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Opinion

The South Australian and Northern Territory Professional Standards Office explains how it is bringing trauma informed and compassionate responses to abuse and misconduct.

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The role of the SA and NT Professional Standards Office (PSO), which consists of seven people with diverse roles and backgrounds, is to manage the responses to adults who were subjected to abuse in childhood within the Church. We also assist the Church with the management of complaints about misconduct and boundary violations.

A large part of the work of our office is managing historical abuse matters through Towards Healing, the Catholic Church’s response to adults who were subjected to abuse in childhood within the Church context. This encompasses not only sexual abuse but also physical, emotional and spiritual abuse by clergy, Religious and lay people such as teachers or parish volunteers.

We work with adults who live in South Australia or the Northern Territory regardless of who the Church authority involved is or where the abuse occurred, so this also involves working with Church authorities across Australia.

The aim of the Towards Healing process is to provide a pastoral response and chance for healing for abuse survivors. Many survivors carry a great deal of pain and have fractured or even broken relationships with the Church. A trauma informed response from the PSO can begin to rebuild trust and make all the difference in the lives of survivors.

Towards Healing culminates in a facilitation with the Church authority but the process of engaging with survivors is vital from beginning to end. Director Tanja Stojadinovic and case manager Ulrike Marwitz oversee Towards Healing matters and both use their social work backgrounds and understanding of trauma and childhood abuse to ensure survivors who are willing to come forward with their stories receive a compassionate and caring response.

Tanja is also a member of the Bishops’ professional standards consultative panels for Adelaide, Port Pirie and Darwin.

Depending on the needs and preferences of the individual, historical abuse matters can also be managed via the Federal Government’s National Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional abuse. Since the Church’s adoption of the scheme, the PSO assists with redress applications for Adelaide Archdiocese, Port Pirie Diocese and Northern Territory Diocese.

In addition to historical abuse, the PSO manages current matters of boundary violations and other misconduct by Church personnel, as defined in Integrity in Ministry and Integrity in the Service of the Church. When a complaint is made that fits within the Integrity guidelines, the PSO assists with the response process. This includes support for both the person making the complaint and the subject of the complaint, developing plans to minimise future risk, and addressing any harm or hurt that has occurred.

The PSO also provides training on ethics and boundaries in ministry, understanding abuse and trauma, mental health first aid, and responding to disclosures of abuse. Parishes can contact the PSO to request a training session.

Additionally, the PSO includes the Records Service Program which holds historical records of former residents of Catholic institutions in SA. Access to this material is made available to former residents or their direct descendants or antecedents, helping to close gaps in family knowledge or memories as well as developing identity or closure.

The Records Service is supported by an experienced social worker who ensures people making enquiries are shown compassion and care throughout the process of seeking their own or their family’s history. Applicants are also provided with information regarding other sources of relevant records.

Ultimately, the aim of the PSO is to provide compassionate, caring, trauma informed responses to anyone impacted by historical abuse or current day boundary violations and all members of the team play an equally important role in this.

If you or someone you know has been affected by childhood abuse or an adult boundary violation by someone in the Church, please phone 8210 8275 or 1800 139 020, or email receptionprofstandards@adelaide.catholic.org.au. Anyone seeking information about former residents of Catholic institutions in SA can contact the Records Service on 8210 8275.

The PSO provides services to anyone living in SA and NT.

Information about the National Redress Scheme is available at www.nationalredress.gov.au or phone 1800 737 377.

If you would like to ask us a question, please email or write to The Southern Cross (see details page 2) and we will review and try to respond in future editions.

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