailed policy concerning Child Sexual Abuse, with the backing of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Task Force on Child Protection. That policy can be accessed here.

In March, ECAJ President Anton Block announced the formation of a national working group “to determine what action the ECAJ, its constituent and affiliate bodies and other Jewish organisations should take in the wake of the recent Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child sexual abuse”.

Now, the ECAJ’s National Working Group has recommended that the ECAJ do three things:

  • Once the National Redress Scheme legislation is passed, issue to Jewish organisations around the country which work with children a ‘Briefing Note and Request for Response’ addressing their participation in the National Redress Scheme, their state of compliance with child protection laws, their compliance with the specific recommendation of the Royal Commission relating to Jewish institutions and the issuing of an apology for past wrongs.
  • Arrange a panel of government and other expert later in the year to bring these issues forward for the Jewish community’s knowledge and on-going community education.
  • Offer to work with each of the three Jewish organisations which were specifically identified in the Royal Commission’s report for their historic failings in relation to child protection, in consultation with survivors, as they consider all appropriate action to right past wrongs, including their decision whether to join the National Redress Scheme and issue a public apology.”

Q&A

The following is a question and answer about the ECAJ’s position on the National Redress Scheme for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, updates from the ECAJ’s National Working Group, and our response to other developments since the Royal Commission’s final report was released:

1. What is ECAJ’s position on the National Redress Scheme for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse coming into effect in all Australian states on July 1, 2018, and most of the Royal Commission’s 122 recommendations being adopted by the Australian Government?

The ECAJ and all of its constituent organisations welcomed the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released on 15 December 2017. The ECAJ has long recognised that the Inquiry, its public hearings, findings and recommendations have been of seminal ongoing importance for the whole of Australian society. The ECAJ called on all Australians and institutions to take notice of the recommendations in the Final Report, and fully supports the adoption by the Australian Government of the 122 recommendations in the Final Report. It has called upon all Jewish community organisations to pay special regard to recommendation 16.30, and base all their practices of child protection on the explicit recognition that halachic concepts of mesirah, moser and loshen hora do not apply to the obligation to communicate and report allegations of child sexual abuse, which must be made to the police and the civil authorities.

In addition, the ECAJ and its constituent organisations have strongly welcomed and fully support the Australian Government’s National Redress Scheme for people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse and its significant and major objective to institute a system of redress. The ECAJ has established a National Working Group to work with all relevant organisations in the Jewish community to determine what action the ECAJ, its constituent and affiliate bodies and other Jewish organisations should take in the wake of the final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child sexual abuse and the announcement of the National Redress scheme. We have liaised with the Jewish survivor group, Tzedek.

2. Please provide a brief update summary of developments, and any actions taken so far, by ECAJ’s National Working Group, formed to determine what action the ECAJ, its constituent and affiliate bodies and other Jewish organisations should take in the wake of the recent Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child sexual abuse.

In recent years, the ECAJ, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and Rabbi Mendel Kastel of Jewish House have done much good work to address the systemic failings that were highlighted in the Royal Commission hearings. This has included workshops and training seminars for both decision makers and staff, and accreditation with recognised government agencies for policies and practices. Nothing short of protection at all times for children in the care of Jewish organisations is acceptable. Improvements in policies and practices have begun to bring about changes in attitudes and culture so as to ensure that any information about a possible incident of abuse is reported to the authorities immediately, and that there is total community and organisational backing for victims, their families and supporters. The ECAJ commends Jewish Care Victoria for its decisive leadership in joining the National Redress Scheme.

