Is social media damaging to children and teens? We asked five experts



They need to have it to fit in, but social media is probably doing teens more harm than good.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Alexandra Hansen, The Conversation

If you have kids, chances are you’ve worried about their presence on social media.

Who are they talking to? What are they posting? Are they being bullied? Do they spend too much time on it? Do they realise their friends’ lives aren’t as good as they look on Instagram?

We asked five experts if social media is damaging to children and teens.

Four out of five experts said yes

The four experts who ultimately found social media is damaging said so for its negative effects on mental health, disturbances to sleep, cyberbullying, comparing themselves with others, privacy concerns, and body image.

However, they also conceded it can have positive effects in connecting young people with others, and living without it might even be more ostracising.

The dissident voice said it’s not social media itself that’s damaging, but how it’s used.

Here are their detailed responses:


If you have a “yes or no” health question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: alexandra.hansen@theconversation.edu.au


Karyn Healy is a researcher affiliated with the Parenting and Family Support Centre at The University of Queensland and a psychologist working with schools and families to address bullying. Karyn is co-author of a family intervention for children bullied at school. Karyn is a member of the Queensland Anti-Cyberbullying Committee, but not a spokesperson for this committee; this article presents only her own professional views.The Conversation

Alexandra Hansen, Chief of Staff, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Should I let my kid climb trees? We asked five experts



Falls are the main reason for childhood injuries, but kids usually recover.
from shutterstock.com

Sasha Petrova, The Conversation

We often remember childhood as a time when life seemed infinite and adventures in our backyard felt expansive, as if we were exploring other worlds.

Climbing a tree was its own adventure. You could discover what you were capable of, while also getting the chance to see the world from a different vantage point.

Of course, sometimes you’d fall. But that’s to be expected – there’s a risk in every journey of discovery.

Parents want their children to enjoy the same joys of childhood they look back on fondly, but many struggle with getting the balance right – how much freedom can you give while also making sure your child is safe?

We asked five experts – including a paediatric surgeon who operates on children who’ve fallen out of a tree – if it’s OK to let kids climb trees.

Five out of five experts said yes

Although, in every case, it’s a yes, but…

Here are their detailed responses:


If you have a “yes or no” education question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: sasha.petrova@theconversation.edu.au


Disclosures: Shelby Laird is a member of the North American Association for Environmental Education as well as its local affiliate, Environmental Educators of North Carolina.The Conversation

Sasha Petrova, Section Editor: Education, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

6 ways to stop daylight saving derailing your child’s sleep



It’s harder for kids to get to sleep when it’s light outside and they’re not as tired.
Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock

Julie Green, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Jon Quach, University of Melbourne

Daylight saving will begin this weekend across most of Australia, signalling warmer weather, longer days and new opportunities for children to make the most of time outside.

It can also mark the start of a rough patch in the sleep department. Children’s body clocks can struggle to adjust as the hour shift forwards means they aren’t tired until later.

There are things parents can do to ease the transition to daylight saving and planning ahead is key. And if things get wobbly, there are also strategies to get them back on track.

But first, let’s look at where the problem starts.




Read more:
Spring forward, fall back: how daylight saving affects our sleep


Children’s body clocks

The body clock – also known as our circadian rhythm – controls when we sleep and wake.

Several environmental cues affect our body clock, the most common of which is the light-dark cycle. When it’s dark, our bodies produce more of the hormone melatonin, which helps bring on sleep. And when it’s light, our bodies produce less, so we feel more awake.

When daylight saving begins, children’s bodies aren’t getting the usual environmental signals to sleep at their regular time.

But a later bedtime means getting less sleep overall, which can impact on their concentration, memory, behaviour and ability to learn.

So, how do you plan for the daylight saving switchover?

1. Take a sleep health check

This is a good opportunity to look at how your child is sleeping and whether they’re getting enough sleep overall. Individual needs will vary but as a guide, here’s what you should aim for:

Most children wake themselves in the morning, or wake easily with a gentle prompt, if they’re getting enough good-quality sleep.

But sleep problems such as trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep are common and persistent. Around 50% of problems that begin before a child starts school continue into the early school years. So, early intervention makes a difference.




Read more:
Sleep problems that persist could affect children’s emotional development


2. Review the bedtime routine

As well as the light-dark cycle, children’s circadian rhythms are synchronised with other environmental cues, such as timing around bath and dinner. A positive routine in the hour before bed creates consistency the body recognises, helping children wind down in preparation for sleep.

