Keeping Children Safe in Sport: A Summary

December 14, 2018

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Executive Summary
Royal Commission Report
In December 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (“Commission”) published their Final Report (“Report”), detailing findings of a four-year investigation into institutional abuse against children. Relevantly, the Commission examined abuse against children in the sport and recreation sector and provided recommendations on how to develop an environment and culture of safety to prevent abuse against children from occurring in any form.
The following information is an overview of the findings of the Report, and summarise the best ways in which institutions can operate to minimise the risk and subsequent effects of child sexual abuse and child abuse in the sports sector.
Nature and Type of Abuse
Child abuse and child sexual abuse occurs in many forms and each experience is individual to the unique circumstances of the child or young person.
However, the Commission identified the following risk factors that are unique to sports and recreation institutes:
• grooming: including coaching relationships through which perpetrators exploit power and authority; erosion of interpersonal boundaries; inappropriate materials proffered to children; targeting vulnerability; and valuing performance and results over the safety of children.
• social and cultural factors: normalised violence and harassment in sports; normalised sexual cultures in some aspects of sport, such as dance; valuing adults over children because of the results adults bring to the sport; and greater levels of involvement of some children.
There are many devastating effects of child sexual abuse and child abuse on children, including disengagement; irretrievable damage to passion and enthusiasm for sport; isolation from peers and sports communities; mental and emotional health issues; problems with interpersonal relationships; traumatic effects on families, carers and others; and economic and educational effects on the child.
Creating Child Safe Environments in Sport and Recreation
The Report recommends the implementation of 10 Child Safe Standards, developed in response to concerns of the abilities of institutions to identify and respond to allegations or complaints.
The Commission supports the implementation of the following Standards through independent oversight, with an aim to facilitate the provision of services to children:
The Standards are:
• Standard 1: Child safety is embedded in institutional leadership, governance and culture;
• Standard 2: Children participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously;
• Standard 3: Families and communities are informed and involved;
• Standard 4: Equity is upheld, and diverse needs are taken into account;
• Standard 5: People working with children are suitable and supported;
• Standard 6: Processes to respond to complaints of child sexual abuse are child focused;
• Standard 7: Staff are equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to keep children safe through continual education and training;
• Standard 8: Physical and online environments minimise the opportunity for abuse to occur;
• Standard 9: Implementation of the Child Safe Standards is continuously reviewed and improved; and
• Standard 10: Policies and procedures document how the institution is child safe.
What Can Institutions Do to Protect Children?
The most important thing for institutions to do is to create an environment which is child-focused, and encourages the development and continued review of policies and practices which encourage external reporting, recordkeeping and information sharing which is timely, economical and handled sensitively. The Commission recommends that institutions receive external support, guidance and training to achieve these goals so that institutions are not overburdened.
Making and receiving reports
Reporting to external authorities
The Commission firmly believes that suspected crimes should be reported to police. Reporting should be done as a matter of morality and ethics, rather than simply reporting as a legal obligation. This is to encourage a cultural change and a view that child sexual abuse in any capacity is unethical and unacceptable. The Commission recommends that any adult who is aware of, or suspects abuse, should report the matter to police.
Child-focused complaints process
The Commission recommends that there be clear, accessible and child-focused complaint handling policies and procedures that set out how institutions ought to respond to complaints of abuse, including appropriate contact information and referrals, linking complaints and others to organisations or personnel who would be able to assist in complaints-handling and the management of sensitive information.
Codes of conduct
The Report recommends that all sport and recreational institutions have a code of conduct for staff, volunteers, parents and carers to:
•  identify and understand concerning or unacceptable behaviour;
• understand their responsibility to raise and report concerns;
• foster a culture that encourages and expects reporting;
• handle complaints sensitively, fairly and responsibly; and
• provide ongoing training and support to those involved.
Recording and sharing information
The Commission encourages all institutions to create and maintain accurate and ongoing records which identify, respond to and prevent child sexual abuse and child abuse.
The Commission recommends the following:
• creating and keeping full and accurate records relevant to child safety and wellbeing, including child sexual abuse, is in the best interests of children and should be an integral part of institutional leadership, governance and culture;
• full and accurate records should be created about all incidents, responses and decisions affecting child safety and wellbeing, including child sexual abuse; • records relevant to child safety and wellbeing, including child sexual abuse, should only be disposed of in accordance with law or policy;
• individuals’ existing rights to access, amend or annotate records about themselves should be recognised to the fullest extent; and
• records relevant to child safety and wellbeing, including child sexual abuse, should be maintained appropriately.
Finally, The Commission recommends the implementation of a nationally consistent information exchange scheme for intra-jurisdictional and inter-jurisdictional sharing of information related to the safety and wellbeing of children, including information relevant to abuse in institutional contexts.
The above recommendations should work to create a positive institutional culture where the importance of information sharing, reporting, transparency and personal accountability is recognised by institutions, their staff and employees and volunteers.
For a full analysis of the report, please contact our office for a pdf version on (03) 9642 0435 or email