Home' Independence : Independence Vol 31 No 2 Nov 2006 Contents Independence Volume 31 No. 2 43
The risk management process
With the benefit of this legal background,
the school should now be ready to
manage the risks arising upon the making
of an allegation against a teacher. When
a serious allegation is made, it is very
easy for a principal to respond with an
immediate 'knee jerk' reaction. However,
as Lord Justice Hale in the UK said:
"the employee is entitled to something
better than the 'knee jerk' reaction." It
is important that proper consideration
be given to appropriate measures to take
by way of risk management when such
allegations are made.
It may be helpful to see this as a four
Step 1 Risk Identification
First, one must identify the risks. In most
case, it will be as simple as saying that
what is alleged may be true and therefore
there is a risk of the teacher doing the same
thing again to the same child or to others.
Step 2 Risk Assessment
Second, one must determine whether
precautions need to be taken. This is the
point at which one asks the questions
referred to above in the chart. To answer
those questions, one must also ask
questions such as:
(a) what is the nature of the allegation?
(b) how old is the child?
(c) is the child a student at the school?
(d) have there been previous allegations
against the teacher?
(e) what contact does the teacher
normally have with the child and other
students of the same age as the child?
One can add to this list Justice Fogarty's
questions quoted above.
It is perhaps oversimplifying but still
worth remembering that all circumstances
must be considered when assessing risk.
Step 3 Elimination
Thirdly, one must determine what
precautions ought to be taken to
eliminate or minimise the risk. There
will be various alternatives to consider.
Subject to proper consideration of
relevant employment contracts and
awards, these include:
(a) maintaining current duties but with
an increased level of supervision;
(b) being transferred to a different role or
(c) being suspended, with or without pay;
(d) being dismissed (although this would be
unusual soon after an allegation is made
unless the teacher admits it at once).
Step 4 Ongoing Review
Finally, one must monitor the situation
and the precautions that have been put
in place. In other words, keep checking
that the risks are being managed. The
emphasis in this paper has been on
managing the risk when an allegation is
first made against a teacher. However,
it is important to remember that this
is not a once only exercise. The risks
must continue to be managed during
the course of the investigation. New
information may be uncovered which
will require new strategies. It is therefore
important where the school is not
investigating the allegation itself that the
investigator be asked to advise the school
if information comes to light which
should be considered and which may
lead to new risk management strategies
When an investigation has been
completed, a further risk assessment
must be made. At this point, the school
will have the benefit of findings. Clearly,
if there has been a finding that abuse
occurred, this is going to have a decisive
impact on the action to be taken against
the teacher. Depending on the seriousness
of what has happened, dismissal is likely.
However, where the finding is simply
"not sustained", the position is more
difficult. All the circumstances must be
taken into account much as they were at
the outset of the matter.
The end of the investigation provides
opportunity for the school to examine
its overall practices in relation to child
protection. One should ask what lessons
can be learned from what has happened.
Should the school's child protection policy
be revised? Should there be more staff
training in relation to child protection?
Are there situations which could be
avoided by some simple changes to class
rooms, offices or buildings? Should more
be done by way of reference checking
when employing new staff? All these
questions and more should be considered
once the investigation is over and the
particular situation has been resolved.
So what must we do?
The judge in the Toowoomba Preparatory
School Case said to the jury:
You won't need to be reminded that sexual
abuse of children is surely one of the most
appalling examples of deviant behaviour,
with the potential to wreck young lives.
Allegations of that type of abuse must be
taken seriously and thoroughly investigated.
Complaints must be treated with respect
and sensitivity, and genuine victims of
sexual abuse usually need substantial
support and assistance to deal with
them.... But, equally, don't lose sight of the
fact that allegations of sexual abuse are
sometimes falsely made, with potentially
catastrophic effects on reputations and
careers. The school should have maintained
a proper balance between these competing
considerations until adequate investigations
had been completed.
Maintaining this balance is a huge
challenge to all school principals.
Nevertheless, they must never lose sight
of their duty to care for their students.
The risks posed by a teacher against
whom allegations of child abuse have
been made can and must be managed.
Maintaining this balance is a huge challenge to all
school principals. Nevertheless, they must never
lose sight of their duty to care for their students.
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