Bedtime routines work best when the atmosphere is calm and positive. They include a bath, brushing teeth and quiet play – like reading with you – some quiet chat time, and relaxing music.

Reading stories before bed is calming and helps create a predicable routine.
Shutterstock

Keeping quiet time consistent makes it easier to say goodnight and lights out. Doing a quick check on whether they’ve had a drink, been to the toilet and so on can help address things they might call out for later.

Gently reminding children what you expect and quiet praise for staying in bed helps too.

3. Keep regular sleep and wake times

Sticking to similar daily bedtimes and wake times keeps children’s circadian rhythms in a regular pattern.




Read more:
Regular bed times as important for kids as getting enough sleep


It’s best to keep this routine during weekends and holidays – even though these are times when older children in particular are eager for later nights. This is worth remembering to avoid a double whammy of sleep disruption as daylight saving and the school holidays coincide.

If your child is not tiring until later, try making bedtime 15 minutes earlier each day until you reach your bedtime target.

4. Control the sleep environment

Darkening the room is an important cue to stimulate melatonin production. This can be challenging during daylight saving, depending on your home. Trying to block out light – say, with thicker curtains – is a good strategy. Keeping the amount of light in the room consistent will also make for better sleep.

Research suggests the blue light emitted by screens from digital devices might suppress melatonin and delay sleepiness. It’s advisable to turn screens off at least an hour before bed and to keep them out of the bedroom at night.

Turn screens off an hour before bed.
Ternavskaia Olga Alibec/Shutterstock



Read more:
Wired and tired: why parents should take technology out of their kid’s bedroom


Temperature plays a role in priming children for sleep, as core body temperature decreases in sync with the body clock. So, check the room, bedding or clothing aren’t too hot. Between 18℃ and 21℃ is the ideal temperature range for a child’s bedroom.

5. Consider what happens during the day

Making sure your child gets plenty of natural daylight, especially in the morning, keeps them alert during the day and sleepy in the evening.

Daytime physical activity also makes children tired and ready for a good night’s sleep.

For children over five, keep naps early and short (20 minutes or less) because longer and later naps make night sleep harder.

For younger children, too little daytime sleep can make them overtired and therefore harder to settle into bed.

6. Focus on food and drink

Think about dinner timing because feeling hungry or full before bedtime can delay sleep by making children too alert or uncomfortable.

It’s also important to avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening. Caffeine is in chocolate, energy drinks, coffee, tea and cola.




Read more:
Kids’ diets and screen time: to set up good habits, make healthy choices the default at home


In the morning, a healthy breakfast helps kick-start your child’s body clock at the right time.

Finally, worries, anxiety, and common illnesses can also cause sleep problems. If problems last beyond two to four weeks, or you’re worried, see your GP.The Conversation

Julie Green, Principal Fellow, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Jon Quach, Research fellow, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How do you know if your child has hay fever and how should you treat it?



It comes down to the persistence of symptoms.
Littlekidmoment/Shutterstock

Paxton Loke, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

Spring has sprung and if you’re one of the one in five Australians who get hay fever, you’ve probably noticed some of those pesky symptoms: sneezing; an itchy, runny or stuffy nose; and red, itchy, watery eyes.

Unfortunately children aren’t immune. One in ten will get hay fever – or allergic rhinitis, as it’s known in the clinic – and the rate appears to be rising.

Pollens generally cause seasonal symptoms (in spring or summer), while house dust mites are mainly responsible for year-round symptoms.

Children who are allergic to both seasonal and perennial allergens may experience a marked increase in their symptoms during spring.

Hay fever can lead to fatigue, irritability and poor concentration, and can affect children’s learning and social behaviour. But the good news is it’s usually easily treated.




Read more:
Future hay fever seasons will be worse thanks to climate change


Why do kids get hay fever?

Hay fever can begin as early as 18 months of age, when children are exposed to pollens or house dust mites.

Tiny particles get trapped in the hairs and mucous that line their nasal cavity, or can enter via the conjunctiva – the tissue that covers their eye.

The body treats these invaders as dangerous and mounts an attack, using antibodies called immunoglobulin E, or IgE.

When the allergens bind to IgE antibodies, which are present on immune cells (such as mast cells), the cells quickly release chemical mediators, including histamines and leukotrienes. This causes sneezing, itchy and/or runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes.

The body then recruits other immune cells, such as T cells, causing more inflammation and worsening symptoms.

How do you know if it’s hay fever?

While hay fever can be a life-long health issue, symptoms can fluctuate over time.

