That said, a number of people associated with the Yeshivah Centre have contacted me to draw my attention to its recent Safeguarding Children Organisation accreditation from the Australian Childhood Foundation (ACF). Clearly, they want to highlight the positive developments at Yeshivah and expect me to congratulate them publicly on this achievement. Regrettably, I find myself quite conflicted and unable to heap praise on Yeshivah, as some might like me to do – indeed, as I’d like to do.
That is not to say that I do not recognise and acknowledge the enormous effort which has obviously gone in to achieving this accreditation and important milestone. Andrew Blode, a founding director of the accreditation program, is a friend and a great supporter of my work. He continues to do fantastic work in the area of child safety and it gives me confidence to see him presenting the accreditation to Yeshivah. Moreover, it is particularly impressive that Yeshivah is the first school in Australia to have achieved this milestone.
Nevertheless, I would question the true significance of this accreditation in the case of Yeshivah and caution against placing too much emphasis on it. Some would say it’s the least they could do (given their appalling history of child sex abuse, cover-ups and intimidation) and would question the ‘voluntariness’ of Yeshivah’s positive actions, which they have proudly and repeatedly sought to highlight. Others might find it offensive and disingenuous to see Yeshivah promote its achievements in child safety while some of its victims continue to complain of bullying and harassment (I should note, not me) and while the Trustees who failed to protect children continue to exercise ultimate control over the institution.
Only a few months ago, a victim told an audience at the ‘Silent No More’ event at Yeshivah that he did not believe Yeshivah was a safe place for children. He pointed to the attitudes which still exist towards victims and the way they are treated. Another victim at that event withdrew his participation at the last minute due to feeling intimidated. Although the just and compassionate treatment of past victims is not an explicit standard required for ACF accreditation, it is fair to say that Yeshivah continues to fail in this regard.
Further, it is difficult for me to congratulate Yeshivah on child safety initiatives while those Trustees who ran Yeshivah through the years of rampant child sexual abuse, cover-ups and intimidation, continue to run the institution as though nothing ever happened. This, despite their promise to resign their roles by the end of 2015 in the wake of the Royal Commission. More than a year later, not only do these Trustees remain in charge, but they appear determined to implement a governance structure that would have them continuing to exert influence over Yeshivah for many years into the future. The fact remains that they have failed their community – especially so many vulnerable children – and are, in my opinion, unfit to remain in leadership positions. Their ongoing involvement continues to detrimentally impact numerous Yeshivah victims. Additionally, they have installed an Interim Committee of Management who continue their involvement in the Centre, despite having also committing to resigning their roles by the end of 2015 (besides the fact that at least one leading member has lost the confidence of several victims). Aren’t accountability and honesty critical factors to ensuring child safety within an organisation?
As we know, policies and accreditations are one thing and they are particularly useful public relations tools for an organisation like Yeshivah who are desperate to point to any changes that have occurred since they were humiliated before a Royal Commission. But if this latest development is to become anything more than a PR exercise, and if the community is to be truly confident that Yeshivah is a safe environment for children, Yeshivah needs to act on the two matters referred to above. Firstly, they need to do more to address the treatment of victims by members of their community and to remove the known aggressors from their midst. And secondly, they need to hold the Trustees to account. Until such time, the rest of the community should be wary of representations by Yeshivah that genuine reform has taken place.
Notwithstanding the above caution and criticism, I acknowledge and congratulate Yeshivah on achieving this milestone.