Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Towards Healing as best practice: how would we know?

A correspondent on a previous post has been vigorously arguing that Australia's 'Towards Healing' processes represent world 'best practice' in dealing with sexual abuses cases.  But on what basis does the claim rest?

Here is why I think our bishops are not doing enough to address the abuse crisis.

The most recent evaluation of Towards Healing, done in 2009 by Professor Patrick Parkinson of Sydney University, has not been publicly released because of resistance to its findings by the Salesians.

Nor is there, as far as I can discover online, any public reporting of the outcomes it is achieving.

What is 'best practice'?

First a bit of context.

It is important to understand that the term best practice has a technical meaning when referring to policies and processes.  'Best practice' does not just mean better than anyone else has.  It means something has been demonstrated to work - a practice that is evidence-based.

Anyone can have a policy in place.  If you are the only ones who have one - and given that most Bishops' Conferences missed the Vatican deadline for having such a policy, Australia is well ahead on this count - that does not in itself constitute 'best practice'.  It may just mean you have a fig leaf in place to attempt to cover your nakedness!

When assessing policies and practices, there are in fact three main categories commonly employed: promising practices, good practices, and best practices.

Many organizations have practices in place, or introduce new ones from time to time in order to meet changing condition or perceived needs. 

Where there is some objective early evidence that they seem to be working, they may constitute promising practices. 

When they have been properly evaluated and shown to be working, they become good practices. 

When they are genuinely evidence-based and shown to work better than other good practices, they constitute best practice.

Are there examples of best practice in this field?

In fact a quick google will reveal that there are both promising, good and best practices that have been identified in the context of other organizations in the fields of child abuse prevention, engagement with victims, and treatment. 

Are they being used in Towards Healing? 

Frankly, it is impossible to know as the Towards Healing Guidelines are very high level indeed.

It is impossible to assess just from reading them for example, whether the processes promote empowerment and collaboration, and communicate and sustain hope and respect, for example.

What one actually needs is some hard data on outcomes!

Towards accountability and transparency

So what are the kinds of  outputs and outcomes one would want to see reported on for Towards Healing?

A good start would be a bit of transparency and accountability in order to build confidence that the processes are working effectively. 

How about providing just some basic facts on outputs, such as:
  • how many cases are dealt with in each State/diocese each year;
  • what years the claims relate to;
  • what happened to the priest/religious/church worker while the case was being considered - was he stood aside, etc;
  • how many claims were upheld, how many rejected;
  • how many cases relate to the same person;
  • how many resulted in or related to cases where there was also criminal or civil proceedings;
  • how long cases took to be resolved (consider for example the AB Hepworth case, dragged out over several years.  How many others are in this situation?);
  • what the immediate outcomes of cases were - average size of payments made; how much other support (spiritual, psychological, practical); what happened to the perpetrator or accused.
When dioceses, Church State level bodies, or the Church's National Committee for Professional Standards start putting this data up on their websites we can start taking claims about the effectiveness of the processes seriously, and Catholics in general will be in a better position to put the abuse crisis within the Church in a proper perspective.

But to really know whether or not Towards Healing is doing what it is supposed to, you would also need to assess things like:
  • the degree of satisfaction of victims with the process - was their claim dealt with in a timely, respectful basis, etc?;
  • the extent to which victims maintained contact with, or were reconciled with the Church  - did the process enhance their spiritual health?
  • the extent to which the victim was provided with sufficient psychological and other support to deal with the impacts of the abuse and the process - how many went on to commit suicide is relevant here! 
  • the extent to which justice was served.  In the case of false accusations, was the priest's reputation properly rehabilitated? Because in too many cases, this doesn't seem to be particularly well managed.  And conversely, in the case of claims upheld, was he properly punished, did he make any apology and/or reparation?
  • the extent to which new processes have successfully weeded out inappropriate candidates for the priesthood/screened out Church workers who pose risks to children; and
  • the extent to which Towards Healing has promoted a recovery of the sense of the importance of morality in general, both within the priesthood and amongst the laity.
Has this kind of assessment actually been done? 

Well if it has, it hasn't been released to those of us who continue sit (or actually mostly squirm) in the pews. 

Clericalism continues to reign...

And for a nice analysis of the effects that the abuse crisis has had on the provision of a social safety net in the US, and erosion of the Church's moral authority such that the gay 'marriage' debate could even occur, a reader has drawn my attention to an excellent article over at Real Clear Religion.

1 comment:

R. J. Stove said...

I hope readers of this website will be interested in this article, by a Pennsylvania-based historian who is, I believe, a pro-Catholic Episcopalian:

As Melbourne's Conway case demonstrated for the umpteenth time, no improvement will be possible unless and until the mental health establishment (with such adornments as Harry Bailey of Chelmsford Hospital ill-fame) is kept firmly out of the diocesan process.

The "thinking", if you can call it that, of this establishment is summed up in the once-famous joke about the psychiatrist who - having been shown three utterly different Rorschach blots and having confidently proclaimed that all of them were about sex - responds to the question "Aren't you a bit obsessive on the topic?" with the complaint "Well, you're the one who keeps showing me all the dirty pictures!"