As well as sneezing, an itchy, runny nose, and itchy watery eyes, you might notice your child has a dry cough, is snorting or sniffing, or continually clears their throat.

In some instances, they might make a clicking sound with their tongue when they use it to scratch the roof of their mouth.

Hay fever symptoms in children are the same as adults.
Creatista/Shutterstock

While these symptoms may initially look like the common cold, the persistence of symptoms after weeks usually points towards hay fever.

Children with hay fever usually don’t have fevers (which are more common with infections) but they may be more prone to recurrent colds.




Read more:
Health Check: how to tell the difference between hay fever and the common cold


If you’re unsure, take your child to your local doctor for a diagnosis. If necessary, they can use skin prick or blood tests to detect the presence of relevant IgE antibodies to the suspected allergens.

Your doctor may then discuss the three main treatment options: avoiding the allergen, oral and topical medications, and allergen immunotherapy.

Avoiding the allergen

Once you suspect or know the allergen, you can help minimise your child’s contact with the cause of their hay fever.

For children who have seasonal allergic rhinitis, allergen minimisation strategies could include:

  • staying indoors on windy days with high pollen counts
  • avoiding activities with allergen exposure (such as grass mowing)
  • having a shower promptly after outdoor activities
  • using re-circulated air in the car.
Try to keep kids with hay fever indoors on days with a high pollen count.
Eva Foreman/Shutterstock

For cases of perennial allergic rhinitis, where house dust mite is the dominant cause, avoidance strategies could include:

  • washing household bedding (sheets and pillow cases) in hot water (above 60°C)
  • removing soft toys
  • replacing woollen underlays with dust mite covers
  • vacuuming carpets with vacuum cleaners fitted with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.

Medications

Medical therapy is often required in addition to avoiding the allergen.

First line treatments are non-sedating oral antihistamines such as cetirizine, loratadine, fexofenadine and desloratadine. These are available as a syrup or tablets, and can be used for children aged 12 months and over.

They’re available over the counter at pharmacies, or your doctor can advise you on which might work best for your child.




Read more:
Health Check: what are the options for treating hay fever?


Nasal steroid sprays (also called intranasal corticosteroids) are also very effective in alleviating symptoms when used correctly.

For children who suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis, nasal steroid sprays should be started prior to the start of the pollen season, and maintained throughout the season.

Nasal steroid sprays can be used for children aged two years and above, and need to be started under the direction of your doctor.

Side effects can include nose bleeds or nasal dryness. While long-term use is generally safe, it’s best to have ongoing reviews by your doctor.

Other treatment options include:

  • intranasal decongestants – sprays to dry the nose – which relieve congestion in the nose by shrinking swollen blood vessels in the nose. These can be used for up to three days
  • antihistamine nasal sprays, which may act more quickly than oral antihistamines but only in the nasal passages
  • nasal irrigation with saline (salty water) to clear the nasal passages of the allergens.

Desensitisation

Allergen immunotherapy involves monthly injections, or daily drops or tablets.
Microgen/Shutterstock

Allergen immunotherapy, also known as desensitisation, is an option for children who aren’t getting enough relief from medications and avoiding the allergen.

It involves a regular administration of the allergen, either via monthly injections (called the subcutaneous route) or daily drops/tablets under the tongue (known as the sublingual route).

Allergen immunotherapy is available for children aged five years and above via a paediatric allergy specialist, and successfully reduces symptoms in 40-50% of patients.

Treatment is usually given for a period of three to five years, with costs ranging from A$50-A$200 monthly, depending on the number of allergens and products used.




Read more:
Health Check: what’s the right way to blow your nose?


The Conversation


Paxton Loke, Paediatric Allergist and Immunologist, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor’s childcare plan: parents, children, and educators stand to benefit, but questions remain


File 20190428 194616 rzox.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Hundreds of thousands of Australians parents would be in work if childcare was more affordable.
from shutterstock.com

Jen Jackson, Victoria University

Labor’s proposed A$4 billion reform to the childcare subsidy on Sunday confirms that early childhood is a key policy issue this election. This is on top of Labor’s previous announcement of 15 hours of funded preschool for every Australian three-year-old.

The latest announcement will no doubt be welcomed by families balancing the costs of childcare against the benefits of participation in paid work. In 2015, the Productivity Commission estimated around 165,000 Australian parents would like to work more, but were prevented due to poor accessibility or affordability of suitable childcare.




