Tasmania’s commission of inquiry report into child sexual abuse — the key takeaways | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

One of the most significant reports to ever be handed down in Tasmania has been released.

It follows two years of work by a commission of inquiry established to examine the Tasmanian government’s responses to child sexual abuse in state institutions.

But with 191 recommendations contained in 3,000 pages, the report takes some time to get through.

We’ve pulled it apart for you to answer some of the biggest questions.

What are the report’s key conclusions?

The report gave four key conclusions — broad strokes on its findings — which are separate from the 191 recommendations.

The commission concluded:

  • The Tasmanian government’s response to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse in institutions since 2000 had too often been inadequate.
  • Tasmanian government institutions are generally safe for children and young people but some children are not safe and more needs to be done to improve their safety.
  • The Tasmanian government does not often enough have the right systems in place to effectively address the risks and respond to incidents of child sexual abuse in institutions into the future.
  • The Tasmanian government does not often enough have a culture that encourages feedback, reporting, monitoring and reflection when responding to incidents of child sexual abuse.

It’s important to point out that while there were many examples of historical child abuse dating back 20 years, there are recent cases too.

In fact, the commissioners are worried children are still at risk.

“Despite some changes made during the life of our inquiry, we continue to be worried about children in out-of-home care and youth detention, as well as Aboriginal children in institutions, and consider improving safety for them should be a priority,” the commissioners said.

They said while they saw “pockets of good practice” — largely attributed to the initiative and good judgement of individuals — it was more common that institutions did not recognise child sexual abuse for what it was, and failed to act decisively to manage risks and investigate complaints.

They said that in some cases this was “due to ignorance, inertia, and a desire to protect reputational interests”.


What were the focus areas?

The commission looked at “state institutions”, but those generally came under four distinct topics:

  • Launceston General Hospital
  • Ashley Youth Detention Centre
  • Public schools (the education department)
  • Out-of-home care

The commission also looked at how effective the justice system is in holding individuals to account and responding to the needs of victim-survivors, as well as broader policy issues.

What did the commissioner’s say about each area? 

Here’s a little about what the commission of inquiry found.

Launceston General Hospital

Launceston General Hospital.

The revelations that children’s ward nurse James Geoffrey Griffin abused children inside and outside Launceston General Hospital (LGH) over many years — despite former patients and hospital staff repeatedly reporting his abuse and misconduct — was one of the reasons the commission of inquiry was established.

On the topic of the LGH, the commissioners found a range of systemic failings contributed to managers and human resources staff not acting appropriately in response to concerns raised about Griffin.

They also found there was an inadequate response once the scale of Griffin’s abuses became more broadly known.

The commissioners found:

  • Misconduct by former LGH boss Peter Renshaw — who was director of medical services while Griffin was active at the hospital. The commissioners said Renshaw misled the commission of inquiry
  • Human resources staff at the hospital failed to act on a serious disclosure of child sexual abuse in 2011 or 2012 and, later, failed to properly and accurately review Griffin’s complaints history, including in response to a complaint to the Integrity Commission
  • A range of collective leadership failures in preventing and addressing the risks Griffin posed but also the broader response once the extent of his offending became known
  • Tasmania police and Child Safety Services failed to share and act on important information they each held that suggested Griffin was a risk to children

The report said that in the health department’s response to the inquiry, it said it had begun reforms, but commissioners noted that while they “represent progress in improving child safety, it is still unclear exactly what reforms will be implemented, when and by whom”.

Ashley youth detention

Ashley youth detention.

The commissioners said children in detention were “sometimes described as ‘the worst of the worst’ and their reports of harm and abuse [were] commonly dismissed out of hand as lies, without any meaningful investigation”.

Alarmingly, the commissioners concluded that children at the centre are still at risk.

“We consider child sexual abuse is not merely a historical problem for the centre but remains a live and current risk,” the commissioners found.

“We observed a closed institution with a culture that enabled the humiliation and degradation of children, rationalised because the children were seen as ‘the worst of the worst’.”

