Source: ABC News – www.abc.net.au
A manager with the YMCA has conceded she did not follow the correct protocols when hiring a child care worker who was later jailed for abusing 12 boys.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is examining the case of Jonathan Lord, who is serving a minimum six year prison sentence for crimes committed during his time at the Caringbah YMCA in Sydney’s south.
The organisation’s Children’s Services Manager, Jacqui Barnat, has told the hearing she signed an incomplete and poorly conducted reference check when working as the centre co-ordinator at the time.
A number of questions about Lord’s skills and experience were left blank, and others were answered with only several words.
“The recruitment of Jonathan Lord fell far below best standards and best practices,” Counsel Assisting the Commission, Gail Furness, told the hearing.
“I did what I needed to do,” Ms Barnat responded.
The inquiry has also been told Ms Barnat did not contact Lord’s most recent employer, which may have revealed a ‘red flag’.
Lord was dismissed from a US summer camp just one month before applying for the Sydney position, for ‘questionable behaviour’ with an eight-year-old boy.
Ms Barnat has admitted that she did not ask if Lord was subject to an ’employer investigation’, despite YMCA recruitment policies specifying that the question must be asked to every short listed applicant.
The hearing revealed she did not conduct a minimum of three reference checks.
“You didn’t diligently evaluate, did you, either of the reference checks that you carried out in respect to Jonathan Lord?,” Ms Furness asked.
“I actually don’t have a memory of the time the reference checking was done,” Ms Barnat said. “So I don’t know whether I did conduct an evaluation of the reference.” She says she was not aware of the YMCA’s recruitment policies. “It was part of my responsibility to learn the policies also,” she said. “And you failed to do that in respect of this policy in the recruitment of Jonathan Lord?,” Ms Furness asked. “That’s correct,” Ms Barnat said. “Wholesale failure of management”
Ms Furness has told the inquiry there was a ‘serious breakdown’ in communication amongst YMCA staff that led to the Lord incident. Describing the case as a ‘wholesale failure of management’, she has questioned Ms Barnat about the past and present skills of child care staff. “Staff had, and still have, limited understanding of the policies in place at the YMCA in respect to child protection matters, do you accept that?,” Ms Furness asked. “Yes,” Ms Barnat responded.
Ms Furness continued to press the issue. “Would you agree that it seems that the policies which are currently in place are too complex for a number of staff to comprehend?” she said. “I think so, yes,” Ms Barnat said. Ms Barnat refused to concede that as centre co-ordinator at the time, she was responsible for ensuring her staff had a comprehensive knowledge of child protection policies. “I do believe that it is up to individuals also to familiarise themselves with policy,” she said. “I wasn’t aware that there was a misunderstanding with policies in respect to the staff.”She says her superiors at the YMCA supported her after the Jonathan Lord allegations, saying they believed she conducted the recruitment process to the best of her ability.”They have said that I did what I needed to do,” she said.
YMCA defends Working With Children record
YMCA NSW has responded to claims it took more than a year to conduct a staff audit of Working With Children checks in the wake of the Jonathan Lord allegations.
The organisation’s Child Protection and Compliance Manager, Catharine Clements, has told the inquiry an audit of 1800 staff was conducted in response to the charges.Ms Clements says she was employed ‘about a year’ after the Lord incident, and there were still 400 staff checks to be done.
The YMCA says all employees ‘in direct service to children’ must have a Working With Children Check.
A Commission audit of YMCA Caringbah on 10 July 2012 found that all employees were cleared to work with children.
“We have appointed an excellent Children Protection Manager, who is working well within the organisation,” the CEO of YMCA NSW, Phillip Hare, said. “She has seen no evidence at all to support the previous assertions.” After just four months, Ms Clements was sacked from her job in November 2012. The YMCA said part of the reason was a failure to complete accreditation requirements. Ms Clements has told the inquiry she had started to make notes about ‘constraints to implementing child protection at the YMCA’, and found it difficult to gather information about what training child care staff had received.
The inquiry continues.