Our safety counts: children and young people’s perceptions of safety and institutional responses to their safety concerns

Tim Moore, Morag McArthur, Jessica Heerde, Steven Roche, Patrick O’Leary

September 2016

ISBN 978-1-925289-77-0

Executive summary

Over the past three years, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has explored the extent to which children and young people have been exposed to child sexual abuse, and considered some of the reasons why institutions have failed to actively prevent child sexual abuse and appropriately respond when children and young people have been harmed. Similar inquiries have consistently found that institutions have failed to appreciate children and young people’s views and experiences. They have also found that institutions have given children and young people few opportunities to inform the ways to identify or respond to child sexual abuse or other problems that allow risks of abuse to persist.

This study attempts to better understand children and young people’s perceptions of safety within institutions, and their views on how adults and institutions are responding to their safety needs. It is not a prevalence study and does not attempt to quantify the extent to which children and young people have encountered abuse. Instead, it asks them to consider how they, adults and institutions currently demonstrate that they are safe; and the ways they believe adults and institutions act and would act to keep them safe if they were in a situation where their safety was compromised.

The value of gauging children and young people’s sense of safety and their views on how they believe adults and institutions might act has been highlighted within the broader literature. For example, previous studies have shown that when children and young people have little confidence in adults and institutions adequately responding to their safety concerns, they are less likely to raise their concerns or seek help. Similarly, studies have suggested that when children and young people perceive adults as not caring, not having the knowledge to respond to issues, or not being accessible to children, disclosure is unlikely. As such, understanding how children perceive safety and institutions’ responsiveness is vital to develop appropriate strategies to support children and young people and to protect them from harm.