The statement refers to a letter which the JCCV apparently wrote to BSHC in December questioning the quality of BSHC’s Child Protection Policy. The JCCV appears to have then forwarded that letter to The Age, who referred to it in an article on 31 December 2021.
In a stunning reversal of its initial position, the JCCV now claims the letter was 'written in error'. It now asserts that 'BSHC has a strong child protection policy in place'. Similarly, BSHC states that 'having again reviewed our Child Protection Policy and procedures, we are able to confirm that they are of the highest quality'. Neither the JCCV nor BSHC provide any evidence of the Policy having been independently reviewed by experts in the field and it is unclear on what basis they now claim the policy is 'strong'.
In December, VoiCSA engaged an independent consultancy firm with expertise in child protection to audit BSHC’s full suite of Child Protection documents. The audit (below), conducted by Ms Andrea O'Byrne (formerly the Deputy Regional Director with the Department of Human Services when the Victorian Child Safe standards were developed), found that BSHC’s documents only 'partially met' each of the seven Child Safe Standards and identified numerous areas of concern.
Late last year, multiple allegations of serious misconduct were made against former Mount Scopus Memorial College long-time director of student development, Mr Jared Alford, who VoiCSA understands is a member of BSHC and had been engaged as a volunteer at the synagogue. The allegations relate to his conduct while employed at Mount Scopus and independent of his involvement with BSHC.
VoiCSA wrote to BSHC on two occasions in December (below) and reminded them of their obligations in connection with the allegations, including under Victoria’s Reportable Conduct Scheme and the recently introduced Failure to Protect offence.
VoiCSA also highlighted potential historical breaches by BSHC of the Child Safe Standards, which may not have had a Child Protection Policy in place until September 2021, despite this being mandated since 2016. VoiCSA also noted the absence of a policy specifically dealing with Persons of Concern and the real possibility of victims/survivors or their families having to face the accused in synagogue. We suggested that BSHC may benefit from engaging an independent and internationally recognised organisation such as Child Wise to assist with compliance with the Standards, which are set to become more onerous in July 2022.
The report commissioned by VoiCSA also includes Incident Recommendations (below), which describes what would be a best practice response by BSHC in the situation. Disappointingly, the response to date has been completely inadequate. We specifically note that Ms O'Byrne has stated that BSHC 'have not created a child safe environment to sufficiently encourage safe disclosure of past or current allegations from any incident involving any congregant'.
Please see the additional material below.
"A Child Protection Policy is an important element of child safety within institutions. We understand that BSHC may not have had a policy until September 2021 and may have been operating in breach of the law for an extended period. That is unacceptable for any institution, particularly a prominent Melbourne synagogue following the 2015 Royal Commission. Further, we are concerned that the current policy may not meet the requirements based on the findings of an independent audit.
"When an incident occurs, it is an opportunity for institutions to assess their policies and see what can be improved. Regrettably, what we have seen from BSHC is the all too familiar attitude of seeking to protect and defend the institution at first instance.
"The only communication from BSHC since the allegations surfaced has been a response to the article in The Age sent to its members on 31 December 2021. In that letter, the shule noted that 'the person against whom the allegations have been made has kindly volunteered not to attend shule during the course of the investigation'. It also warned against 'media speculation' and 'harmful gossip'.
"This type of language is almost identical to that which was exposed at the Royal Commission and is completely inconsistent with a culture of child safety. VoiCSA was contacted by past and present members of BSHC who were appalled by this response. It is disappointing that the JCCV did not publicly condemn this language.
"Indeed, today's JCCV u-turn is both shocking and extremely concerning. As has been clearly highlighted by an independent and internationally recognised child protection expert, Ms Andrea O'Byrne, BSHC does not fully meet the seven Child Safe Standards. Ms O'Byrne also identified numerous areas of concern with BSHC's child protection policies. So it's unfathomable that the JCCV is now reversing its position to endorse BSHC's child protection policies.
"Both the JCCV and BSHC owe the Jewish community an appropriate explanation.
"VoiCSA is continuing to liaise with the Commission for Children and Young People concerning BSHC’s compliance with the Child Safe Standards and its response to this incident."
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