Case Study 41: Hearing room updates

Hearing update - Friday 22 July 2016 - Day 8

The Royal Commission’s inquiry into the response of Mater Dei School and the Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan to allegations of child sexual abuse continued today.

Mater Dei was one of three institutions which are part of the Commission’s 41st public hearing inquiring into disability service providers. The others were The Disability Trust in NSW and FSG Australia.

Former Principal and CEO of Mater Dei, Ms Suzanne Dixon, gave evidence today.  Ms Dixon told the Commission she started work with Mater Dei in January 1991 and held her position until the end of 2000.

Ms Dixon gave evidence about reports of sexual abuse of students CIL, CIN and CIB in the early 1990s by CID, a house parent at one of the residential cottages operated by the school at the time. She also gave evidence about an incident of child-on-child abuse in 1992.

Ms Dixon became aware of the allegations against the worker CID in March 1991, soon after she started at the school. She imposed conditions on CID’s employment at that time, however by June of that year she had ‘lost confidence’ in CID and had asked him to resign. CID resigned and left the school in June 1991 and later departed Australia in July 1991.

Ms Dixon gave evidence about her response to the reports she received, which included reporting the conduct to FACS and the NSW Police.  Ms Dixon said the steps she had taken in relation to CID were in line with advice she received from FACS.

She told the Commission that the incident involving CIB led to a number of changes to the residential program at Mater Dei including an increased focus on personal development, a strengthening of reporting procedures and more professional development for staff dealing with sexual abuse and vigilance.

The public hearing concluded today.

 

Hearing update - Tuesday 12 July 2016 - Day 2

The second day of the Royal Commission’s Case Study 41 inquiring into disability service providers today heard evidence from Mr Tony Fitzgerald, current Principal and CEO of Mater Dei School in Camden NSW.

Mr Fitzgerald gave evidence that Mater Dei currently has a child protection policy framework in place, which includes staff screening and working with children checks, procedures for reportable conduct matters, mandatory reporting, and other child safety matters.

Mr Fitzgerald was asked about the operations of the school, its child protection policies and the processes around management and administration of medicines. He told the Commission that the school has extensive policies around these issues including those relating to the administration of medicines.

He told the Commission about the process for selecting personnel for positions working in the Mater Dei Living Skills Program, which involves students staying in one of two residences operated by the school one to two nights a week.

Mr Fitzgerald said he was absolutely sure the current training for staff at Mater Dei ensured they know about child protection policies and procedures and their obligations under those policies and procedures.  He expressed his confidence that Mater Dei currently provided a child safe environment for its students.

"One of the measures of a child safe environment would be in the number of allegations ... that are required to be investigated," he said adding that Mater Dei has had just two allegations in seven years that needed to be reported to the Ombudsman, one of which related to concerns about "crossing boundaries and possible grooming behaviour".

Mr Fitzgerald said that when he arrived at Mater Dei as Principal in 2010 the school’s child protection policies were well established and required only ‘nuancing’. 

He said that one of the key issues faced by many institutions, including Mater Dei, is the actual implementation of policies. 

He told the Commission that polices don’t have force in and of themselves. “They have force and substance because of people bring them to life…through daily procedures.

“We can have an expansive and sophisticated suite of policies across a whole range of areas including child protection – which I believe we do – but unless those policies are brought to life by people in relation to children who have significant needs in the daily processes of the life of the school then the policies are just that – they are a suite of policies.”

Mr Fitzgerald said he would be reluctant to conduct an internal investigation into any future allegations, saying he was concerned small schools such as Mater Dei did not have the resources to conduct internal investigations to the standards expected by the Ombudsman. 

"I'm not convinced that schools have the human resources to adequately fulfil that task," he said.

"There ought to be access for small organisations like Mater Dei to go to an agency that is oversighted by the Ombudsman and say, from the time the allegation is brought forward, 'This is the allegation, you now have carriage of it'."

At the conclusion of Mr Fitzgerald’s evidence the Commission commenced hearing evidence into the second institution being examined in this case study, The Disability Trust and Interchange Shoalhaven.

The Commission will continue to hear evidence into the Mater Dei case study next Friday, 22 July 2016.

 

Hearing room update  - Monday 11 July Day 1

The Royal Commission started Case Study 41 into disability service providers today in Sydney. 

The Commission will hear evidence of the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse with disabilities and their parents and will inquire into the responses to allegations of child sexual abuse by three disability service providers, Mater Dei School in Camden, NSW Gold Coast Family Support Group (now known as FSG Australia) and The Disability Trust and Interchange Shoalhaven to those allegations of child sexual abuse.

It will also examine the safeguarding of children within the structure of the new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The Commission first heard evidence from a witness given the pseudonym CIC, a mother of a young girl, CIB, who attended school at Mater Dei and lived during the week in the residential cottages provided by the school from the start of 1991.

The then 13-year-old had an intellectual capacity of a three to five-year-old and was allegedly abused by a cottage supervisor, given the pseudonym CID.

