June 2020

Responding to the call to care for adults and children at risk

For the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, creating a safe environment for all, especially children and adults at risk, is at the heart of who they are, writes Debra Vermeer.

The Gospel call to being good neighbours, which is at the forefront of their ministry, policies and practices, also drives their proactive stance on safeguarding.

Sister Veronica Hoey SGS is the Congregation’s Professional Standards Advisor. “Safeguarding is part of our ministry and we endeavour to integrate it into everything we do. We prioritise the principles of safeguarding at all levels of our organisation,” she says. “We have a long history of caring for children and adults at risk, so we know that we’re all responsible for creating a safe environment in whatever we do.”

Archbishop John Bede Polding founded the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in 1857 with the intention that their work would be about being good neighbours to the poor and destitute women and children of Sydney.

For more than 160 years the Sisters have been inspired by the Parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke’s Gospel (Luke 10:25-37), taking as a living instruction Jesus’ command to go and show compassion, and ‘be  neighbour’ to those most in need.

Today, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan ministry of ‘being good neighbours’ stretches across Australia, the Philippines, Kiribati and Japan. Their neighbour might be an impoverished child from a squatter village in the Philippines, a prisoner in Melbourne, a child at school, a refugee family, a single mum at risk of homelessness or a woman escaping a home afflicted by family violence.

“We are travelling the road to Jericho in a different way today, but we are still called to care for the vulnerable.”

“Out of the parable, we as Good Samaritans are called to tend to the wounds of those who most need us. It is part of our DNA,” Veronica says. “We are travelling the road to Jericho in a different way today, but we are still called to care for the vulnerable. We can’t be complacent. We need to continually minimise opportunity for abuse of children or adults at risk or the possibility of boundary violations.”

Veronica says that as part of this commitment, the Good Sams are engaged in ongoing training to foster and strengthen a culture of safeguarding.

“This is about all Good Sams – the Sisters and anyone who collaborates with us, including staff members, volunteers and Oblates. We’re all Good Samaritans and we take seriously our responsibility for creating safe environments for all,” she says.

The Good Sams have been working with Child Wise, which assists organisations to create and maintain a culture where child safety is at the forefront, to assess and improve the safeguarding capacity of the Congregation. Their review considered existing policies, procedures and practices, and the extent to which the Congregation was compliant with the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards (Australia).

“The National Catholic Safeguarding Standards are about the commitment to continually build our safeguarding culture and this process of continuous improvement is a shared responsibility of the whole Congregation,” Veronica says. “We’ve really valued working with Child Wise on this project. They provided us with guidance to build on and strengthen our childsafe culture and practices.”

Child Wise has also contributed to two training programs since the completion of the project, one a workshop for boards of incorporated ministries, and another which trained key champions for ongoing training of Sisters and staff across the Congregation

“We’ve also recently reviewed our Code of Practice and invited all ‘Good Samaritans’ to reflect on and discuss how central these behaviours and attitudes are to who we are as Good Sams,” Veronica says.

The code reflects the values of the Gospel, the Rule of St Benedict, Catholic Social Teaching and the Congregation’s Statement of Directions and recommits the Sisters to being good neighbours wherever they live, work or minister.

“We strive for integrity, transparency, accountability and competence in the performance of our work and ministry”

“We commit to creating safe environments for all, especially children and vulnerable people. We show a particular concern for Indigenous children, and those with disability or gender diversity, living in poverty or from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds,” the code says. “We strive for integrity, transparency, accountability and competence in the performance of our work and ministry … we take seriously our commitment to and responsibility for positive attitudes and behaviours.”

Tom Isbester, Safeguarding Coordinator for the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, says this commitment to safeguarding and to being ‘good neighbour’ provides a firm foundation for his work.

“It’s been there right from the start with the Good Sams. It’s in their charism. It’s something they’ve been doing for 160 years, working with the most marginalised women and children,” he says. “They’re not only committed to having the highest safeguarding standards, but to giving children a voice and making sure they’re involved in decision-making. The Good Sams have been doing that forever.

“It makes my job quite easy because there doesn’t need to be that culture shift. They’ve already been doing it so well. Now, it’s about meeting the compliance aspect and continuing to strengthen practices.”

Tom says the Sisters and staff have all been willing and motivated to do the required training, and soon Oblates will undertake training.

“Our training provides a general overview of safeguarding so that everyone across the organisation knows about the Child Safe culture and lives and breathes child safety, through training, resources, and guidelines on how to respond to disclosures,” he says.

“And then we’ll move on from that fundamental safeguarding training to expand into more in-depth modules so that everyone knows what it is about and can take it on and absorb it.”

Sister Sue Barker SGS, who is based in Nowra Catholic Parish on the NSW south coast, says the Child Wise training program she attended in Melbourne provided a practical framework for moving forward in this area.

“I had the awareness already of the importance of safeguarding and its centrality to who we are as Good Samaritan Sisters, but the training gave shape to the way we need to inform ourselves and provided some strategies for moving forward in a practical sense,” she says. “We have to continually show ourselves to be complying and responsible in this area and we can always develop our awareness even further.”

Debra Vermeer

Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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