Read more:
Shorten promises $4 billion for child care, benefitting 887,000 families


Under Labor’s proposal, families on incomes up to A$174,000 with children under five would be better off on average by A$26 a week, or A$1,200 a year per child. Most families earning up to A$69,000 would get their childcare free. Currently, they receive a subsidy of 85%. Labor’s proposal would save them up to A$2,100 annually per child.

The current subsidy gradually tapers down as earnings increase. The lowest subsidy available is 20% for the highest-earning families, before it cuts out at A$351,258.
Families on incomes above A$174,000, under Labor’s plan, would continue to receive the same level of support as under current arrangements.

The current subsidy was introduced as part of the Coalition’s major childcare reforms (worth A$3.5 billion) in 2018, which included a means-tested subsidy and removal of annual caps. The reforms benefitted an estimated one million lower-income families – but also left around 280,000 families worse off, including families with neither parent in work.

ANU modelling had predicted that while the reforms would benefit low-income families, the activity test would mean families not working or studying would be at risk of missing out.




Read more:
Childcare funding changes leave disadvantaged children with fewer hours of early education


This is where early childhood policy gets complicated. Policies can be motivated by different goals. The Coalition reforms were aimed at encouraging parental workforce participation. Labor’s proposal for the childcare subsidy seem similarly motivated.

But parents are not the only beneficiaries of childcare subsidies. Quality childcare also benefits children’s learning. Many childcare programs for four-year- olds (and increasingly, three-year-olds), incorporate preschool. For children of all ages, Australian childcare providers must provide a play-based learning program, guided by the national framework.

That’s why childcare and preschool services are all known as early childhood education and care: whenever children are being cared for, they are also learning. Even a nappy change offers opportunities to support children’s learning, as skilled educators use playful, caring interactions to help young children develop skills like communication, trust and well-being.

Educators can also help families recognise these opportunities, so learning continues at home. Children in low-income households often have fewer opportunities to learn, due to factors such as stress and limited resources for investment.

By supporting access to quality early childhood services, governments can help families learn everyday ways to enhance their children’s learning.




Read more:
Both major parties are finally talking about the importance of preschool – here’s why it matters


To maximise benefits for children, all early childhood services need skilled, professional staff. Labor’s promised wage increase of 20% over eight years for early childhood educators addresses an issue that has been in the too-hard basket for too long.

Research has shown many Australian early childhood educators are paid so little they are financially dependent on others in their households — ironically while enabling financial independence for other working women.

Low wages place downward pressure on the quality of early childhood programs. Educators’ qualifications are lowest in low-income communities, where families cannot afford to meet the costs of higher wages. Government subsidies can help to break the link between educators’ wages and families’ ability to pay fees, so the best educators can reach the children who most need them.

Of course, the devil is in the detail when it comes to policy implementation. Labor has not specified how the wage increases will be delivered, instead committing to further consultation with the sector. Big questions remain about how government subsidies – to parents or educators – will be absorbed into a sector with for-profit and not-for-profit providers.

Close monitoring of the impact on childcare costs will be essential. Labor’s plan includes asking the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate “excessive” childcare fees. But can support for families be increased without stimulating an increase in fees? Can educators be supported to earn a fair wage, while keeping prices fair for families?

There is much to be gained by engaging with these questions. When parents are working, the economy benefits. When children are learning, everyone benefits, as the impact of early learning lasts throughout school and beyond. Countries like Sweden and Finland show what may be possible when parents’ and children’s needs are prioritised equally.

We owe it to Australia’s children to keep these issues on the election agenda.The Conversation

Jen Jackson, Education Policy Lead, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shorten promises $4 billion for child care, benefitting 887,000 families


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In a big hit announcement before the start of pre-polling, Bill Shorten on Sunday will pledge a A$4 billion boost for child care, making it cheaper for every family earning up to $174,000.

From July 2020, 887,000 families would benefit from the ALP plan, with some being up to $2,100 better off.

Under the initiative:

  • families with children under five on incomes up to $174,000 would be better off on average by $26 a week – $1,200 a year – per child

  • the majority of families earning up to $69,000 would get their child care free. This would save them up to $2,100 annually per child.

Families on incomes above $174,000 would continue to receive the same level of support as under current arrangements.




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The plan is central to Labor’s campaign on cost of living, with Shorten describing it as “massive cost of living relief for nearly one million families struggling with the costs of child care”.

“Under the Liberals, the costs of child care has gone up 28%, costing families using long day care $3,000 more a year.

“Labor will increase the subsidy families receive, we will kick start the process to limit out-of-control child care price increases, and we will review the impact of the system on vulnerable and very low-income families,” Shorten says.

