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Penrhos College communications in the context of the Royal Commission

The purpose of this dedicated spot is to keep our College community informed of our response, in the context of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the subsequent charges brought against two former teachers by WA police.

If you would like to update your details please email alumni@penrhos.wa.edu.au or communications@penrhos.wa.edu.au for members of our current community.

28 July 2021 - It takes great strength to speak out boldly and stand up courageously

‘It takes great strength to speak out boldly and stand up courageously.’

It is a year since Penrhos last wrote to you in the context of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I have now been Principal for six months and I wish to personally reach out to you on this very sensitive matter. 

In August 2018, Penrhos College invited members of its alumni community to come forward with any information they might wish to share in the context of the Royal Commission into institutional responses to historic child sexual abuse, in the spirit of healing and acknowledgement.  I again thank those alumni who responded with information.

Our alumni and others, via social media and elsewhere, shared reactions concerning what was alleged to have transpired, offered suggestions regarding how the College should respond, and made additional reports of abuse. The College Council and Leadership Group have listened carefully and considered the accounts shared with great empathy. 

We reached out to recognise the great courage of those individuals who came forward, and we offered support to those who were affected both directly and indirectly. We thanked our community for standing together at that time, as we faced the prospect of the difficult months and even years ahead – as the police have gathered information and the court process has progressed.

We promised our community that we would develop and implement a response that firmly prioritised the needs of both our current students, and of those courageous alumni who have come forward, while protecting today’s Penrhos College. Since 2019, we have endeavoured to work together, and with the police, to understand what happened. We have consistently emphasised that the privacy of those who have come forward must be absolutely respected.

In this context, we have endeavoured to determine the most appropriate course of action moving forward. Much has happened since our last letter. With a focus on our students of today, I commissioned an independent 360-degree review of all Penrhos’ safeguarding policies, processes and procedures within weeks of taking up my new position. This is now complete and, building on what have been confirmed as our solid foundations, we will continue to implement developmentally appropriate, school-wide training for all students and staff in this critical area of student safety. On the basis of the review, we can also be confident that all members of our community have the information necessary to handle allegations of child abuse, bullying, and/or harassment of any kind. My forward focus will be on moving from successful compliance, to becoming a recognised leader in safeguarding and child safety by any standards – state-wide, national or international.

Those brave women who came forward to share their allegations of historical abuse were once students at Penrhos College and, as valued members of our alumni community, they are permanently entitled to be embraced by the warmth and ethic of care that is characteristic of today’s Penrhos. 

It is important that the College continues to cooperate fully and to communicate appropriately in the context of ongoing court proceedings. Our thoughts and prayers are with those members of our alumni community, their friends and families, who wait in anticipation of the next court call over, at which it is expected that trial dates will finally be set. We will continue to stand with our alumni through the trauma and scrutiny the trial will inevitably bring, and we will offer every support we can.

We will be ready and waiting to deal with the court’s findings. In the meantime, those women who most bravely came forward to share their allegations of abuse continue to deserve our recognition and our gratitude for their courage; also, our deep appreciation of their suffering, which demands that Penrhos College becomes a benchmark and a model for best practice in child abuse prevention and reporting programs. I commit to you, our alumni, that it will be so.

Beyond the pain of those women who have been directly and indirectly affected by events relating to the Royal Commission, I am also aware that further generations of alumni have had their memories of Penrhos College tarnished. Looking to the future, and on conclusion of court proceedings, College Leadership will make recommendations to the Alumni Association and College Council relating to the important matters of both specific and general acknowledgement, healing and atonement.

These events remind us what it means for Penrhos College to be alma mater to our alumni. Our College provides our students with the resources and guidance they need to flourish academically, socially, physically and emotionally. We count on the College’s ongoing care for both students and alumni in times of personal need, institutional tragedy or crisis. For those of you among our alumni who may be affected, please know the Penrhos community is here to support you and be encouraged to reach out directly to me in the first instance.

While nothing we can say or do will erase past painful experiences, I sincerely hope that – as we approach the inevitable trauma that will surround the court case – our actions demonstrate our resolve never to forget this chapter in our shared history, and to reiterate our commitment to the safety of today’s students. 

29 July 2020 - to our alumni regarding support services

A letter to our alumni community

I wrote to our community on 14 July, to advise of the historical sexual abuse charges brought against two former teachers by WA police and to acknowledge the courage of those who came forward in response to the College’s letter in August 2018, in the context of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

You may be aware that the accused attended the first hearing at Perth Magistrate’s Court yesterday, and I would like you to know what support and assistance is available to our alumni during these exceptionally difficult and sensitive circumstances.

