Creating child-safe organisations: Lessons learned from the Royal Commission


You are in an archived section of the AIFS website 


Content type
Short article

May 2018


Adam Dean

MacKillop Family Services hosted its inaugural national conference, Child Safe Organisations: Prevention and Practice Beyond the Royal Commission, in March to reflect on the findings and implications of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. A range of eminent speakers gathered to discuss what can be learned from listening to survivors of child abuse and how leaders of organisations can cultivate environments that value and protect children’s safety.

Local Wurundjeri Elder Aunty Diane Kerr1 began the event by welcoming delegates to country and reflecting on the importance of culture and ceremony for the safety of Aboriginal children.

In his opening keynote address, Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald2 asked delegates to think about what has been learnt from the past and to consider the impacts that current policies and practices will have on future generations. He outlined three major themes of the Royal Commission:

  • the failure to protect children
  • the resilience of survivors
  • opportunities to create safe environments for children. 

Commissioner Fitzgerald highlighted that all children are vulnerable to abuse, but some children are more vulnerable than others. This includes high achievers in sporting and academic pursuits and those who experience disadvantage, such as children with a disability. In response to these vulnerabilities, he outlined key protective factors for children’s safety, including the capacity to educate children about sex, the ability of staff to actively engage on the topic of children’s safety within the organisation and the removal of situational risks that create opportunities to abuse children, such as closed or concealed spaces in buildings.

In creating child-safe organisations, Commissioner Fitzgerald urged delegates to think beyond policies and procedures – as important as they are – and emphasised the need to cultivate organisational environments that value children. In practice, this means that organisations need to:

  • act in children’s best interests, not just act for them
  • genuinely listen to children and respond to their needs
  • create communities of knowledge, where all staff can talk openly about children’s safety.

These actions form part of the overall Child Safe Standards developed by the Royal Commission to guide institutions on how to create safer environments for children. See Volume 6, Making institutions child safe of the Final report for more information.

Dr Sandra Bloom3 continued the focus on creating child-safe organisations with a detailed presentation on trauma-informed practice based on the Sanctuary Model. She highlighted that organisations, like individuals, are living systems vulnerable to chronic stress that can result from traumatic experiences. For organisations, symptoms of trauma can include emotional dysregulation, poor communication, increased conflict and learned helplessness among staff – all of which are signs of an organisational culture that is unsafe for children and young people. In responding to such cases, Dr Bloom described the need for organisations to consider not only the physical safety of children, but also children’s moral, psychological and social safety. For more information about the Sanctuary Model, see the Sanctuary Institute Australia website.

Professor Anne Graham4 drew attention to children’s rights as an integral part of children’s safety. In particular, she focused on the need to shift our views of children and young people as passive and vulnerable to give greater recognition of their agency and capabilities. In practice, this means affording children and young people greater status and listening to their voices to better understand their needs, lives and experiences. Professor Graham highlighted that this is especially the case for children who experience disadvantage, such as those living in out-of-home care and those with a disability.

Two panel discussions were held with other academics and practitioners with expertise on children’s safety in related areas of practice, including family violence, cultural safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and police responses to young people in residential care.

Access keynote presentations on the MacKillop Family Services website.

Read a summary of the conference on the MacKillop Family Services website.

Related resources

Further reading 

  • Child safe institutions
    This section of the Royal Commission’s final report looks at what makes an organisation child safe and recommends approaches to improve child safety.


  1. Aunty Diane Kerr is a respected Elder of the Wurundjeri Tribe.
  2. Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald AM was one of six commissioners appointed for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
  3. Dr Sandra Bloom is Associate Professor, Health Management and Policy, Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University, USA.
  4. Professor Anne Graham is Professor Childhood Studies and Founding Director of the Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University.