In response to revelations from Jewish survivors during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies established a Taskforce on Child Protection in April 2015, headed by Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass AO, Chair of the Board of Deputies Social Justice Committee.
Bettina attended hearings of the Royal Commission and provided fortnightly, in-depth updates on this critical issue to the executive and plenum meetings.
In June 2015, the Board of Deputies arranged a Jewish community symposium on child protection which comprised a series of workshops attended by over 60 senior members of communal organisations. The symposium resulted in a set of principles to guide the community’s child protection protocols: (1) Empower community organisations with knowledge, ideas and commitment to keep children and young people safe and to enhance and safeguard their wellbeing; (2) Drive innovation and improvements across all community organisations by working cooperatively to share knowledge, wisdom and experience and ensure commitment to updated knowledge and training; (3) Call upon our Jewish religious and ethical values of interpersonal and social justice to protect our greatest heritage: our children and young people from abuse and harm.
Throughout 2016 and 2017, Bettina Cass represented the Board of Deputies at public hearings of the Royal Commission; participated in conferences with Families Australia; attended forums arranged by the NSW Ombudsman’s Office; and attended special sessions of the Royal Commission for multicultural communities.
After the Royal Commission handed down their Final Report in December 2017, our federal roof body – the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) – released a statement containing the child protection policy that was adopted at their November 2017 AGM, which:
“RECOGNISES that child sexual abuse has occurred within some Jewish institutions;
RECOGNISES further that in some instances individuals in positions of leadership and trust within those institutions failed to report the abuse to the appropriate authorities and in doing so, acted unlawfully and unethically, and failed the children who had suffered the abuse and exacerbated their suffering, and brought shame to our community;
NOTES the halachic rule that the civil law of the land is binding (dina d’malkhuta dina) and supports fully the statements by Jewish religious and representative rabbinical bodies that “there is a religious obligation to inform the relevant authorities of all information known concerning possible harmful criminal conduct, especially conduct as serious as child sexual abuse, and to co-operate with the authorities in every way to bring the perpetrators to justice”;
AFFIRMS that the principle of mesirah, which precludes the reporting of fellow Jews to the secular authorities, was historically applied in places where Jews were subjected to institutional persecution and racism and could not receive just treatment by the civil authorities, and has no relevance or admissibility whatsoever in Australia, as has been stated by multiple Australian rabbinical sources;
CONDEMNS any concealment of, or failure to report, allegations of child sexual abuse and any instances of intimidation or retribution against children who have suffered sexual abuse or their families or other supporters, noting that all such conduct is unlawful, disgraceful and contrary to Jewish ethics and law, and serves to deepen the suffering of survivors and their families;
AFFIRMS the imperative of protecting children from harm, which is a core Jewish value, and calls on all organisations in the Jewish community to adopt and actively implement a policy of zero tolerance towards child sexual abuse, and to promote clear leadership and transparent governance to combat the secrecy on which abuse thrives; and
CALLS ON Jewish community organisations which have the care of children to adopt and implement appropriate standards of child protection if they have not already done so, and to work together with other Jewish organisations under the auspices of the Jewish community State roof bodies and the ECAJ to develop a best practice model of Jewish Professional Standards on Child Protection.”
In March 2018 Bettina Cass represented the Board of Deputies at the Safe Children 2018 Conference, that explored the Recommendations handed down by the Royal Commission. Jewish House CEO Rabbi Mendel Kastel spoke on the final panel of the conference.
Also in March 2018, the ECAJ formed the National Working Group on Child Protection, whose members are:
Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass AO (Chair)
Former Board of Deputies President, David Knoll AM
CEO of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, David Marlow
Melbourne lawyer, Anton Hermann.
The role of the National Working Group is to consult closely with experts and stakeholders, including Tzedek (the Australian support and advocacy group for Jewish victims/survivors of child sexual abuse) and individual survivors, to recommend what the ECAJ and state roof bodies can do to:
- monitor and check whether Jewish community organisations which have the care of children have adopted and implemented appropriate standards of child protection and are taking a preventative, proactive and participatory approach to child safety issues, so that the safety and wellbeing of children in each of their organisations is a paramount consideration in their policies and operations;
- work together with other Jewish organisations including Tzedek to develop a best practice model of Jewish Professional Standards on Child Protection;
- encourage Yeshivah and Adass in Melbourne, and Yeshivah in NSW to each publish an apology to people who were abused as children while in their care; and
- encourage Jewish community organisations which have the care of children to join the National Redress Scheme.
In addition to this, the ECAJ published recommendations and a Q&A from the National Working Group to provide guidance to Jewish organisations in the wake of the Final Report and the announcement of the National Redress Scheme.
ECAJ co-CEO Peter Wertheim AM, Bettina Cass and Jewish House CEO Rabbi Mendel Kastel attended government briefings on the National Redress Scheme and consulted with key officials in the Department of Social Services who, at their request, prepared an official outline of the responsibilities of a lone Non-Government Institution (NGI) which decides to opt into the National Redress Scheme. This document, which is applicable to all institutions throughout Australia which have worked with children, was sent by the ECAJ National Working Group to all relevant Jewish organisations in Australia in 2018 with a request that they consider joining the scheme.
In June 2018, Bettina Cass, as Chair of the Board of Deputies Task Force on Child Protection, was invited to a meeting with the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Task Force established to respond to the Final Report of the Royal Commission. Representatives from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Department of Justice, Department of Families and Community Services and the NSW Children’s Guardian were at the meeting and updated Bettina about the NSW Government’s approach to responding to the Final Report and the details of the National Redress Scheme. Bettina informed the meeting about the ongoing work and future plans for child protection being undertaken by the Board of Deputies Task Force on Child Protection and the ECAJ National Working Group.
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Taskforce on Child Protection and the ECAJ National Working Group on Child Protection warmly commend Rabbi Mendel Kastel and Jewish House, for being first Jewish organisation to have signed on to the National Redress Scheme.
In July 2019, the Board of Deputies hosted a panel on child protection titled ‘Child Protection in the Jewish Community: Awareness, Prevention, Redress‘.
The strong message of the panel was that child protection is a communal responsibility, involving religious and lay leaders, teachers, parents and all who have any responsibility for children. The panel comprehensively covered the ways in which institutions can confidently embed child-centred practices, including: where to get help and information from the government; how to respond to incidents; community training options; statutory requirements and ethical procedures for reporting.
The morally compelling issue of signing on to the National Redress Scheme to ensure institutional apology, counselling and financial redress for survivors of child sexual abuse was also emphasised.
The expert speakers were:
Janet Schorer, the NSW Children’s Guardian whose office has responsibility for all aspects of child protection.
Julianna Demetrius, Assistant Ombudsman in the NSW Ombudsman’s Office, who is preparing information for faith-based organisations on child protection.
Deborah Blackman, Director of Educare, Protecting our Children Together who conducts regular training sessions for schools, synagogues and youth movements.
Rabbi Mendel Kastel, CEO of Jewish House, who led Jewish House as the first Jewish organisation in NSW to sign up to the National Redress Scheme.
Peter Wertheim AM, co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, who reported on Jewish community organisations’ responses to the National Redress Scheme.
Dr Michelle Meyer, CEO of Tzedek, Australia’s support and advocacy group for Jewish survivors of child sexual abuse, was invited to the Panel but unfortunately not able to be in Sydney and her paper was tabled and referred to.
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies strongly encourages all community organisations and members to play an active role in reinforcing the Jewish community’s commitment to child protection, the establishment and maintenance of child safe institutions and signing on to the National Redress Scheme.