The matter was referred to police on behalf of the family, and Suzanne Dixon who was CEO and the principal of Mater Dei at the time also reported the matter to the NSW Department of Families and Community Services (FACS).

The mother told the Commission how her daughter hemorrhaged in May 1991 and had been taken to Nepean hospital for treatment where a surgeon said her condition could have been caused by a sexual assault.  She believed the assault was committed by CID.  CIC told the Commission she was not given any information about any investigation undertaken by the school or the authorities in relation to her daughter's assault and no one was ever charged with assaulting her daughter.

CIC also said that after the assault and during the remaining time CIB spent at Mater Dei she was not spoken to by anyone from Mater Dei about her well-being or what happened to her daughter. 

Finally, in 1997, CIC contacted the hotline operated by the NSW Police Royal Commission and reported her daughter's abuse.  She heard nothing further about any response made by authorities to this complaint until she was contacted by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan later that year.

Sister Sonia Wagner, the former Superior of the Sisters of Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict, gave evidence about her role in 1997 responding to advice that CIC had made a complaint to the Police Royal Commission. 

Sister Wagner told the Commission that she received advice from the Police Royal Commission via the NSW Catholic Education Commission that CIC had made a complaint regarding CIB's assault. 

She was initially advised that the matter was subject to a police investigation and she was not at liberty to contact CIC about the complaint.  She told the Commission that this was very frustrating because it forced the Order to delay their commencement of a pastoral response for CIB and CIC.

Later in 1997, after receiving clearance from police, Sister Wagner and another member of the Good Samaritan Order met with CIC and her daughter to offer them pastoral assistance.  An initial offer of respite care had not been taken up by CIC.  It was the Order's first use of the Towards Healing protocol, which had come into effect in March 1997.

Sister Wagner agreed that having heard CIC's evidence, it was clear that CIC did not have full information about the sequence of events that had led to the Order seeking to meet with her.  As a result rather than helping, the visit of the Sisters had caused CIC confusion and concern.  After this, when CIC did not take up the offer of respite, there was no follow up.

Asked what more might have done to help CIB and her family, Sister Wagner said the Order would have made more strenuous efforts to provide pastoral support much sooner than they did and to follow up with CIC and CIB.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

 

Hearing room update - Tuesday 12 July Day 2

The second day of the Royal Commission’s Case Study 41 inquiring into disability service providers today heard evidence from Mr Tony Fitzgerald, current Principal and CEO of Mater Dei School in Camden NSW.

Mr Fitzgerald gave evidence that Mater Dei currently has a child protection policy framework in place, which includes staff screening and working with children checks, procedures for reportable conduct matters, mandatory reporting, and other child safety matters.

Mr Fitzgerald was asked about the operations of the school, its child protection policies and the processes around management and administration of medicines. He told the Commission that the school has extensive policies around these issues including those relating to the administration of medicines.

He told the Commission about the process for selecting personnel for positions working in the Mater Dei Living Skills Program, which involves students staying in one of two residences operated by the school one to two nights a week.

Mr Fitzgerald said he was absolutely sure the current training for staff at Mater Dei ensured they know about child protection policies and procedures and their obligations under those policies and procedures.  He expressed his confidence that Mater Dei currently provided a child safe environment for its students.

"One of the measures of a child safe environment would be in the number of allegations ... that are required to be investigated," he said adding that Mater Dei has had just two allegations in seven years that needed to be reported to the Ombudsman, one of which related to concerns about "crossing boundaries and possible grooming behaviour".

Mr Fitzgerald said that when he arrived at Mater Dei as Principal in 2010 the school’s child protection policies were well established and required only ‘nuancing’. 

He said that one of the key issues faced by many institutions, including Mater Dei, is the actual implementation of policies. 

He told the Commission that polices don’t have force in and of themselves. “They have force and substance because of people bring them to life…through daily procedures.

“We can have an expansive and sophisticated suite of policies across a whole range of areas including child protection – which I believe we do – but unless those policies are brought to life by people in relation to children who have significant needs in the daily processes of the life of the school then the policies are just that – they are a suite of policies.”

Mr Fitzgerald said he would be reluctant to conduct an internal investigation into any future allegations, saying he was concerned small schools such as Mater Dei did not have the resources to conduct internal investigations to the standards expected by the Ombudsman. 

"I'm not convinced that schools have the human resources to adequately fulfil that task," he said.

"There ought to be access for small organisations like Mater Dei to go to an agency that is oversighted by the Ombudsman and say, from the time the allegation is brought forward, 'This is the allegation, you now have carriage of it'."

At the conclusion of Mr Fitzgerald’s evidence the Commission commenced hearing evidence into the second institution being examined in this case study, The Disability Trust and Interchange Shoalhaven.

The Commission will continue to hear evidence into the Mater Dei case study next Friday, 22 July 2016.

 

 

Hearing room update - Friday 22 July Day 8

Newsletter image

The Council is keen to inform people about the work of the Council and developments with the Royal Commission. By signing up we will provide you directly with the latest news, blog posts, media releases and media coverage on a regular basis.