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Child protection, compliance and conversion

  • 07 September 2017


Jesus is reported as saying 'unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven'. Did he mean what he said or was he being idealistic? Do his words mean anything for today? I think they do, especially for Christian ministries in the light of the work of the Royal Commission and its likely recommendations for ensuring the safety of children.

These reflections are written in the context of ensuring that the best possible policies, practices and compliance systems are in place to keep children safe when in the care of institutions.

There is risk, however, in that we might focus so much on compliance that we will lose sight of the children.

In the Christian gospels the child is the exemplar, par excellence, of what God's world is meant to look like. In this view, the care of children and young people moves beyond compliance with safeguards to a greater openness to the divine. Children show the way on this because children are much more open to enchantment, much more open to the presence of God.

In social policy, on the other hand, the child tends to be portrayed as a powerless innocent. For example, the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child calls on member states to 'to recognise the rights of the child and to 'strive for their observance by legislative and other measures'.

The United Nations document gives a kind of moral basis for caring for the child, but it is a deficit basis that rests on the child's vulnerability: 'the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care'. It is a call for compliance based on the weakness of the child rather than on the importance of the child and the strengths of the child.

Similarly, criminal law exists to protect good order and to keep citizens safe. Laws to keep children safe focus on protection of the child rather than on the unique giftedness of a child.

In past years, some Catholic institutions have failed the standards of both gospel and society: on the one hand by discounting the importance of children and not listening to children, and on the other hand by not having appropriate practices and policies to ensure the safety of children.


"In conscientiously developing standards for the safeguarding and flourishing of children, the standards set by the state and the standards set by the church