| Key takeouts
- Kids are often the best champions of inclusion in sport.
- 'Inclusion' brings with it some element of risk for children and young people - as perpetrators are more likely to target the vulnerable.
- Kids don't complain in a formal way - organisations need to be creative in how they support and listen to kids when things are not right. Kids should be comfortable in providing feedback.
- An informed child in sport reduces the likelihood of an adult targeted them - let kids know what adults are allowed to do.
- Empowering kids is about informing them of their rights.
- Don't reinvent the wheel - look at what currently exists in Australia, the UK and Canada.
- Kids want to be heard.
I’ve been asked to come along today and talk about child safe environments and the role that inclusion can play within sport. From the concept of inclusion before we step into the where to from here and the challenges I think with all the themes that we’ve seen today so far some of the biggest champions of inclusion is support of kids. Kids are very rarely discriminatory especially in their formative years. Kids quite often can demonstrate within sport as well as other sector contexts but certainly within sport the idea of equality and valuing someone irrespective of their characteristics on the merit that they display within the sport and the behaviour that they aspire towards as opposed to those quite often adult themes of prejudice and discrimination.
My favourite thing about kids and their role in inclusion is that with all due respect to all of us coming together today and discussing some brilliant topics kids don’t need to be trained or educated or made aware of inclusion. It’s just instinctively driven by them. We all have great roles but we’re primarily talking about adults and the way that they can be non-inclusive as opposed to kids.
Within that concept if you Google three terms online, ANU, Birmingham and prosthetic blade you’ll see a brilliant video from one of the Birmingham Primary Schools in the UK from last year where a young seven-year-old girl called Anu returned to primary school with her bright, bright fluoro pink prosthetic blade. She had one leg amputated at a young age and she returned to school and without any staging, without any concepts of let’s try and make this a really good PR media tool, the BBC just filmed her returning to the playground before school like any other school in Australia and immediately she was swamped by her peers so six-year-old, seven-year-old, eight-year-old kids almost knock her over to the point of trying to give her a hug, trying to touch her pink leg, comments about how pink it is, how fast it looks, do you want to run? Let’s run and away they go. It is literally about 15 seconds of film and it shows the kids don’t look at someone and automatically discriminate, they’re very inclusive.
So, we’ll sit inclusion aside for a second and we’ll talk primarily around what’s called child safe practice. You may or may not be aware that the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse commenced in 2013. We’ve had five years of the highest level of scrutiny and investigation and public hearings and policy in relation to institutional responses to sexual abuse so within the concept of that there were 57 public hearings in the last five years, two hearings of which related to sport. There was an overarching sport hearing in April 2016 and there was hearing into Swimming Australia prior to that. Within all of the 57 hearings I was required in my previous role to listen to them online through the webcam or attend in person so I've Iistened to most of the about 54 of the 57 hearings.
There’s a lady called Gail Furness who’s the senior counsel representing the Commonwealth Government. If you’ve ever seen Gail Furness in action or if you haven’t, have a look at some of the video podcasts of the Royal Commission. She’s formidable. She’s an incredible prosecutor. She’s very, very good at what she does and the sport hearing in April 2016 she made several references to the good work that sport does in the prevention of child sexual abuse. All the other 52 hearings I listened to I didn’t hear any complementary statements made by her. She was primarily dissecting and taking apart all the ways in which organisations have failed kids so sport isn’t in the current position of drastic catastrophic summary of risk to kids but inclusion brings with it certain other levels of risk associated with children.
First and foremost, if you’re a child in Australia or any other Western world there’s a vulnerability attached to that. All of the research around the world tells us that child sexual abuse, physical harm, domestic violence, emotional harm and neglect is more likely to occur to someone who can’t protect themselves and young kids can’t physically defend themselves like an adult could. Within the context of bringing inclusion into the fold we’re talking about marginalized children quite often, kids who have recently arrived from overseas. They might have a non-English speaking background, they might be living with a disability or a medical condition, not suffering from, and we’ll talk about prejudice in regard to terminology, they’re not suffering from a medical condition or disability, they’re thriving with it, they’re living with it, just like I have a moderate to severe allergy to dust mite but I’m thriving with it, I’m not dying from it.
So, within that context of the way that inclusion brings sport and brings sometimes a few levels of risk, if you’re a cohort that potentially could be marginalized within a sport, someone who has a predisposition to target children for harm might try and target them as a potential victim. They’re less like to disclose. They potentially can be bluffed or manipulated into remaining silent and creating secret environments and all those things can create an extra slight layer of risk as opposed to the vulnerability of just being a child.
