Many in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector have felt shock, pain and upset this week in relation to the more than 1,500 charges leveled against a former educator in relation to child exploitation material.
Amongst the many questions of how these alleged incidents could have occurred are educators, families, children and young adults who have been deeply and personally affected by the news are calls for a greater awareness, significant change, and of needing to do more than a training session once every few years to meet the obligations of child safety.
As the ECEC sector continues to work through these challenging and complex responses to a reprehensible series of allegations, we spoke with Dr Cathy Kezelman, President of the Blue Knot Foundation at the National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma, an organisation which advocates and provides support to people who have experiences of complex trauma, and those who support them, personally and professionally.
“Awareness of the number of children involved, the number of childcare centres involved and the long period of time over which crimes against children were committed is virtually unthinkable,” she began.
“For parents and caregivers it is especially confronting and difficult not to second guess dynamics within particular facilities.”
That being said, Dr Kezelman noted the significant steps which have been taken in the child safety space since the time of the alleged incidents, including the introduction of the National Principles for Child Safe Environments, child protection policies and practices including mandatory reporting, greater compliance requirements and more transparent complaints processes.
“It is important to be aware of these improvements alongside the horror of what has occurred and seek support from trusted others to help process what has occurred,” she continued.
Unfortunately a side effect of these allegations has been renewed attention, and in some cases actions against men who are working in the ECEC sector. Dr Kezelman acknowledged that the ECEC sector can be a work space where there are challenges in terms of acceptance, and that these allegations will only serve to heighten concern.
“It is very difficult for everyone and especially male educators to experience an increased degree of suspicion,” she said.
“It is important to keep this in perspective as there is little doubt that most male educators are not child abusers,” she said.
“It is also very important for parents and caregivers to reassure themselves (about the) policies, practice and compliance within the childcare facility their children attend, including the supervision arrangements.”
For educators and other ECEC professionals who may find themselves looking at their male colleagues – or indeed any of their colleagues – in a different light, Dr Kezelman has the following advice:
“There is a misconception that well-liked people never abuse children,” she said.
“There is no one profile of a child abuser. It is critical that everyone stays alert to any possible signs, something not adding up, a worker seemingly having excessive or overfamiliar contact with any one child or the child’s family. The harm done by raising a concern which turns out to be unsubstantiated is much less damaging than ignoring signs of suggesting that a child is being abused and not acting.”
For the children at the centre of these allegations, some of whom are now young adults, there may be long-term outcomes as a result of experiencing abuse and trauma early in life.
“As these acts often occur when a child is young and dependent and when the brain is growing and developing, such trauma can cause a range of impacts,” she explained.
These include mental and physical health impacts, relationship difficulties, issues with low self worth, trouble completing an education or thriving in the workplace. The impacts are many and varied and it is important for survivors to know that there is hope and there is help, and that people can and do recover with the right support.
A number of resources, support opportunities and educational tools are available on the Blue Knot website. People over 18 years of age who were abused as a child can call the Blue Knot Helpline and speak with a trauma counsellor on 1300 657 380 between 9am and 5pm AEST x 7 days.
If this article has raised complex feelings for you, support is available.
- National Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Counselling Service 24-hour helpline 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732
- Bravehearts – Sexual Assault Support for Children on 1800 BRAVE 1