I would also like to assure you that the College and the Uniting Church deeply and sincerely regret the wrongdoings of the past. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been impacted, and we continue to work directly with those who have reached out to us for support.

Together with the Uniting Church, we are absolutely committed to supporting our alumni; please find below a range of College, local and national support services that are available to survivors of abuse and trauma, family members and supporters of survivors:

  • Rev Claire Pickering, our College Chaplain and a Uniting Church Minister – Claire is available to any member of our community for a pastoral conversation, support and visiting (9368 9670 or pickec@penrhos.wa.edu.au).
  • Blue Knot Foundation – a national centre that provides a free helpline, with qualified trauma counsellors, for survivors of abuse and childhood trauma, and information and resources for supporters of survivors (1300 657 380 or https://www.blueknot.org.au/).
  • Relationships Australia WA – a community service organisation that provides counselling, resources and redress support for individuals, couples and families (1300 364 277 or https://www.relationshipswa.org.au/).
  • knowmore – an independent, confidential service that provides free legal advice and support for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse who are considering redress (1800 605 762 or https://knowmore.org.au/).
  • Healing Foundation – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that provides a wide range of resources on trauma and healing for survivors of abuse, descendants, families and communities (02 6272 7500 or https://healingfoundation.org.au/).
  • In Good Faith Foundation – a registered charity that provides free, confidential legal and pastoral support to survivors of institutional abuse in religious contexts (03 9940 1533 or https://igff.org.au/).

As both police investigations and court proceedings continue to progress, we encourage anyone who has any further information to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

It is my sincere hope that we will find ways to draw strength from each other through the coming weeks and months.

Kind regards

Rob Taylor

Acting Principal

If you are a member of our alumni and you wish to update your contact details, please email alumni@penrhos.wa.edu.au or make revisions via this link https://penrhos.wa.edu.au/community/alumni.

22 July 2020 - verbal briefing to Secondary students

Delivered verbally by Acting Principal Rob Taylor on the morning of Wednesday 22 July 2020.

Over the last week, Penrhos College has been in the media.  It is alleged by past students, that two teachers who previously worked at the College and left in 1988, behaved and acted inappropriately toward them.  The police and court system are dealing with the allegations and it is likely that we will continue to hear more about this in the media over the coming weeks and months. As part of the Uniting Church community, we at Penrhos will do whatever we can to support students who have been impacted.

We request that, if a member of the media approaches you for comment on the matter, you refer them to our Acting Principal Mr Taylor.

As current students and future members of our alumni, your safety and wellbeing are of upmost importance to us.  We work hard to maintain a supportive and caring community, and develop and implement policies, processes and practices that have your wellbeing and safety at their foundation.

Through our Wellbeing and Pastoral Curriculum and Protective Behaviours Program, we work to equip you with the skills you need to recognise and establish healthy and respectful relationships, and to educate you on the potential warning signs to look out for and what to do if you feel something is not right.

If you would like to talk about anything or have any questions, we encourage you to speak with a member of staff with whom you feel comfortable.  Be assured you will be heard.  If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with someone directly, you can make email contact instead, via the student concern register.  The email address can be found on page 12 of your student diary.

21 July 2020 - to current parents at the beginning of Term 3

Dear parents

Welcome back to the start of Term 3.

I wrote to you on Tuesday 14 July with regard to the police charging two former teachers of the College with historical sexual misconduct toward former students. As a Uniting Church community, we will do whatever we can to support past students who have been impacted in any way.

The allegations made by our alumni followed our invitation for any former student to come forward if they considered they were treated inappropriately during their time at Penrhos. This was in August 2018, in the context of the government’s Royal Commission into historical sexual child abuse, which resulted in new Standards for Non-Government Schools coming into effect on 1 July 2018, including significant changes relating to preventing and responding to child abuse — specifically to address grooming, annual training requirements, staff code of conduct and complaints processes. It was also in line with the Uniting Church’s Redress Scheme.

The invitation extended to our alumni was in the spirit of acknowledgement and healing. We recognise and very much appreciate the courage of those alumni who subsequently came forward to share the details of their very difficult experiences. All information disclosed was passed on to the WA police and other relevant authorities. We are now keen to do everything we can to support those alumni who were affected, both directly and indirectly, along with the wider College community.