So, in the Royal Commission they handed out scores of research pieces from their policy team. They’ve got a brilliant policy team, one of which is what’s called the Child Safe Elements that they released in 2016. It was reviewed and scrutinized by a lot of organisations here, the (5:30) organisations who have attended today and they’ve come up with 10 key elements of child safe organisations. Now, I respect the term child safe organisations but I’ve got a little bit of a resistance to saying that you’ve met a benchmark or threshold so therefore you’re safe. I don’t like the term. It’s organic. It’s fluid. It’s the kind of thing that you establish within your sport or your organisation and it keeps thriving as opposed to we’ve met 10 elements and therefore we’re going to be good with kids.
Within those 10 elements there are four key elements that relate to today. First and foremost, diversity needs to be respected and needs to be provided with equity and that’s brilliant because when you talk about child protection, when you talk about child safe systems, quite often you don’t hear terms like diversity and inclusion. You only hear about terms like having the ability for someone who is from a non-English speaking background or their communication is reduced due to a medical condition or disability that they live with having an ability to engage in a complaints or reporting process.
The second element that I want to talk about today is having a child focused complaints process. I don’t like the term complaints and name a time that a child formally complained in an organisation so the term complaints isn’t going to resonate with kids and I think the Royal Commission’s done some brilliant things. I think they maybe missed the mark a little bit there by coining complaint and child focus together because effectively kids have talks to people. They chat to people. They disclose to their friends or people in their family. They don’t write to CEO’s and say “what is the formal complaints procedure and what do I need to do to enact that?” Quite often adults are reluctant to complain. For those who handle complaints in the room, like myself, you don’t wake up one week and say “I hope I get six this week. I can’t wait to be involved in a complaints process”. Kids don’t know about complaints processes. They can be as child focused as they’d like to be but you have to be creative in the way that you encourage kids to talk to you about potential risks that can arise.
The third element that we’ll talk about is physical and online environments should be reduced in regard to abuse occurring. Now that’s a really neat, easy fit. First and foremost, physically the environments in which sport operate can be managed well to reduce the likelihood of adults targeting kids. One of the best things you can do to reduce adults from targeting kids is to tell kids what adults aren’t allowed to do. The best way to do that is stick something up on the wall that says “here’s the great things our adults will do. Here’s things they’re not allowed to do” so let’s simplify the way that we discuss with kids what the expectations are with adults. If children are informed about misconduct and all the technical things that we like to get into as complaints handlers, they’re not more likely or likely in a general sense to actually talk about things that potentially could have gone wrong so an informed child in sport reduces the likelihood of an adult targeting them for risk. The adult takes too great a risk of being identified in court if kids are actually told what the adults can and can’t do. In a positive way, not in a negative fashion, but generally building a culture internally of what’s called child focus.
The fourth element, empowering kids to participate, so in the context of empowerment we all know about empowerment in regard to cohorts that are marginalized or aren’t included and we’ve heard lots of great examples of that today. Kids are afforded those same rights when they’re involved in sports, school, child care it’s a bit harder, they’re a bit younger but they do have some child focus rights. In that context in Australian sport why not when a child joins a sport you tell them about what their rights are. You affirm to them what they’re responsibilities are because all kids will be told about the Code of Conduct for them and the rules of the game and the laws and what you can do on the field and what you can’t and this is social media and here’s what bringing the sport into disrepute means. If anyone has a definition of that I’d love to discuss it because it’s very broad, but within the context of kids they’re always told what they can and can’t do but they’re rarely told “Now you’ve joined our organisation here’s the great work our adults will do but also if one of these things happens, come and tell us about it so we can help you, we can figure that out, we can sort it out”.
So, in the context of those four elements, where do we go from here? We have 4-5 minutes now so there are several things I want to promote to you. First and foremost, you heard it earlier in regard to steel, legally plagiarize other stuff that’s great. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t go back after today and say right, we want to be inclusive with kids. We want to have a child focus complaints procedure. We want to empower children. Let’s get our think tank together and spend three months designing that. Just let Google be your friend. The UK and Canada are about 15 years ahead of us in all these areas of child safe practice. There’s safe sport in the UK unit. There’s the National Society for the Protection of Children in the UK which the community donate about 100 million Pounds in charity funding every year. We don’t have a lot of charity funding towards protecting kids. It’s one of those areas of our society that is far less respected in regard to talking about it than it is in the UK but the flipside of that is with 100 million pounds in a year every year you can design some great stuff so why not take what they do and apply it locally at your organisation.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret, Play by the Rules. Brilliant group of practitioners, Pete Downs National Manager, we do a lot of legalized plagiarism. We find a lot of good stuff that gets sent to us and we send to each other and say maybe we could copy this. Those sorts of things work well, save time and they’ve been tried and tested.