“This is a $4 billion investment in early education, in working parents and in helping families with the rising cost of living. Labor can pay for cheaper child care for working families because unlike Scott Morrison and the Liberals, we aren’t giving bigger handouts to the top end of town,” Shorten says. The $4 billion cost is over three years.


Source: ALP

The main elements of Labor’s plan include:

More child care fee support

The subsidy rate would be increased from 85% to 100% up to the hourly fee cap (currently $11.77 per hour for long day care) for families earning up to $69,000 who meet the activity test. This would make child care free, or almost free, for up to 372,000 families.

The present tapered reduction would be updated to reflect the higher subsidy rate.

Families earning between $69,000 and $100,000 would receive a subsidy rate between 100% and 85%, up to the hourly fee cap.

Families earning between $100,000 and $174,000 would receive a subsidy rate between 85% and 60% up to the cap – an effective increase of 10%.

Families accessing approved Centre Based Child Care, Family Day Care and Outside School Hours Care, including holiday care, would all benefit from the higher subsidy.




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Lies, obfuscation and fake news make for a dispiriting – and dangerous – election campaign


Cracking down on excessive fee increases

Labor would give the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a new role of investigating excessive fee increases and unscrupulous child care providers. Findings would be made public through mychildcarefinder.

The ACCC would also look at mechanisms to ensure greater controls on child care fee increases to keep child care affordable.

Reviewing the system for vulnerable children

Labor says that in the nine months of the current subsidy system, the number of vulnerable and very low-income families using it has fallen.

“Reports suggest the numbers accessing the Childcare Safety Net have fallen by almost half, from 35,000 to 21,000.

“Labor will urgently review the new system to make sure that vulnerable and low-income families and children aren’t falling through the cracks,” Shorten says.

Labor has already committed to every three-year-old child being able to receive 15 hours of subsidised preschool. It has also said it would extend the current arrangement for four-year olds.

Shorten says this would create “a two-year program to support the most important years of a child’s development and ensuring our kids don’t fall behind the rest of the world”. For many children this would be free or nearly free.




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Labor’s crackdown on temporary visa requirements won’t much help Australian workers


Labor is also set to make an announcement on boosting the wages of child care workers, who are among the low paid.

The first votes will be cast at pre-polling stations on Monday, as the campaign ramps up in its final three weeks. Scott Morrison and Shorten will meet in Perth late Monday for their first face-to-face debate.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Catholic Church is investigating George Pell’s case. What does that mean?


Ian Waters, University of Divinity

Cardinal George Pell was this week sentenced by a Victorian court to six years’ jail for sexually abusing two choirboys, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

Although Pell was found guilty of the charges against him in December, he has remained a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. The Church previously said it would await the outcome of an appeal before taking action, but it has since confirmed that an investigation of Pell’s case will be conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

An American former cardinal was recently expelled from the priesthood by the Church following a canonical trial into claims of child sexual abuse. Here’s what it could look like if Pell was subject to a similar process.




Read more:
After Pell, the Catholic Church must undergo genuine reform


Canonical trials are governed by the rules of the Church

Most cases concerning the wrongdoing of Catholics are tried in secular courts. The decisions and punishments handed down by the courts are normally accepted by the Church as sufficient.

But the Church will conduct its own examination of cases where the church’s canon law requires punishment outside the competence of the courts of the land. That includes the excommunication of a member of the church, or the dismissal of a priest or bishop from the clerical state – often referred to as defrocking.

Tribunals to adjudicate matters that concern the Church’s own internal governance are principally governed by the rules and regulations of the Church, which are known as canon law (from the Greek etymology κανών or kanon, meaning a “rule”). These regulations are set out in the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which came into effect in 1983.

Since such trials are conducted because of the requirements of canon law, they are known as “canonical trials”.




Read more:
How an appeal could uphold or overturn George Pell’s conviction


Sexual abuse cases are handled by the Holy See

Catholic Church tribunals are normally held in the diocese of the parties to the case. The bishop of the diocese can judge cases for his diocese. But since bishops often have little or no in-depth knowledge of canon law, most cases in Catholic Church tribunals are handled by judges (clerics or laypersons) appointed by the bishop. The presiding judge is a priest known as the judicial vicar.

Some matters cannot be introduced at a diocesan tribunal, but are reserved for the various tribunals at the Holy See. This includes cases involving dioceses and bishops, and certain serious matters regarded as crimes in the Catholic Church. Examples of this would be matters of sacrilege (offences against the sacraments), and sexual offences by a cleric against a minor under the age of 18.