We will be addressing the student body on Wednesday to reassure them that their wellbeing and personal safety is of the upmost importance to us and that our community is a caring and supportive one. We will reinforce that our policies, practices and procedures exist to safeguard them from inappropriate conduct and to remind them of the supports in place if there is ever a time that they feel unsafe, uncertain or uncomfortable.

Ongoing and rigorous staff training in the area of child safety continues to be a national priority and a responsibility we take seriously. We will continue to equip our students with the skills to recognise and establish healthy and respectful relationships through our Wellbeing/Pastoral Curriculum and Protective Behaviours Program. We will continue to educate our girls on the potential warning signs to look out for and what to do if they feel something is not right.

For your information, the student message that will be delivered verbally on Wednesday to Year 7 to Year 12 students is attached.

Please don’t hesitate to contact a member of the Pastoral Care Team, College Chaplain or Full Circle Psychologists if you have any questions or would like to discuss strategies on how to talk with your daughter about this matter. Contact details for our Pastoral Care Team can be found on the portal, via this link penrhoswa.sharepoint.com/sites/home/secondary/pastoral

Kind regards

Rob Taylor – Acting Principal

14 July 2020 - to our community regarding charges brought against two former teachers

A letter to our community

You may already be aware that news has today been released, regarding historic child abuse charges made against Perth private school teachers.

Please find attached a statement which the College issued to media this afternoon, in response to enquiries. The police are appealing to members of the public to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 with any further information they may have.

Please be assured that the wellbeing and safety of our students is of paramount importance – creating and providing a child safe environment is our absolute priority, and our key Child Protection policies may be found on our website at penrhos.wa.edu.au/policies

Kind regards

Rob Taylor – Acting Principal

Statement – 14 July 2020

On 15 December 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse presented the final report to the Governor-General, detailing the culmination of a five-year inquiry into institutional responses to child sexual abuse and related matters, by Justice Peter McClellan.

The Western Australian Minister for Education subsequently released new Standards for Non-Government Schools which came into effect on 1 July 2018, including significant changes relating to preventing and responding to child abuse, specifically to address grooming, annual training requirements, staff code of conduct and complaints processes.

In close collaboration with the Uniting Church and in line with our absolute commitment to the wellbeing of our students, past and present, Penrhos College invited any member of our alumni who considered they were treated inappropriately in this context during their time as a student at Penrhos College, to come forward in August 2018. This invitation was in the spirit of acknowledgement and healing.

Among those who made contact, there were some alumni who did report historical instances of sexual abuse in the context of the Royal Commission, whilst they were students at the College.

We are aware that allegations led to the investigation of two of our former teachers, who left us in 1988. The College is not in a position to comment further at this time, since we have not been contacted by any official source with regard to this matter.

The College strongly respects the privacy of those alumni who came forward. However, it is important that we continue to publicly acknowledge, as we do, the courage of those women who came forward to disclose the difficult circumstances they experienced whilst students at the College.

These unfortunate alleged historic events were more than 30 years ago.

The College has had in place for many years now, a number of policies, procedures and practices, to ensure that our students are aware and empowered to recognise and speak up on their own behalf and on behalf of others, should inappropriate behaviour be in evidence. It is important that I reiterate the wellbeing and safety of our students is of paramount importance to the College – our policies are regularly reviewed and the training of our staff in the importance of these policies is ongoing.

21 June 2019 - to our alumni regarding The National Redress Scheme 

The Uniting Church of Australia, Penrhos College, The National Redress Scheme 

You may remember that I wrote to the community on August 24, 2018  inviting those members of our Alumni who believed they had been inappropriately dealt with in the context of the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Child Sexual Abuse, as students during their time at the College, to come forward. This letter was followed up with a further communication on November 9, 2018.

Since then there have been two significant developments. The Uniting Church of Australia has met the requirements to commence participation in the National Redress Scheme for people who experienced institutional child sexual abuse.  Penrhos College as a Uniting Church school, is a signatory to this scheme. The Scheme, operated by the Commonwealth Government, allows survivors to apply for counselling, a Redress payment of up to $150,000 and a direct personal response from the institution involved. Information about who can apply is set out on the National Redress Scheme website. Additional information is also available on the UCA website UCA Redress website.

A series of fact sheets has also been published by The Department of Social Services, to assist those who would like to gain additional information. Please see links below.

Overview

The application process

Filling in the application

Who can apply

What can you apply for

Get free help to apply

How your application is considered

Using and Protecting Your Information

Responding to an offer or asking for a review

Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

myGov

(Original email included details of a proposed service of recognition, apology and healing which was subsequently revised in favour of a more personalised approach based on the response from our alumni community.)

