School abuse policy still falls short
Professor Stephen Smallbone leaves the Royal Commissiong after providing expert opinion on school sex abuse prevention policies. Picture : Lincoln Baker/The West Australian

The prestigious Perth school at the centre of a child sexual abuse scandal was re-registered by the State Government in 2004 on the basis it had a "very high standard" child protection policy.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is today examining policies at the school where a teacher molested primary students between 1999 and 2008.

The name of the school and the teacher have been suppressed to protect the identity of his five victims.

Counsel assisting Sophie David told the inquiry the school's policies were part of the Government registration process in 2004.

"The Department of Educational Services had examined, as part of the reregistration process, the school and had commented on the child protection policy as it existed at that time (and) had noted they were of a very high standard," she said.

Ms David asked one of the nation's foremost experts on child sexual abuse, Professor Stephen Smallbone, whether he shared that view.

"No, I don't," he said.

Prof Smallbone said the policy's focus was on identifying where sexual abuse had already taken place, instead of behaviours that may precede it.

The inquiry has heard it was known at the school that the teacher behaved inappropriately with his Year 5 pupils, including physical touching, putting lollies in their pockets, spending time alone with them and buying gifts for his "pets".

Prof Smallbone said current State-wide mandatory reporting requirements, which were introduced by the Government in 2009 to cover professions and institutions responsible for children, still did not go far enough.

"I think that mandatory reporting sets too high a threshold for the level of concern that ought to exist in order to be acting in the best interests of children," he said.

"It is about thinking about the role of adults within any environment - in this case, school environments - their role in the prevention of abuse, not just the detection of it."

He said to comply with best practice, policies needed to set out grooming behaviours that could be the prelude to actual abuse.

Prof Smallbone said a lot had been done to improve the school's approach to child sexual abuse but its current policies fell short of best practice.

The inquiry continues.

The West Australian

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