A college of judges try difficult cases

Usually a single judge presides over contentious and penal cases. But a college of three or five judges will normally try more complicated or difficult cases – especially if the prescribed penalty is an excommunication from the Church, the dismissal of a cleric, or if the case concerns the annulment of a marriage or an ordination.

Other officers of the tribunal include the promoter of justice, who is the prosecutor in penal cases. The tribunal also has notaries who swear in witnesses, and commit their testimony to writing.

Like any legal system, parties in a case have the right to appoint an advocate who can argue for them at the tribunal. If a person cannot afford an advocate, the tribunal can assign one to them free of charge.




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Triggering past trauma: how to take care of yourself if you’re affected by the Pell news


Defendants are presumed innocent

Catholic Church tribunals do not use the adversarial system used by the courts of the common law tradition. Rather, Catholic Church tribunals use the inquisitorial system law found in most European legal systems. That means the judges lead the investigation.

The standard of proof used by the Catholic Church tribunals is “moral certainty”. Certainty results from examination in good conscience of the available evidence. This isn’t the same as “absolute certainty”, but it’s more than mere probability. It is normally stricter than guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”, which is usually held to be the absence of doubt based on reason and common sense.

As a general rule, the defendant has the presumption of innocence, which means the defendant will win by default unless a majority of the judges is convinced with moral certainty of the petitioner’s case.The Conversation

Ian Waters, Professor, Lecturer, Department of Moral Theology and Canon Law, University of Divinity

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

National Redress Scheme for child sexual abuse protects institutions at the expense of justice for survivors


Kathleen Daly, Griffith University and Juliet Davis, Griffith University

Australians can be proud of what the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse accomplished, but they cannot be proud of the National Redress Scheme (NRS).

With the Joint Select Committee’s review of the NRS set to be released in the coming weeks, it’s important to look back on how the NRS emerged and the ways it strayed from the recommendations of the royal commission.

In September 2015, the royal commission released its report on redress and civil litigation. It proposed a redress scheme with three elements: a direct personal response, counselling and psychological care, and a monetary payment.




Read more:
Royal commission report makes preventing institutional sexual abuse a national responsibility


And it set forth principles to guide redress, such as being “survivor-focused” by providing justice to survivors and not protecting the interests of institutions.

On June 19 2018, the NRS bill passed with bipartisan support in both houses of parliament, but it did not adhere to these principles, nor reflect the spirit of what the royal commission had recommended.

Protecting the interests of institutions ultimately prevailed over providing justice to survivors.

So how and why did this happen?

Creating a national scheme

Creating a national scheme was a complicated exercise. To do so, Australian states had to refer their legislative power for redress to the Commonwealth. Without state referral, non-Commonwealth institutions – both government and non-government – could not participate.

The Commonwealth began negotiating with the states in January 2016. In November that year, then Attorney-General George Brandis and then Minister for Social Services Christian Porter issued a press release announcing that a Commonwealth Redress Scheme (CRS) would be established.

The release said the maximum payment would be $150,000, not the $200,000 figure the royal commission had recommended.

That day, Porter held a press conference where he was asked to explain why the maximum was reduced. He said:

we have had intensive negotiations with the states and territories, and with churches and charities. And we were trying to design a monetary redress payment that offered appropriate recognition, but maximised our opportunity to get other organisations to opt-in to the scheme.

In October 2017, the CRS bill was introduced into parliament. The government’s strategy was to move the bill along while at the same time encouraging states and non-government institutions to opt-in to the scheme. If no states did so by July 1 2018, the scheme would be for survivors of abuse in Commonwealth institutions only.

That day, Porter was asked on ABC radio why people with convictions for sexual offences or other serious crimes were not eligible for the scheme. Porter explained that the decision was made in “deep consultation” with state attorneys-general who were of the “almost unanimous” view that to “give integrity and public confidence to the scheme”, there needed to be limitations for those who “had committed serious crimes, particularly sexual offences”.

The exclusion was a condition for the states to opt-in, and a “powerful reason why [the] decision was made”, according to Porter.

In the same interview, he dropped another bombshell: counselling and psychological care would be capped at $5,000 per person. No explanation was given. The royal commission did not recommend a criminal history exclusion nor a cap on counselling.

As the CRS bill moved through parliament, media stories and submissions to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee focused on the reduced maximum payment, criminal history exclusion, and cap on counselling. Concerns were also raised that the scheme was for sexual abuse only, and that important scheme details were to be contained in delegated legislation, or what is also termed “the rules”. This meant the minister would announce them at a future date, and they would not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny or debate.

