Major changes needed to provide better care for other people’s children.

When the Royal Commission released its report into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse it was clear that safety and protection of children from abuse (emotional and sexual) remains a major concern in a wide range of institutions and has been for the last century.

While responses to the issues tend to remain that of remorse, anger and denial, the lack of acknowledgement, validation and action taken harms and damages the victims even more.

Like all human cultures on the planet, attitudes and organisational cultures and their operations are very enduring. Therefore why would we think institutional child sexual abuse and other inappropriate practice is no longer occurring? We need to name it for what it is and stop more of the same from happening. After all, we are looking after other people’s children.

National standards are needed. Operational practices and attitudes based on a set of standards that are excellent and appropriate for 2018, not the 1950s are required. Recently Boarding Australia and the Australian Boarding Schools Association met and agreed to work together to progress the work of the Boarding Standard for Australian schools and residences AS5725:2015 and associated matters.

The National Indigenous Education and Boarding Symposium in March is also working on bringing together people of influence to advance appropriate responses to the issues that have been identified. Each of the reports to be examined focuses on something different, child sexual abuse, educational opportunities and studying away from home, they each highlight the need for change and the need for action. Boarding Australia is providing an opportunity for real changes in policy, structure and administration to occur.

I believe that if real educational collaboration were fostered between boarding/residential facilities and schools in approach, the more likely the educational gap would close. Together, schooling plus the other 18 hours, makes a powerful educational tool. Boarding organisations need to change their headset, as too do schools, and work together, equally and in the same direction. When you change the way you see yourself and see yourself as a valuable part of the educational process, attitudes change and outcomes are enhanced.

The Wiltja Anangu Secondary College is an example of that. For many years Wiltja Boarding has worked closely with its school campuses and vice versa. The “Hostel” became Wiltja Boarding, House Parents became Youth Workers. They were trained, got the necessary qualifications and saw themselves as educators. Conversations changed, attitudes changed and a collaborative approach developed between all parts of the overall organisation. The outcome is that students are appropriately supported, retention rates increase, outcomes improve and ultimately students become self-determining people.

Education happens in and out of school. A shift in attitudes can harness the power of collaborative education. Boarding is patently under resourced. It requires appropriate and adequate resources that consider students’ backgrounds and needs, appropriate staff numbers, staff training and qualifications and for organisations and their staff to be culturally competent. If we can build a common culture where the prevailing attitude is that we all play an equal part in each student’s education, and we listen to the voices of Indigenous parents, their children and their communities, positive change is inevitable. The gap will shut.

Anthony Bennett

President Boarding Australia

Manager of Wiltja Anangu Secondary College