National Child Protection Week (NCPW) runs from 5 to 11 September 2021. This year the theme is Every child, in every community, needs a fair go. In the lead-up to NCPW, we take a look at some of the great work going on in just a couple of parishes in the Archdiocese of Melbourne so that others can be inspired to take up similar initiatives.

St Joseph's Parish, South Yarra

Sometimes, certain ways of thinking and doing things become so entrenched that changing them becomes a real struggle. This can even be the case when it comes to creating a culture of safety for children. Aimee Helleren has been the Business Manager for St Joseph's Parish, South Yarra, for two years, and in that time she has done everything in her power to create an organised process for volunteers.

One of the challenges she faced was the informal mentality with which people approached volunteering. The process of volunteering ‘has been informal for so long,’ she said, and people were quite resistant to taking a more business-minded approach.

‘People say, “We’re not a business, we’re a church.” But we need to take a business approach to this because we’re talking about people’s lives.’

Part of this business-minded approach to children’s safety is ensuring the parish has the necessary data on each of their volunteers. In order for this to happen, Aimee created a more streamlined process by which volunteers are inducted. What this involves, first of all, is the volunteer filling out an expression of interest form so that the parish has a record of volunteers. Then, once a volunteer’s details have been submitted to the safeguarding database, they must sign and return a Code of Conduct from and apply for a Working with Children Check.

Additionally, once a year, a Code of Conduct form is sent out to every parishioner and volunteer with a signature attached so that people become aware that children’s safety is everyone’s concern and not just that of volunteers.

‘I come from the commercial world,’ Aimee said, ‘so it’s all about collecting quality data.’ In fact, Aimee has previously worked as both a lawyer and a parole officer.

‘I know how important it is to have this kind of stuff in place … I can take comfort in knowing I’ve done my due diligence. We’re well placed with where we’re at with safeguarding.’

Every year during Child Protection Week, Aimee ensures that a resource card is sent out to all of the parishioners as well in order to ‘generate a conversation and remind people we’re always talking about safeguarding.’

Nazareth Parish, Grovedale, Anglesea and Torquay

Rodney Dearing works in Finance and Administration for Nazareth Parish, a parish encompassing three churches: Nazareth Church, Grovedale; St Therese Church, Torquay; and St Christopher’s, Anglesea. There are also four Catholic schools that come under the parish umbrella.

One of the problems Rodney encountered, much like Aimee Helleren, was an attitude that saw children’s safety as being the concern of only a few people, rather than everyone.

‘We felt that child safety was seen as something that the committee looked after and that all the volunteers had to do was make sure they had a current Working with Children Check.’

Instead, there needed to be a change of focus whereby ‘volunteers understood that child safety needed to be embedded in everything that happened in the parish and that they were all part of making that happen.’

After a 2020 audit of all parish activities, using the Child Safety Self-Assessment tool provided by the Archdiocese, Nazareth Parish has now ensured that all volunteers receive education and instruction in regard to safeguarding, the nature of child abuse, and the parish’s commitment to the well-being of children, young adults, and even vulnerable adults. Part of this process also involves making sure volunteers sign the parish Code of Conduct declaration.

Nazareth Parish is also undergoing a ‘relaunch’ of its safeguarding program. Instead of going the traditional route of bulletin notices, meeting groups and announcements during Mass, they have instead developed a video that will be made available through their parish website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. This video aims to accomplish a number of things:

  1. share with parishioners what has been achieved over the last four years
  2. show their parish priest talking about their commitment to safeguarding and signing the parish Code of Conduct declaration
  3. introduce the members of their safeguarding committee
  4. explain what has changed since the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards
  5. let the parishioners know what is going to be happening in the coming weeks.

In addition to this, there will be parish meeting groups and discussions after Mass. The thought behind this video, Rodney said, was that it was a ‘communication strategy that was more likely to attract parishioners’ attention’.

This video will be made available to watch in the week commencing 30 August 2021.

For more resources on how to build a culture of safety in your local parish, visit the Safeguarding section.