Two crucial elements in the delegated legislation were the Assessment Framework and the Direct Personal Response Framework. The Assessment Framework assesses both the monetary payment and monetary support for counselling and psychological care. The Direct Personal Response Framework outlines a limited number of ways a responsible institution may engage with a survivor, including an apology or statement of regret, and steps taken to prevent abuse in the future.

It was not until August 13 2018, two months after the passage of the NRS, that these frameworks were tabled by the minister. Both departed strongly from what the royal commission had recommended.

The shift from a Commonwealth to a national scheme occurred in May 2018, when a COAG intergovernmental agreement on the NRS was signed by New South Wales and the ACT. New South Wales introduced legislation referring the power to make laws about redress to the Commonwealth.

Later that month, the NRS bill was introduced into federal parliament. A Senate review in March had called attention to gaps between what the Royal Commission had recommended and what was in the CRS bill. The NRS bill maintained and, at times, widened these gaps.

The widening gaps between the royal commission and the NRS

We identified 17 contentious matters in the NRS bill.

Five matters that received considerable attention were the maximum monetary payment, criminal history exclusion, cap on counselling, assessment framework, and the eligibility of sexual abuse only.

But 12 others were just as consequential.

They related to government and institutional responsibilities (funder of last resort and institutional opt-in timeframe); application and payment requirements (single application, indexation of payment, acceptance period, deed of release, lack of external review); other eligibility criteria (no application from gaol, citizenship and residency, age limit); scheme reporting; and the direct personal response.

All 17 matters departed from what the royal commission recommended except three: the eligibility of sexual abuse only, indexation of payment, and no external review.

The pressure points for the departures were economic and political costs to government and non-government participants, and to a lesser degree, the convenience of the scheme operator.

As the NRS legislation moved toward passage in June 2018, many politicians said it was “imperfect”, but they would support it. Such support was often couched in pro-survivor rhetoric. For example, Senator Louise Pratt said:

Survivors have in some instances waited all their lives for justice, and they should not have to wait a minute longer.

In fact, politicians’ hands were tied: they could not change the bill because this would require renegotiating the framework of redress decided by members of the state and federal executive. Such delay would jeopardise the Commonwealth’s promised start date of July 1 2018.

We want to see a fair and effective redress scheme. To make that happen, elements in the current scheme will need to change.

But is there any hope for change? Perhaps.

A bipartisan Joint Select Committee (JSC) on the Oversight of the Implementation of Redress Related Recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been receiving submissions and holding hearings over the past five months.




Read more:
Listen to abuse survivors and advocates to clear the way to a national redress scheme


The JSC has learned that survivors are having many problems applying to the scheme and understanding how best to present their case. Witnesses to the JSC and committee members themselves have expressed disbelief about the Assessment Framework: it privileges penetrative sexual abuse above all other types, and it caps the monetary support for counselling based on the type of abuse.

We provided evidence to the JSC of the many ways the NRS departs from the royal commission’s principles of redress.

We also provided evidence of how poorly the scheme compares with other world redress schemes in the ways it assesses the severity and impact of abuse, supports counselling, and excludes certain groups. Compared to numerous examples that the royal commission offered for the direct personal response, the NRS stuck to a bare minimum and severely weakened the power of this innovative redress element.

Will the JSC report, delivered in early April, produce findings that make politicians, the media, and the public take notice?

The timing is not optimal with a federal election looming and other matters taking greater precedence. Post-election, let’s hope that the failure of the NRS to provide justice to survivors receives the attention it deserves.The Conversation

Kathleen Daly, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University and Juliet Davis, Research Fellow, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How an appeal could uphold or overturn George Pell’s conviction


David Hamer, University of Sydney

A criminal trial often helps to provide finality for the accused, and closure for victims and society. But following this week’s news, George Pell’s barrister, Robert Richter QC, indicated Pell maintains his innocence and the legal team have already lodged an appeal. Richter said this would be pursued following Pell’s sentencing.

Pell’s conviction no longer appears final, but provisional. The Vatican initially said it would wait until the appeal outcome before launching its own investigation that could lead to the Cardinal being defrocked. But it has now been confirmed the investigation is starting regardless.

The Australian government, though, said it will only strip Pell of his Order of Australia honours if he loses the appeal. Meanwhile, the media and community are awash with confusion about the verdict that came in a retrial after the first trial concluded with a hung jury. It seems many people are holding their breath until the appeal is heard.

