Risk management to stop sexual abuse at institutions
Tasmania is holding a commission of inquiry into child sexual abuse at its institutions. The hearings conclude in August and are the latest investigation in Australia of the sexual abuse of children, the aged or other vulnerable people. The last decade has seen three Commonwealth Royal Commissions, numerous parliamentary inquiries and increasing numbers of court cases.
“The findings have been explosive in terms of human rights violations,” said Hetty Johnston, founder of Bravehearts Foundation and a leading child protection advocate. “These are the reasons that Australian governments, state and federal, are responding so forcefully and rapidly with increased legislation, regulation and oversight,” she said in an Ansvar Insurance news release.
Johnston spent 12 months working with Ansvar Risk, part of Melbourne headquartered Ansvar Insurance, to develop their risk management solutions to prevent physical and sexual abuse. Safeguarding Risk Strategy was launched for brokers and clients in October last year.
“Our tools and resources continue to be developed to support the strategy and will continue to grow,” said Anthony Black, Ansvar’s general manager of Risk Solutions.
According to Ansvar’s website, safeguarding refers to the responsibilities, measures and activities undertaken to safeguard children and vulnerable adults from harm and abuse.
“It aims to build good governance and effective cultures to reduce the risk of sexual abuse,” said Black. Using aged care as an example, he said 50 incidents of sexual abuse in aged care are reported each week.
Black said boards running the care sector’s institutions have a legal obligation to ensure the safety of residents and clients and to have appropriate safeguarding strategies to prevent abuse from happening.
“In the absence of well-developed and embedded safeguarding frameworks, organisations face the risk of significant difficulty in obtaining insurance or becoming uninsurable,” he said.
The safeguarding product, said Black, was the result of research into “the nature, prevalence and best practice risk strategies to prevent sexual abuse.”
He said brokers offering this product to institutions must ensure these organizations “explicitly” understand the risk.
“Managing the risk and maintaining insurability relies on board and executive leadership to explicitly understand and address the problem of sexual abuse,” he said.
Black said the issue needs be on board meeting agendas and also any Quality and Safety Committee.
He said institutions need to have a safeguarding strategy and regularly assess and improve it. They also need to strengthen their entire risk management framework.
“Good governance relies on effective risk management and contemporary approaches,” said Black. “Traditional risk management won’t cut it. Schedule a risk maturity review as a governance priority,” he said.
The aged care sector specifically, he said, is facing a new era for governance. He said safeguarding can form part of this “important step change.”
“The biggest regulatory changes the sector has ever seen are coming, including a new Aged Care Act in 2023,” he said.
Black said boards are now under the spotlight. The new Act will bring heightened obligations with governance accountabilities and reporting, new prudential requirements and potential civil penalties for unacceptable standards of quality and safety.
Providers in the sector, he said, are now having to prioritise clinical and care governance just as they would financial governance. Boards are accountable for the standards of care and should have in place board structures to monitor and respond to care provision.
“For many organisations this will challenge old structures and processes. A clinical governance framework and a policy on preventing sexual abuse must be developed and embedded in the organisation,” he said.
Black said the massive turnovers, vacancies and exhausted staff are also a big risk across the aged care sector.
Johnston has further tips for any organization involved in the care sector with children or adults.
“Safeguarding is no longer a ‘nice to do’ – it is now a ‘mandatory must do’,” she said and encouraged organizations to embrace change, not fight it.
She said organizations should form a Safeguarding Committee from their most senior people to prioritise and drive implementation. Johnston also encouraged organizations to reach out for help.
“There is a plethora of help and tips available including risk, policy, procedure and governance. Change doesn’t have to be hard – it’s all about your attitude to change. Get excited,” she said.
Johnston will be on a panel of experts discussing safeguarding at Ansvar’s first major in person event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The September event in Melbourne includes an education forum for brokers and clients and also a pandemic delayed 60th birthday celebration for the firm’s UK parent company, Benefact Group.