Harmony Week, running from Monday 21 to Sunday 27 March, celebrates Australia’s exciting and diverse cultural reality. It looks to promote inclusiveness, respect and belonging for all Australians, regardless of cultural or linguistic background, and unity around a core set of values – from the traditional owners of the land to those who have come from around the world to make Australia their home.​ Our diversity is one of our greatest strengths and Harmony Week celebrates this.

The week is also an opportune time, as the Professional Standards Unit (PSU) writes below, to reflect on how we reach out and engage with families and children from diverse communities to build culturally safe environments that foster trust and inclusion.

A snapshot of our cultural diversity

  • Nearly half (49 per cent) of Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was.
  • We identify with over 300 ancestries.
  • Since 1945, more than 7.5 million people have migrated to Australia.
  • 85 per cent of Australians agree multiculturalism has been good for Australia.
  • Apart from English, the most common languages spoken in Australia are Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek, Tagalog/Filipino, Hindi, Spanish and Punjabi.
  • More than 70 Indigenous languages are spoken in Australia.

Harmony Week is community-focussed

Our vibrant parishes nicely reflect Australia’s cultural diversity, being made up of generations of migrants, some new and some that are decades old. Sadly, many have experienced extreme hardship in their home countries, in their journey to Australia and in the migration process.

In the modern era, we have become all too aware of the ways in which intergenerational cultural trauma impacts children. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, racially discriminatory government policies which resulted in the Stolen Generation have had a profound and lasting impact. For refugee communities, the struggles involved in migrating to Australia, which include adapting to a new culture and disconnection from family and friends, is a cultural trauma of its own. The impact of these experiences can have lifelong implications.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that ‘Aboriginal children may be less likely to disclose abuse due to a lack of cultural safety and a fear of authorities intruding into their family and community, based on historic experiences of systemic racism and abuse’. Therefore, additional attention to cultural safety and close engagement with communities are necessary.

How is Harmony Week related to Child Safeguarding?

The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne is committed to honouring the trust that has been placed in our parishes, agencies and entities and to supporting the crucial partnership with parents and guardians that serves to strengthen the safety of children and young people.

The Archdiocese has made the following commitments to:

  • Provide information that is visible to parents and guardians about child safeguarding policies and procedures including reporting procedures (e.g. via our website, noticeboard, newsletters, registration/permission forms).
  • Listen to and engage with the views of parents and guardians about our child-safety practice, policies and procedures and working collaboratively.
  • Work in partnership with families and the community to ensure that they are engaged in decision-making processes, particularly those that have an impact on child safety and protection.
  • Be transparent in our decision-making about the safety of children or young people.
  • Provide age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate information and resources to support parents and guardians to communicate with their children about child safety.
  • Take seriously any concerns, allegations or complaints and provide support and information as we deal with these matters while communicating honestly and openly with parents and guardians about the wellbeing and safety of their children and young people.

The National Catholic Safeguarding Standards ask us to contemplate how the promotion of cultural safety for children from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds occurs in parishes and entities.

  • Standard 3: Partnering with families, carers and communities
    Families, carers and communities are informed and involved in promoting child safeguarding and wellbeing.
  • Standard 4: Equity is promoted and diversity is respected
    Equity is upheld and diverse needs respected in policy and practice.

Let’s focus on our diverse parish communities

What these standards highlight is that parents and carers are critical partners in promoting the safety of children and young people. By reaching out and engaging with families and children from diverse communities, in turn we are building culturally safe environments that foster trust and inclusion. These connections to community support systems and networks have been shown to be a protective factor for child protection.

Conducting a “Cultural Safety Health Check”

Harmony Week is an opportunity to reflect on how inclusive we really are when it comes to child safeguarding. Doing a “Cultural Safety Health Check” is one way to assess how well we are including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and diverse communities in keeping children safe in our parishes.

Take time to reflect on the following and collectively discuss your assessment. How are we doing? What more can be done?

Are we:

  • Actively promoting our “zero tolerance” to racism and discrimination in our parish? How?
  • Reinforcing the importance of our diverse communities participating in our safeguarding efforts? Could we do more?
  • Do we identify and include faith leaders from our migrant populations to assist us to reach and involve parents and carers in child safeguarding? If so how? If not, what are the barriers?
  • Ensuring that our diverse cultures have access to the English or translated Safeguarding policies and procedures?
  • Acknowledging the contribution of our diverse cultural communities and individuals to keeping children safe in our parish?
  • Confident that the diverse communities in our parish are aware of the Safeguarding Children and Young People Code of Conduct, the complaints handling process, the names of Safeguarding Committee members and the parish office contact number?
  • Providing relevant Safeguarding information from the Safeguarding Committee in ways that are accessible and understood by our diverse communities?
  • Confident that our parish mechanisms for communicating with parents and carers from migrant backgrounds on Child Safeguarding are effective? How do you know?
  • Providing child-friendly material in accessible languages and formats that promote inclusion targeting children and young people?

If you would like to share your good work in including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and diverse communities in Child Safeguarding, please reach out to your Safeguarding Officer in the Professional Standards Unit.

For more information and resources to celebrate Harmony Week 2022, please visit www.harmony.gov.au.