If any Alumni member would like to contact me regarding these matters, please do not hesitate to do so melvim@penrhos.wa.edu.au.

Kind regards

Meg Melville

Principal

9 November 2018 - to our alumni thanking those who came forward

A letter to our alumni community

I wrote to you on 24 August, inviting those who felt they were inappropriately treated during their time at the College in the context of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to contact the College should they choose to do so; I am pleased to let you know that my communication was well received across our community.

I would like to sincerely thank those Alumni members who subsequently contacted me to share experiences and recollections about their days at the College.  Among those who made contact, there are unfortunately a number of Alumni who did report historical instances of sexual abuse in the context of the Royal Commission, whilst they were students at the College.

The College will strongly respect the privacy of those Alumni.  However, it is important that I publicly acknowledge, as I do, the courage of those women who have come forward to disclose the difficult circumstances they experienced whilst students at the College. We are currently working together towards a positive outcome. The invitation for Alumni members to come forward to the College, remains ongoing.

It is important I reiterate that the wellbeing and safety of our students is of paramount importance to the College. Creating and providing a Child Safe Environment is our priority. The College has had in place for many years now, a number of policies, procedures and practices, to ensure that our students are aware and empowered to recognise and speak up on their own behalf and on behalf of others, should inappropriate behaviour be in evidence. Our Child Safe Framework includes:

  • Commitment and leadership from the College Council and College Leadership Group to zero tolerance of child abuse
  • Comprehensive suite of policies around child protection which are reviewed on an annual or biennial basis
  • Recruitment and employment practices for staff
  • Induction program for new staff, coaches and volunteers
  • Screening of all staff and volunteers for Working with Children Checks and National Police Certificates as appropriate
  • Annual staff training for all staff in recognising forms of child abuse and grooming, strategies to prevent these and biennial training in reporting procedures
  • Annual review and sign-off of Staff Code of Conduct
  • Inclusion of Child Protection awareness within our staff performance review process
  • Protective Behaviours Curriculum (K-12)
  • Parent workshops on age appropriate child protection awareness and strategies
  • Child friendly reporting/complaint process on the College Portal
  • Consideration of our physical environment including visibility, privacy, who is present in the College and off-site activities
  • Consideration of our online environments, including taking and storage of images, education in cyber safety and online security and guidelines for staff and volunteers around online communication with students
  • Continual monitoring of recommendations and regulations around compliance and child protection from external bodies

Our key Child Protection policies may be found on our website at penrhos.wa.edu.au/policies

Our policies are regularly reviewed and training of our staff in the importance of these policies is ongoing. Should any member of our Alumni or current parents have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me at melvim@penrhos.wa.edu.au

Kind regards

Meg Melville

Principal

24 August 2018 - to our alumni in the context of the Royal Commission

A letter to our alumni community

On 15 December 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse presented the final report to the Governor-General, detailing the culmination of a five-year inquiry into institutional responses to child sexual abuse and related matters, by Justice Peter McClellan.

The Western Australian Minister for Education subsequently released new Standards for Non-Government Schools which came into effect on 1 July 2018, including significant changes relating to preventing and responding to child abuse, specifically to address grooming, annual training requirements, staff code of conduct and complaints processes.

Whilst Penrhos College was not mentioned in the report of the Royal Commission, recent contact with the College regarding historical events would indicate that we need to be proactive in reaching out to our community.

In close collaboration with the Uniting Church and in line with our absolute commitment to the wellbeing of our students, past and present, Penrhos College wishes to invite any member of our Alumni who may consider they were treated inappropriately in this context during their time as a student at Penrhos College, to come forward. This invitation is in the spirit of acknowledgement and healing.

The safeguarding of our students is of paramount importance to the Penrhos College community and the successful development of future strategies for preventing and responding to child abuse is dependent on our enduring culture of openness, transparency and mutual support.

Information offered by any member of our Alumni who wishes to share any experience of this nature will, of course, be treated with the utmost sensitivity and in absolute confidence. Please be encouraged to contact me or alternatively Cindy Gordon, Church Safe Officer for the Uniting Church, Western Australia:

melvim@penrhos.wa.edu.au

cindy.gordon@wa.uca.org.au

Further information regarding the National Redress Scheme may be obtained by following the links:

unitingchurchwa.org.au/uniting-church-centre/safe-church/interim-redress

www.nationalredress.gov.au/

Kind regards

Meg Melville

Principal