Uniting Church to offer healing and justice to survivors
The General Secretary Rev. Dr Andrew Williams outlined the work of the Synod with the Royal Commission noting that it is just over a year since the Commission held a public inquiry into the responses of the Uniting Church and Knox Grammar School, to incidents of child sexual abuse.
“During the Royal Commission hearing I was deeply moved by the survivors and what they said about the impact of abuse on their lives and the injustices they experienced. We learned that 22 years is the average length of time for a child who has been a victim of abuse to come forward. And then there are huge hurdles and barriers in their way to achieving justice.”
Following the Church’s experience of the Royal Commission public hearing and in light of the Commission’s recommendations, the Synod made a commitment to provide fair, consistent and compassionate redress for survivors of child sexual abuse.
In 2015 the Synod Standing Committee approved resources for a small team of appropriately skilled people to develop an Interim Redress Policy to ensure that;
- the immediate needs of survivors of child sex abuse following the Knox hearing are met and
- the Church is equipped to respond compassionately and consistently to survivors seeking redress and justice.
Developing an Interim Redress Policy has involved a Synod wide consultation process including Wesley Mission and Uniting, and substantial resources both in time and money. It is the intention that the Policy will operate until such time as a government led national approach is up and running. As an ex-officio member of the Knox Board I can say that it is my observation that the culture at Knox is entirely different in positive way from the period under review by the Royal Commission.
Rev Dr Andrew Williams welcomed Peter Roach, Chairman of Knox School Council.
Peter Roach expressed the School’s gratitude for their relationship with the Uniting Church as an important part of Knox’s ethos and the boy’s education. “Those involved at Knox were shocked and saddened by what we heard at the Royal Commission… but it also strengthened the school’s resolve that what happened in the past would never be repeated,” he said. Mr Roach emphasised the change in culture over time which puts the boys first and fosters an environment of doing the right thing morally and the School’s obligation to do the right thing by the boys academically, spiritually and emotionally.
The Burnside Redress policy
Claerwen Little Director, UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families (CYPF), a Service Group of Uniting, outlined the Burnside Redress Policy which has been in place for a number of years.
Burnside was the largest orphanage in the Southern Hemisphere. Over 9,000 children were cared for on the site at North Parramatta from 1911 to the end of the 1980’s.
“Despite the best of intentions in providing these services, sadly, throughout the decades, many children did not receive the love and care they so deserved and their experience in our care was cruel, heartless and abusive. For many other children of course, their experience was very positive, and for most it was just ok. Nothing ever replaces a safe and loving family,” said Claerwen.
Since the establishment of a redress policy for Burnside in 2003, 38 people have sought acknowledgement and/ or redress for past abuse in Burnside.
The Uniting Church Synod Redress policy outlined
Rhonda Ianna, Senior Legal Counsel with UCA’s UnitingRedress team outlined how the interim redress policy has been developed and its aim to enable a pastoral response consistent with the values and ethos of the Uniting Church.
The Interim Policy has 3 components;
- A direct personal response which may include an apology by a senior member of the Church and of the school or institution, if the survivor wishes
- Counselling and support for survivors
- Financial redress offered by way of ex-gratia payment. This is a payment made in recognition of the pain and suffering caused as a result of abuse it is not compensation.
The interim policy applies to those adults and children who experienced sexual abuse as a child in an institutional context while in the care of the Synod, through its Institutions. It based on the Royal Commission’s recommendations for interim arrangements and applies to survivors until the Government scheme is operational.
The Interim Policy was discussed in discernment groups and put to the Synod to be voted on and members responded to the proposal favourably.
“It is hopeful outcome that we do everything we can do to keep young people safe, that survivors are heard, that there will be a better understanding of survivors among us that the process of seeking justice will be less traumatic.”
In another comment they said, “The amount may not be enough but it is hoped it will help to reduce the pain in some way.”
Comments were made affirming the church for dealing with wrong doing, “I applaud the church as compassionate and wise response and am proud of the way the UCA deals with the issue, Knox Council has been exemplary.”
One comment was made by UAICC that reminds us that, “we sit together with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters there is no redress for the stolen generation.”
The work of the Redress Team was commended by a Synod member: “We do have cause to be proud based on some of the comments. It really is true the UCA in this space is different and is being proactive. It is true that the UCA has been so proactive in volunteering information to the Royal Commission.…This plenary has the responsibility to be very proud if its clergy, Rev Jane Fry, working in this space to ensure that justice has been done. This document is a very good example of this work.”
Members voted unanimously to accept the Interim Redress Policy.
(Pictured) The Rev. Dr Andrew Williams, Peter Roach, Chairman of Knox School Council and Claerwen Little Director, UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families (CYPF) speak about the Redress Policies.