Thursday, March 13, 2008

Duty of Care

Fortunately or unfortunately this blog has become a forum where people can vent their frustrations. This is quite evident from the many comments about the occurrences in the Adass Yisroel girl's school recently. The situation is one that evokes strong emotions in everybody and especially in parents. When such things happen in our Jewish community we are even more shocked and disgusted - for some reason we feel that this cannot happen in a frum community. Speak to any doctor, psychologist or experienced teacher here and they will tell you that everything that is "out there" also occurs "here" to a hopefully lesser extent. Organisations such as the Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence exist for a reason - because it does happen here.

OK. Let's say we acknowledge that these horrendous things do occur in the community why should we "air our dirty linen in public"? Surely it is nobody's business especially those outside our close knit circle. What good does it do to discuss it openly?

As they say in the States..."wake up and smell the coffee!!" We are not living in a European shtetl. For better or worse we are living in Melbourne in the 21st century and, while many aspects of society have deteriorated, these days we have the tools and the knowledge to deal with unpleasant situations in the hope that people who have suffered traumatic experiences can get past those experiences and lead normal lives.

Not only that but society today has gone further in that our culture is quite focussed on preventing trauma occurring in the first place. This goes for mental trauma as much as physical trauma. Anyone who works in a moderately sized organisation knows that OH&S (occupational health and safety) plays a major part in ensuring that workers are not harmed in any way during the course of their job. Our schools spend a lot of time talking about bullying and how to prevent it (which is a topic in itself for another occasion) and on keeping children safe in all ways. When something goes wrong and our kids and young adults are not safe or a put in harmful situations then it is time to speak up and not to close ranks and protect "the powers that be".

We pay high school fees and entrust our children to our schools for much of the day. When we send our children to school there is a presumption - not to mention a legal requirement - that the school has a "duty of care" towards the children. If the child is hurt in any way the situation must be dealt with promptly and correctly. If the situation falls into certain categories then, as I understand it, the school has a requirement to inform the appropriate authorities.

When the school is no longer a safe place surely it is a natural thing for us to speak up and demand answers. From the tone of some people's defence of the alleged perpetrator the way the victims have been affected is of no concern. I think this is the thing that upset parents the most. When the rabbi, school board and some community bigwigs demand silence this is just adding insult to injury. If they have proof that the accusations are false then they should have presented the proof by now at least to the parents. From their silence it would appear that the accusations are correct.

In this case where abuse is alleged there is certainly no room to ignore the situation in the hope that it will go away. This is how unpleasant and even illegal situations have been dealt with in the past in our frum community and, more often than not, the victim is the one who suffers and the perpetrator gets away scot-free. This can no longer be allowed to happen.

The article in this week's Jewish News seems quite balanced to me. They have extensive quotes from the congregation's president which spell out the situation as he sees it. (From past experience I am sure that he will insist that he was misquoted.) We all agree that it is unpleasant that this sort of thing needs to be aired in public but surely, if it had been dealt with correctly when it was first brought to light, most of the parent's concerns would have been resolved and it could have been a more positive article.

I have been sent emails telling me that some Adass parents are pleased that they have a place to vent. Surely it would have been more cathartic if they had an approachable and understanding rabbi that they could speak to and wouldn't have to resort to posting on a blog...