Defendants generally only get one appeal, though that one appeal may be taken further to the High Court. If Pell’s appeal is dismissed, he will require exceptional intervention from the Government, which is very rare.

So, what is an appeal, and what might it look like for someone with Pell’s profile and convictions?




Read more:
We knew George Pell was guilty of child sex abuse. Why couldn’t we say it until now?


How long would an appeal take?

The appeal process is fairly elaborate. It requires the Court of Appeal’s leave (or approval). If given, the defence and prosecution will make written submissions to the court. There is then a hearing, on the basis of which the court will make a decision, explain its reasoning, and make appropriate orders.

In this case, the court may dismiss the appeal, allow the appeal and order a retrial, or allow the appeal and order that Pell be acquitted. With a crowded list of cases, this entire procedure often takes more than a year. The Pell appeal may be relatively simple and decided more quickly.

Bail was revoked pending sentencing, anticipating a custodial sentence, and Pell will remain in custody until the appeal. If the appeal is upheld, the court may make a decision immediately following the hearing and publish its reasons subsequently.

Evidence at the trial

The trial did not involve a great deal of evidence. One of the alleged victims had made a report to police in 2015, claiming the assaults occurred after mass. The other alleged victim died of an accidental heroin overdose in 2014, apparently without reporting abuse.

Like many delayed sexual assault cases – almost 20 years in this case – there simply isn’t much evidence available. At Pell’s trial, there seemed to have been little more than the complainant’s allegations and Pell’s denials. Pell did not testify. Video of his denials to police were played to the jury.

The jury may have preferred to see how Pell coped with cross-examination. But he has the right to silence, and his failure to enter the witness box can’t be used against him.

A few other witnesses gave evidence about the masses delivered by Pell at St Patrick’s Cathedral, where the abuse allegedly took place. They supported the defence’s claims of the impossibility of the abuse taking place. Witnesses noted the then Archbishop Pell would have been accompanied at all times during the crowded events and would not have had the opportunity to commit the offences.

Other types of evidence often relied on by the prosecution in child sexual abuse trials did not feature in the Pell trial. The prosecution wasn’t able to present the complainant’s earlier reports of abuse. It seems he told no one prior to the police report.

The absence of earlier reports would not necessarily help the defence. Courts now recognise there are many reasons why victims of child sexual assault find it hard to talk. They feel confused and powerless, particularly where the offender is in a position of authority.




Read more:
Triggering past trauma: how to take care of yourself if you’re affected by the Pell news


Many child sexual assault prosecutions rely on evidence of other alleged victims to demonstrate the defendant’s propensity or tendency for child sexual abuse. Such evidence was potentially available in the Pell trial – other allegations had been made from his time in Ballarat in the 1970s.

However, this evidence was not admitted at trial. The two sets of allegations were kept entirely separate (and the trials split), perhaps to avoid the risk of jury prejudice. Pell’s Melbourne convictions (in the cathedral trial) were suppressed while the Ballarat charges (swimmers trial) were pending.

It was only when the prosecution dropped the Ballarat charges that the convictions on the Melbourne charges were made public.

What would the defence appeal?

Because only limited evidence was relied on at trial, relatively few legal issues were raised. This means the defence may find it difficult to identify any legal error as a ground for appeal. Richter has indicated the defence will claim there were errors regarding the constitution of the jury and the defence not being permitted to use a graphic.

If errors are found, the Court of Appeal would still dismiss the appeal if the errors seem too slight to have affected the outcome.

The other defence argument on appeal could be that the conviction was unreasonable. The jury simply got the facts wrong. Here the defence may face obstacles. The Court of Appeal is unlikely to entertain claims the jury was prejudiced and blamed Pell for the Church’s inadequate response to other paedophile priests.

Appeal courts generally trust a properly directed jury will comply with its duties. Appeal courts are also generally wary of overriding jury verdicts, particularly where they rest upon witness credibility, as in this case. Inconsistencies and gaps in a complainant’s account may be attributed to the delay rather than fabrication.

However, the Court of Appeal may feel well placed to assess the defence argument of impossibility. And in this case, unusually, the court may be able to assess the complainant’s demeanour, since the witness testified over video link.

This may be one of those exceptional cases where the court is prepared to say the jury got it wrong. But the court may also hesitate to override the jury – the community’s representatives – in a case that has opened such a rift in Australian society.




Read more:
After Pell, the Catholic Church must undergo genuine reform


The Conversation


David Hamer, Professor of Evidence Law, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.