September 2022 / Rosh Hashana 5783
Dear Members of our Victorian Community,
Re: Child safety at synagogues over upcoming High Holidays
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur mark the beginning of the Jewish new year. It is a special time of reflection and prayer. It is also a time when parents and children may spend long hours at synagogue.
Children have a right to feel safe and be safe wherever they are, including when attending synagogue. They also have the right to expect that adults around them are keeping them safe and to know who they can tell if they do not feel safe.
Child safety is a communal responsibility that requires organisations, parents and members of the community to each play a role. Certain organisations, including synagogues, have specific legal obligations in respect of child safety.
The purpose of this letter is to remind all involved of their responsibilities and what they must do to keep children safe. It is our hope that this letter is shared with members of the community and displayed in synagogues throughout the upcoming High Holidays and beyond.
The combination of large numbers of children and lengthy periods in which parents may not know exactly where their children are, can pose a danger to the safety of children. When children are unsupervised, they are at higher risk of harm or abuse. This risk may be greater in organisations which may not yet fully comply with the new Child Safe Standards.
This risk has materialised across all segments of our community and other communities, and within organisations including our synagogues.
It is important that the prevalence of child sexual abuse in all communities, including our own, is acknowledged and that the risk is taken seriously and addressed in accordance with legal requirements and best practices by synagogues and all who attend.
The new Child Safe Standards came into effect on 1 July 2022. They are a set of mandatory, evidence-based requirements that protect children from harm and abuse.
The Standards stem from the work conducted by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse from 2013-2017 and the Betrayal of Trust report delivered by the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations in 2013.
All synagogues in Victoria are legally required to comply with the new Child Safe Standards.
More information is available via the Commission for Children and Young People
PARENTS AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY
Parents are strongly encouraged to be vigilant in ensuring that they know where their children are at all times and that they are never left unsupervised.
If you find yourself inside synagogue and you do not know exactly where your children are or who they are with, please go and find them and do not leave them unless they are appropriately supervised.
It is important to note that appropriate levels of supervision differ depending on the age and maturity of the child.
All members of the community should ensure that if they see anything that makes them feel uncomfortable and which may give rise to concern for the safety of children, they report their concern, in the first instance, to the synagogue’s Child Safety Officer, Rabbi or a member of the Board. If they do not believe that their concern has been appropriately heard, they should consider notifying VoiCSA and/or the Commission for Children and Young People.
PRACTICAL STEPS (A NON-EXHAUSTIVE LIST)
The Child Safe Standards require that each synagogue “engages and openly communicates with families and the community about its child safe approach and relevant information is accessible”. Make sure your synagogue has provided you with information about the steps it has taken to keep your children safe and confirm that those safeguards are indeed being implemented. If it hasn’t, consider raising this with the synagogue Rabbi and/or Board and if unsatisfied, consider notifying VoiCSA and/or the Commission for Children and Young People. Your synagogue must also have notified you of who you can speak to about child safety concerns which may arise (eg. a Child Safety Officer).
Doors should always remain open wherever children are playing where practicable. Children should only play in supervised areas that are highly visible and ideally covered by CCTV cameras. If you come across rooms or secluded areas to which children can gain unsupervised access, instruct your child that they should not go there and ensure that they play in more highly visible areas. Notify the synagogue’s Child Safety Officer, Rabbi and/or a member of the Board that the room should be locked to prevent access and check that this has occurred. Children playing in private, unsupervised, secluded areas increases risk and provides an opportunity for harm to be caused.
Encourage children to play with children who are closer to their own age. Children should spend most of their time playing with other children and not with adults. Tell your children that if any person is making them feel uncomfortable - whether an adult, a child their own age or an older or younger child – they should come and tell you or a designated adult. Ensure your children are aware of a few adults they can always tell if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Remind your children that they should never leave the synagogue premises (including to go to a friend’s home or with an adult such as a friend’s parent), or go to another part of the synagogue without checking with you first.
Remind your children to always “ask first”. For example, if someone offers them sweets, they should say that they need to ask their parents first. “Asking first” serves both the need of protection and as a means of prevention, as it prompts both children and parents to check-in with each other. Children should never get sweets or gifts from someone who asks for something in return. For example, no kiss, hug, handshakes or ‘good yom-tovs’ as a pre-requisite to getting sweets or gifts.
If a congregant is regularly distributing sweets to multiple children to whom they are not related (eg. a ‘lolly person’), discourage your child from approaching them unless your synagogue has informed you that the congregant is performing that role on behalf of the synagogue. If the individual is a volunteer of the synagogue, they are required to have a current working with children check and have completed appropriate child safety training. If they have not been engaged by the synagogue in that capacity, they should not be providing sweets.
Teach your children, from an early age, that telling a parent is not considered a “breach of confidentiality” and that whatever the issue is, you will help them address the situation. Child sexual abuse thrives on secrecy.
Accompany your children to the bathroom, even if they manage independently. Instruct older children to always go to the bathroom in pairs and wait for each other outside.
Pay particular attention to bathrooms and note if you see the same person entering or exiting the bathrooms on multiple occasions with children not related to them. If this happens, immediately report it to the synagogue’s Child Safety Officer, Rabbi and/or a member of the Board.
Check on your children frequently. Be able to identify where they are, with whom they are playing and/or who is supervising them at all times. Just because someone is known and trusted does not make them safe. If the individual is exhibiting concerning behaviour (eg. such as seeking out children and spending time alone or in the children’s areas rather than in synagogue), be alert and present to safeguard your child and notify the synagogue’s Child Safety Officer, Rabbi and/or a member of the Board. There is no substitute for parental presence.
Safe adults model safe behaviors, and everyone at synagogue should be expected to uphold and champion the Child Safe Standards and help create a culture where children are safe.
We wish you and your families a happy and healthy new year and hope that the information above contributes to a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone in synagogue.
The above message is supported by:
Synagogue Child Safety Officer, Rabbi and/or a Member of the synagogue Board
SUPPORT and/or REPORTING CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
Victoria Police (SOCIT – Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams) (to report child sexual abuse)
(03) 8530 5203 (Bayside SOCIT or see website for local SOCIT)
CONCERNS ABOUT CHILD SAFETY/COMPLIANCE WITH CHILD SAFE STANDARDS
The Child Safety Community of Practice representing 11 synagogues in Melbourne, endorse this letter and support all community initiatives that will keep our children safe in synagogue.
If you have immediate safety concerns about a child, please call 000.
If you have any other concerns or issues involving child safety, please do not hesitate to contact the individuals or organisations listed below. This can be done anonymously if you wish.