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Keeping our kids safe

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For most people working or volunteering in the Archdiocese of Adelaide, their only real contact with the Child Protection Unit is through the mandatory reporting training sessions that are run on a regular basis.

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However, spending a day with the small team of manager Sally Wellington and project officers Imbi Mannik and Lili Abad Henao (who are ably supported by administration assistant Kath Kelly), it quickly becomes clear that training is just one small component of their multi-faceted roles.

Even more obvious is that this group of trained social workers, who collectively have more than 35 years’ experience in the area of child protection, has one clear focus – ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all children and young people in our parishes and communities.

Imbi has been with the Unit for just over a year and says she is loving the variety of her job, which is very different to her previous role as a case worker with traumatised children, including those on Nauru. On this morning she has ventured to Payneham to meet with Josie Nicolescu, who is the Child Safe Contact Person (CSCP) for the parish. Josie wasn’t able to attend a recent forum run by the Unit and Imbi wants to fill her in on what was discussed and provide her with the resources that were distributed on the day.

There are currently 56 CSCPs in the Archdiocese and Josie was an ideal candidate to fill the position. She has previously worked as a nanny and is now employed at the Out of School Hours Care program at the St Joseph’s parish school so has experience working with children and understands the importance of child protection.

“I love working with kids. I know most of the kids and I can pick up if there is a change of behaviour. It’s important to be a good listener,” she says.

Imbi outlines the resources she is handing over. They include a document on mandatory reporting, a new brochure about the role of the CPU and copies of Best Practice Guidelines for interacting with children and young people.

Imbi also provides Josie with a large cardboard feedback box and activity booklets encouraging children to share their thoughts and ideas in the lead up to Child Protection Week. The activity booklet includes a series of questions relating to child safety and forms part of broader consultations where the CPU will also conduct interactive forums with children at each deanery.

Following her meeting at Payneham, Imbi returns to the CPU office in the Diocesan Centre. Her work day is very fluid and no two days are the same.

For example, later that evening she will go to Tea Tree Gully parish with Lili to give a 90-minute brief to volunteers in the Northern Deanery.

She will also soon begin a series of training sessions specifically developed for youth ministry workers to deepen their understanding of their roles and responsibilities towards the safety and wellbeing of children.

“I love visiting parishes to train as each audience is different and that brings a different dynamic to the learning environment,” she says.

Back at Wakefield Street, Sally discusses with Imbi the Payneham visit and then leaves to attend a Southern Deanery meeting at the Brighton parish. Lili meets her there and together they outline plans for the children and young people consultations with the priests and pastoral associates in attendance.

Leaving the meeting, the duo pops into St Joseph’s Church to see how their resources are being displayed. They are impressed that an entire noticeboard is dedicated to children, with posters and brochures relating to their care, wellbeing and safety, with the feedback box and activity booklets also nearby.

As Sally explains, the CPU has worked hard over the years to “have visibility” and develop relationships with people in the parish.
Since joining the Archdiocese in 2013, Sally says the work of the Unit has changed “hugely”.

“Mandatory notification training has been probably the most long standing role of the Unit, but it is just one part of what we do overall.
“There’s always new initiatives, new training, new policies to develop and implement,” she says.

One of the most recent training packages the Unit has written focuses on the 10 National Catholic Safeguarding Standards and how the Archdiocese implements them.

Another major task undertaken in recent times was the review of all the parishes in meeting child protection requirements. Sally says this not only identified gaps and strengths but enabled the CPU team to develop relationships with parish teams.

Following the review Best Practice Guidelines were developed. They address everything from transport, consent, boundaries, physical contact to interactions. “They are gold! If anyone has a query about how to act or what to do, this explains it all,” says Sally.

National Child Protection Week runs from September 1 to 7.

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