Jennifer Burrell, New South Wales Regional Meeting

January – May

I have been working since 20 January to prepare “Australia Yearly Meeting Participating Group” to join the NRS – a more complicated task than it may seem.

  • First of all, we had to determine who would be included in the Group. It’s AYM, all regional meetings, and four “associated bodies” : Australian Friends Fellowship of Healing Charitable Trust; Kangaroo Valley Friends Properties P/L (Werona); Quaker Service Australia; and Silver Wattle Quaker Centre.
  • Secondly, we had to work out how we would pay if and when an applicant’s claim against any member of the Participating Group was successful. It’s AYM.
  • Thirdly, we had to work through the documentation and other things required of us by a federal government department. You’re right: Kafka lives again.

However, we hope it’s done – by the time this article goes to press, I hope we will have been Declared as a member of the Scheme by the Minister.

What comes next?

Once we have been Declared, a person who believes that they were abused as a child in a Quaker context can lodge a claim against us. Individuals lodge their claim with the NRS, who then contact us and ask if we have further documentation (apart from that already submitted) relating to the allegation – time, place, person, circumstances. Unlike a court of law, the burden of proof is on us, not on the claimant. The NRS is victim-oriented in its processes.

If the applicant’s claim is upheld by the independent decision maker, we will be invoiced for the financial payment made to the applicant. This is capped at a maximum of $150,000. All applicants are offered counselling, if they wish it.  An applicant may also request an apology, a meeting, or other personal communication.

The Scheme is open for claims until 30 June 2028.

My learnings

I have learned the importance of respectful and thoughtful language in discussing child abuse.

  • The word “victim” should be avoided. The word “survivor” should be avoided. Both words make an assumption about the individual’s own self-perception. Neutral terms, e.g. “person who was abused” are better unless you know the individual’s own preference.
  • Avoid phrases which could imply that the child had responsibility for the abuse, e.g. “AB had sex with CD as a child”. Better: “CD was abused as a child by AB”.
  • Avoid referring to the NRS as “compensation”. Redress, even when it involves a financial payment, is not “compensation”. It is validation and support.

I have learned that discussions about child protection may well trigger an emotional reaction in another Friend and among Friends. I encourage all Friends to be both tender, and forgiving, with each other.

I have been struck by the manifest good will of Friends. As a Society, we do not have many children’s meetings or programs (although we do have some independent teenagers attending our meetings for worship: they too are children), but we clearly cherish our children and carefully craft offerings and programs for and with them.

Query: How is it that, although we care deeply for our children, the annual audit of certified child carers does not reliably reach the AYM Secretary from all RMs within deadline?

I have been struck by the generosity and support offered by Friends across Australia, as I have contacted them to provide me with arcane information about where and when we held Meetings and family camps. We have had to provide information from as early as the 1930s, because someone who was a child then may wish to come forward now – and each person has every right to do so. Archivists are wonderful people! We are lucky as a Society to have so many competent and dedicated archivists among us. We probably think of this as a ‘back room’ job, but a situation like the NRS proves the incredible value of stored and accessible records, and of the Friends who manage them.

Query: How do we encourage confidential documentation of issues, and to whom are confidential records sent for retention and archiving?

I would like to believe that all this work and preparation will be unnecessary. But we are all human.

Should the worst possible scenario be true, and a Friend worshipping with us has committed child abuse, we recommend that that our first response will be (a) to ensure the safety of other Friends (b) to support our errant Friend, possibly by a “Circle of Trust” or “Circle of Friends”. This is Quaker practice in Britain and in some other YMs.

Our way forward: what does Love require of us?

I have written a background paper on child safety, outlining some of the challenges we will face in this area as a Society which will be a member of the NRS.  These concerns are relevant to our duty of care for all vulnerable people.

We are all vulnerable in different ways at different stages of our lives.

I understand that a Working Group is to take this forward with a view to reporting to Standing Committee in January 2021.

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Australia Incorporated is committed to providing a safe and secure environment … The core beliefs of the Society require us to treat all people with love and dignity and to care for those who are less powerful and in need of nurture and protection (AYM Child Protection Policy & Procedures)

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