The commissioners said the Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Tasmania’s only youth detention centre, was “not fit for purpose … and should be shut down as soon as possible”.

“We were disappointed that there are some indications the Tasmanian government is reconsidering its previous announcement to close the centre by 2024,” they said.

“While we acknowledge that the process of replacing Ashley Youth Detention Centre is complex, we consider the closure of the centre should be treated with urgency.”

Education department

Education Department.

The commissioners looked at eight case studies where the education department had investigated allegations of abuse.

They said the cases highlighted several systemic shortcomings in the department’s responses to child sexual abuse and the impact on victim-survivors.

“They demonstrate that the initial response by school authorities to a disclosure of abuse was frequently inappropriate, showing a lack of understanding of what constitutes child sexual abuse and grooming behaviour,” the commissioners found.

“At times, children were simply disbelieved, with school authorities being unwilling to accept their accounts of abuse. This led to authorities supporting and protecting the alleged abusers, rather than the children involved.”

The commissioners also found there were “significant gaps in information sharing within and across schools, the department, and the Teachers Registration Board”, as well as with the powers and functions of the Teachers Registration Board.

Out-of-home care

Out-of-home care.

The commissioners found Tasmania’s out-of-home care system — which covers foster care, emergency care and other types of care such as residential group homes — was “underdeveloped” and not keeping pace with best policies elsewhere in Australia.

This left commissioners “seriously concerned for the safety of some children in care”.

“We heard the system was pressured to the point of crisis,” the report said.

Rather than the Department for Education, Children and Young People and its staff directly looking after kids, the commissioners have recommended care be outsourced to the non-government sector.

The care should be outsourced “with obligations to comply with the National Standards for Out of Home Care and Child Safe Standards, and for reporting incidents and complaints,” the commissioners recommended.

They also called for an increase in funding in every area of out-of-home care, “recognising it has been starved of investment for many years”.

The end goal, they said, is that the state government becomes “overseer and manager of a well-resourced and closely regulated non-government sector delivering out-of-home care services”.

Aboriginal organisations should also be given “more funding and greater power to better support Aboriginal children and reduce their over-representation in the care system”.

Nearly 200 recommendations for change — here’s an overview

Victim-survivors will be hoping that the government quickly enacts the report’s recommendations.()

The commissioners made 191 recommendations for change — far too many for us to list here (but you can read them in full here).

Here’s an overview of some of the changes they want to see:

  • Expanding the powers of the Commissioner for Children and Young People, a new commissioner for Aboriginal children and young people, and a new child advocate to advocate on behalf of children and young people in out-of-home care and detention
  • A more coordinated and statewide response to child sexual abuse and harmful sexual behaviours, including age-appropriate child sexual abuse education, a whole of government child sexual abuse reform strategy, and a clear approach to responding to harmful sexual behaviours
  • Increasing participation of children and young people, victim-survivors and service providers in policy design and delivery
  • Stronger mechanisms for institutions to protect children in institutions from adults who pose a risk to them, including changes to state service disciplinary processes to remove some of the real or perceived barriers to acting against staff in relation to child sexual abuse and related conduct
  • Showing greater care, compassion, and investment in protecting and healing marginalised children. The commissioners said they were, at times, “shocked at the lack of care and sometimes outright hostility extended to certain groups of children and young people, particularly those in the care system and youth detention”.
  • Ensuring staff and volunteers working with children have the knowledge and skills they need, including the skills and knowledge to identify risks and signs of child sexual abuse and to take appropriate steps to respond
  • Valuing and strengthening the skills and expertise of those working in the child safety and youth justice systems
  • Monitoring reform, including having an independent monitor to oversee and report on the government’s progress in implementing the commission’s recommendations, as well as recommendations from the national child sexual abuse royal commission and other related inquiries


When will change happen?

Premier Jeremy Rockliff made an initial statement to parliament on Tuesday after the commission’s report was tabled, but the government’s unveiling of its full response plan to each point will happen in December.

We already know Mr Rockliff has pledged to implement every one of the commission’s 191 recommendations, but the detail is still coming.


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