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This arrangement of Standard # 6 is offered here by the editor of LOOKOUT for discussion purposes. Number  6  is chosen because it deals with the actual response to a complaint. The question arises whether the items, particularly those set out in 6.4, are adequate and whether care for the child victim is given due priority. 

Standard 6: Effective complaints management

Processes for raising concerns and complaints are responsive, understood, accessible and used by children, families, carers, communities and Church personnel

6.1 The Church entity has a child-focused complaint-handling system that is understood by children, families, carers and Church personnel.

6.1.1 The Church entity has a complaints management system that is publicly available, accessible, age appropriate and child friendly.

The Church entity’s complaint management procedures:

▪ advise children, families, carers and Church personnel who to talk to if they have a concern or complaint;

▪ treat all concerns and complaints seriously and respond promptly and appropriately; ▪ provide for regular feedback to the complainant, particularly parents and carers, on the progress or outcome of the complaint, including remediation actions or resolutions, as required;

▪ support an open culture that supports safe disclosure of risks of harm to children; and

▪ are provided in accessible, age-appropriate and meaningful formats to children, families and carers, mindful of their diverse characteristics, cultural backgrounds and abilities.

The Church entity:

▪ offers a variety of avenues for children to make complaints; and

▪ provides information publicly about its complaint-handling process, including how to make a complaint and what to expect as part of the process.

6.2 The Church entity has an effective complaint-handling policy and procedure which clearly outlines roles and responsibilities, approaches to dealing with different types of complaints and obligations to act and report, including record keeping requirements.

6.2.1 There are clear procedures in the Church entity that provide step-by-step guidance on what action to take if there are allegations or suspicions of abuse of a child, be they historic or current.

The Church entity’s complaint-handling policy includes:

▪ ensuring that children are consulted and have input into the design of the complaints process;

▪ approaches to dealing with different types of complaints, including concerns, suspicions, disclosures, allegations and breaches;

▪ links to the Code of Conduct and definitions of various forms of abuse; ▪ actions to be taken where the subject of a complaint is a member of Church personnel, parent or carer, another child or person otherwise associated with the Church entity;

▪ detailed guidance on how to respond to complaints, including:

o methods for responding to the complaint;

o methods for investigating the complaint, including cooperation with investigating authorities;

o communication, referral and support mechanisms for Church personnel, children and their parents or carers;

▪ steps for reporting externally as required by law;

▪ approaches to dealing with complaints where a child may have caused abuse-related harm to another child;

▪ specific procedures for complaints by adult survivors of alleged child abuse;

▪ a clear commitment that no one will be penalised or suffer adverse consequences for making a complaint; and

▪ methods to capture feedback, lessons learned and systematic improvements following a complaint.

The complaints policy and procedures are consistent with relevant legislation such as reportable conduct, mandatory reporting, failure to protect and failure to report and are regularly updated for changes in the law.

The complaints procedures include:

▪ clear timescales for action and resolution of complaints;

▪ ensuring relevant people are kept informed of the progress, outcomes and resolution of the complaint; and

▪ contact details for relevant local authorities such as Police, Child Exploitation Units, Child Protection Services and Children’s Guardian/Commissioners.

6.2.2 A process is in place to record all complaints, incidents, allegations, suspicions and referrals. The system must be secure so that confidential information is stored, protected and retained indefinitely.

▪ The Church entity has processes in place for appropriate record keeping, including:

o creating and keeping full and accurate records relevant to any alleged abuse;

o creating and keeping full and accurate records in relation to incidents, responses and decisions affecting child safety, including any incidents of grooming, inappropriate behaviour or breaches of Code of Conduct;

o maintaining all records in an indexed, logical and secure manner, with associated records cross-referenced to ensure all personnel using the records are aware of all relevant information;

o protection of confidential information, including security and access to records;

o minimum retention periods to allow for delayed disclosure of abuse by complainants; and

o recognition of individuals’ rights to access, amend or annotate records relating to them unless contrary to the law.

Refer to Indicator 1.5 for further details in relation to record keeping

6.3 Complaints are taken seriously, responded to promptly and thoroughly and meet all reporting, privacy, employment and canon law obligations.

6.3.1 The complaints policy requires that, upon receiving a complaint of child abuse, an initial risk assessment is conducted to identify and minimise any risk to children.

▪ The Church entity has a formal process for assessing and documenting the level of risk once a complaint is made.

▪ Safeguards to mitigate any potential risks are implemented, documented and monitored to ensure the safeguards operate consistently and continuously until the complaint is resolved.

▪ The risk assessment is conducted by competent, appropriate persons independent of the complainant or respondent.

▪ The complaints policy and process address any actual or perceived conflicts of interest that may arise in relation to allegations of child abuse and extends to all individuals who have a role in addressing complaints.

6.3.2 The complaints policy requires that, if a complaint of child abuse against a person in religious or pastoral ministry is plausible, and there is a risk that the person may come into contact with children in the course of their current ministry, the person be stood down from ministry while the complaint is investigated.

▪ Any clergy or religious against whom a complaint of child abuse has been substantiated on the balance of probabilities or who is convicted of an offence relating to child abuse should be permanently removed from ministry.

▪ Bishops, Provincials/Leaders or Superiors take all necessary steps to prohibit effectively the person from in any way holding himself or herself out as being a person with religious authority.

▪ The standard of proof that a Church entity applies when deciding whether a complaint of child abuse has been substantiated is the balance of probabilities.

6.4 The Church Authority ensures mechanisms are in place to care for all complainants.

6.4.1 Information, support and care is provided to those who have experienced or are alleging abuse.

▪ The Church Authority offers appropriate pastoral care to complainants which recognises their unique needs. This should include an offer from the Church Authority to meet the complainant in person.

▪ The Church entity works in cooperation with relevant statutory bodies to respond to the complaint.

▪ The Church entity, where appropriate, ensures that complainants and survivors have access to support services.

6.5 The Church Authority ensures mechanisms are in place to support respondents facing allegations.

6.5.1 Appropriate support is provided to respondents facing complaints to promote resolution in a manner which does not compromise children’s safety.

▪ The Church Authority has arrangements in place to inform the respondent that an allegation has been received about them and has a procedure for deciding whether an interim management plan needs to be put in place for the respondent.

▪ The Church Authority has appropriate processes in place to support respondents while investigations are under way.

▪ The Church Authority has access to appropriately trained personnel – lay, religious or clergy – whose clearly defined role is to listen to and represent the pastoral needs of the respondent. This is done in consultation with the respondent.

▪ When statutory authority investigations and assessments have been completed, the Church Authority resumes the preliminary investigation and/or collects the proofs as provided for in Canon 1717 (1)-(3)(clergy) and Canon 695 (non-ordained religious).

▪ The Church Authority has suitable arrangements in place for the monitoring of a respondent where there is a case to answer, until and if the Bishop, Provincial, Leader or Superior no longer has responsibility for monitoring the respondent.

6.5.2 The Church Authority ensures that where clergy or religious respondents are stood down (in accordance with 6.3.2), processes are in place to provide appropriate support.

The Church Authority has documented procedures that addresses the approach to support respondents who are stood down, including:

▪ appointing a support person or advocate for the respondent;

▪ ensuring that the respondent has appropriate and secure housing where applicable until such time that a finding is determined;

▪ engagement of the respondent in non-child related work or study;

▪ access to Canon and Civil legal advice,

▪ access to psychological, medical or other professional support services.