So, within the context of complaints procedures, lots of sporting organisations nationally and at a State level, quite often right down through to council and district and club level will have member protection policies. For those who are representing sports I hope you know about them because part of the ASC Executive who require you to have a member protection policy are in the room so within that context member protection policies are very important. They are very broad. They cover off a whole range of areas including child protection and child safe practice as well as complaints procedures. Within that we don’t often see a lot for independent people like me who like to scrutinize the way that you manage complaints – a little pastime of mine – when we look at the way that you manage complaints there isn’t a lot of flexibility for young people.
There isn’t a lot of flexibility in regard to how they raise their concerns if you are recently joining the organisation and you’re from a non-English speaking background or you’re living with a disability or you are LGBTI and you potentially are having some inappropriate behaviour or comments being made to you. It is quite often rigid. We need a formal complaint or there’s an informal process. Kids absolutely flood the kids’ helpline. They go to headspace. Headspace started probably about eight or nine years ago and has flourished because it’s so well designed for young people in between the ages of 12 and 25 years of age.
So being flexible in the way that you receive feedback from young people creates a better layer of child safe practice within your sport. If they provide feedback and they feel comfortable to provide feedback they’re more likely to raise alarms when they think or they perceive that something may be going wrong. You’ll find out about it earlier, you’ll be able to manage it earlier and for a young person they’ll feel better supported if it’s a conversation with someone or a phone call, even better, maybe an Instagram private message they can send you because if you’re 13-15 years of age and you’re not on Instagram every 15 minutes you’ll physically die, so within that context why not open up the opportunity for them to engage with you about potential risk through platforms they use a lot as opposed to saying you want a formalised document to be filled in and sent to us via email.
Those sorts of things are varied ways in which you can manage child safe and inclusion. To quickly summarise all of those points, kids want to be heard. Every single piece of research that you’ll see about children and empowering kids and engaging them talk about if you give them a voice literally they’ll give you good stuff. We were doing youth forums with a national sport last month in Victoria and I already had my preconceived ideas on what the young people were going to tell us in that youth forum and when we discussed social media as a delivery service for information about the sport, whether the information is good, like the cost and the fixtures and the dates and the times, or whether it’s potentially a risk, so did you know that there’s a Code of Conduct and adults have responsibilities about their behaviour?
A 14-year-old girl said “it’d be great if you sent it to us in the mail” and I sat there and went “sorry, hold on, what do you mean the mail?” and she said “oh, if I ever get any mail I’m really excited because I don’t get any mail. I don’t get any in email or in the mailbox so if mum or dad came in and said ‘there’s mail addressed to you’ I’d be super excited. I definitely read it because I don’t get it that often” as opposed to if you’re sending emails to kids are they going to open it? If you’re posting stuff on social media, which we’ve advocated for a long time now, are they just going to scroll straight past it as opposed to a personalized letter that’s addressed to them and it talks about what they can do to help the sport. So, little things like that are important.
Kids love to know what the expected behaviour is for adults. It gives them a little bit of – how I could I craft this politely – confidence. They like to scrutinize adults. If anyone has children in their home, they scrutinize parents quite a lot and my four boys do. They provide great feedback about how bad we are at parenting on certain nights. In that context that gives you good insight into the behaviour of young people. If they get given an avenue they’re more likely to discuss things that they think are good and bad.
What are three things you like about our sport? A, B & C.
What are three things you don’t like? A, B & C
As opposed to, do you have a formal complaint? Is this (14:52) criminal threshold? Do we need to seek legal advice? Let’s call a special meeting so that we can agree as a Board or a Committee before we take action. All those things are not relevant to kids and all those things are a disincentive for kids to actually talk to you about things that potentially could be a risk so there are lots of different things you can do. First off, go to Play by the Rules and find this stuff because it’s already been written. There’s a Code of Conduct for adults. There’s a Code of Conduct for Kids. There’s an expected behaviour guideline that blends both of those together so if you hand it out to young kids in the sport they read about what’s expected of adults and adults are also reading about what’s expected of young players.
There are complaints mechanisms that you have within your organisations. Potentially go back and look at whether you have the ability to diversify those. Do you have something as simple as and there are lots of organisations here who can put you in contact with them, do you have the ability to engage translators for families of young participants or young participants where English isn’t their strongest language and potentially they could find that as a disincentive to engage with you if something does go wrong.
Lots of different things available. I think I’ve taken up all of my time. I’ll point it straight to Pete and say please get in contact with Pete Downs of Play by the Rules if you want any more information after you’ve been on the website because it’s brilliant.