The ECAJ through its National Working Group, mindful that the legislation establishing the scheme is still before the Federal Parliament, is finalising a “Briefing Note and Request for Response” to be sent by the ECAJ to Jewish organisations around the country which work with children. The “Briefing Note and Request for Response” will be sent as soon as the current Bill is passed by Parliament. The issues we are working on for the “Briefing Note and Request for Response” include:

  • Encouraging each such organisation to participate in the National Redress Scheme to deal with any historic claims of child sexual abuse that are made against it. This is of special relevance to the Jewish organisations identified in the Royal Commission’s hearings, investigations and final Report.
  • Seeking confirmation from the organisation that it has in place clear and fully documented and understood child protection policies and processes for implementation, which comply with legal and regulatory standards, including a process for conducting regular external, independent compliance audits; and in particular providing support and counselling for victims of abuse and their families. In addition, relevant peak bodies in the States and Territories will be requested to provide ongoing education, workshops and training for staff, paid and volunteer, in organisations which work with children, and to build on the excellent work already undertaken and to ensure that on an ongoing basis those working with children are kept apprised of their legal responsibilities and ways to meet them.
  • Seeking specific confirmation from the organisation that its “complaint handling policies explicitly state that the halachic (Jewish religious law) concepts of mesirah, moser and loshon horo do not apply to the communication and reporting of allegations of child sexual abuse to police and other civil authorities”, as recommended by the Royal Commission in its final report.
  • In the case of Yeshivah Melbourne, Adass Israel School Inc, and Yeshiva Sydney, call on each organisation to publish an apology to survivors for failing to protect them from abuse, failing to act on complaints of abuse, and other matters that have emerged from the Royal Commission hearings and other legal proceedings. The ECAJ notes with concern that each of these three Jewish organisations, which were specifically identified in the Royal Commission’s report for their historic failings in relation to child protection, are not affiliated with the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies or the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and, as such, do not have any formal links with the ECAJ. Despite this, we offer our full support to these organisations in consultation with survivors as they consider all appropriate action to right past wrongs, including their decision whether to join the National Redress Scheme.

3. Does ECAJ’s National Working Group hope, and expect, that all Jewish communal organisations involved in the care or supervision of children sign up to the National Redress Scheme? And so far, have as many of these organisations committed to joining the scheme as ECAJ would have hoped for by this stage, with the National Redress Scheme commencing on July 1, 2018?

The ECAJ has welcomed the National Redress scheme, and has attended government briefings about the redress scheme and has now written to key officials in the DSS asking for an official outline of the responsibilities of a lone Non-Government Institution (NGI) which subscribes to the National Redress Scheme.

It must be recognised that the National Redress Scheme Bill and Rules are complex instruments. The major Churches, for example, each engaged teams of lawyers to advise them about whether to opt into the scheme before doing so. For an NGI considering whether to opt in to the Scheme as a lone institution, some official guidance would be useful, before it seeks legal advice. It would be especially useful for the ECAJ in calling on relevant institutions in the Jewish community to participate in the Scheme.

The ECAJ will actively encourage all relevant Jewish organisations to opt into the Scheme, subject to their own legal advice, and will seek the provision of information from the government to facilitate their opting in. The ECAJ, while a roof body, exercises no control over other organisations, or over members of the community. Its role is coordination by consensus and it usually arrives at positions as a result of input from its constituent and affiliate organisations and the organisations and communities they represent, some 200 Jewish organisations across Australia. It is on this basis that the ECAJ offers the community leadership and advice which is generally followed.

4. Does ECAJ welcome Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement of a National Apology to survivors of child sexual abuse to be held on October 22 this year?

The ECAJ strongly welcomes Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement of a National Apology to survivors of child sexual abuse. It would be expected that relevant Jewish institutions will have previously published their apology to survivors of child sexual abuse and the Jewish peak bodies will endorse the Prime Minister’s official apology.

Additional information

Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass, as Chair of the ECAJ National Working Group, met with the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Task Force established to respond to the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Representatives from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Department of Justice, Department of Families and Community Services and the NSW Children’s Guardian were at the meeting and updated her about the NSW Government’s approach to responding to the Final Report of the Royal Commission and the details of the National Redress Scheme. Professor Cass informed the meeting about the ongoing work and future plans for child protection being undertaken by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Task Force on Child Protection and the ECAJ National Working Group established to develop a nation-wide response in the Jewish community to the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The meeting was extremely positive and discussion ensued about arranging a Panel of government and other experts later in the year to assist the Jewish community’s knowledge about the National Redress Scheme, and related issues, and for on-going community education.