Critical Role for Managers in Initial Handling of Child Abuse | WISE Workplace

There has never been a better example of why independent, thorough investigations are the only answer to allegations of child abuse in the workplace; it started with paedophile accusations levelled against the late UK media personality Sir Jimmy Savile and ended with the BBC’s top management resigning after prematurely airing a program that implicated a top British politician in child abuse.

People who should have known better apparently swept aside allegations against Savile for years, while jumping to conclusions about Lord McAlpine in what is now reported to be a case of mistaken identity. In Australia, the Prime Minister yesterday announced a Royal Commission into child sex abuse by the Catholic Church and other state and private institutions. The big question being asked is not “did the abuse occur?” but rather “did the people in authority, who could have prevented further abuse, do enough or worse still - deliberately hamper investigations or disclosures?”

The role of management in ensuring prompt and proper handling of allegations of abuse has never been more apparent. Jumping to conclusions before conducting a thorough investigation will result in considerable harm across the spectrum – from mental health, reputation to individuals and organisations and extensive legal fees or compensation payouts.

The need for proper investigations does not detract from the equally important role of risk assessments that need to be conducted when incidents first come to light.

The first steps to take when an allegation of child abuse is made in the workplace are as follows:

1. Assess the risk to children in your care and take measures to protect them;

2. Report the allegation to relevant authorities - the police, Ombudsman, and/or professional standards office;

3. In coordination with the police or Ombudsman, initiate an investigation using experienced, qualified and independent investigators;

4. Provide welfare support to all parties;

5. Continue to review your risk assessment throughout the investigation.

Taking action to minimise risks is not a presumption of guilt. Be wary of assumptions of guilt or innocence. Some very surprising people have been found guilty of child abuse and many false accusations have been made along the way, too.

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