Former Caringbah YMCA child care worker Jonathan Lord, jailed for child sex abuse.

Former Caringbah YMCA child care worker Jonathan Lord, jailed for child sex abuse.

YMCA NSW was not and is not a child safe organisation and may not have the capacity to become one, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been told.

Further, its chief executive officer Phillip Hare and general manager of children’s services Liam Whitley may not be fit and proper persons to hold management positions in an organisation responsible for the care and protection of children, the Commission’s counsel assisting Gail Furness, SC, has asserted. 

YMCA NSW  Chief Executive Phillip Hare

YMCA NSW Chief Executive Phillip Hare Photo: Kate Geraghty

But YMCA NSW asked commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan to reject these proposed findings in its case study on the organisation’s handling of child-sex abuse allegations against Jonathan Lord.  

Lord was in his early 20s and employed as a child-care worker at YMCA Caringbah when he abused boys aged between six and 16 for two years from 2009, including on YMCA premises. He was jailed for a minimum of six years in 2012 for 13 offences involving 12 children. 

YMCA NSW claims 400,000 child attendances in a year at its 41 before-and-after-school care locations.

YMCA general manager of children’s services  Liam Whitley.

YMCA children's services manager Liam Whitley Photo: Supplied

Ms Furness  listed 14 counts on which the YMCA was not a child safe organisation when it employed Lord. They included the way he was recruited, a lack of proper induction and training for staff, failure to implement child safety policies, tolerance of inappropriate touching of children, allowing Lord to be alone with them in secluded places and the lack of a confidential reporting system for staff. 

Jacqui Barnat, who was then children’s services co-ordinator at YMCA Caringbah, failed to follow proper procedures in eight different ways when recruiting Lord, Ms Furness submitted.

She recommended Ms Barnat be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for giving false and misleading evidence to the Commission. Staff saw Lord blatantly and frequently breach the organisation’s child safety policies but did not report him, according to the evidence. 

Maria Gerace,  appearing for two parents,  urged the Commission to spurn the YMCA’s “astonishing, disappointing and deeply disquieting” defence that the organisation and its staff failed to prevent Lord’s crimes because he had duped, groomed, manipulated, coaxed and co-erced them.

 Ian Neil SC, appearing for YMCA NSW, was scarcely on his feet at the submissions hearing when Justice McClellan stopped him to protest that the YMCA’s written submission was “very critical” of its junior child care workers yet failed to acknowledge failure on the part of management.

 If the staff failed to report Lord’s behaviour, for example, “That is a failure that comes back to senior management and that is a failure that is not reflected in your submissions”, Justice McClellan said. 

Mr Neil said YMCA NSW accepted there had been organisational failures and was committed to addressing the serious issues raised. He said his client didn’t criticise the junior staff but only the evidence they gave. But Ms Furness disputed this, pointing to where the YMCA NSW’s submission said staff’s evidence was “self serving”, that one of them had “no interest in complying with the expectations required of her from her employer” and another “could not keep abreast” of the training in policies.

 The YMCA’s management failures, its behaviour during the hearings and its written submission all showed it was not a child safe institution and raised serious doubts about its capacity to carry out the reforms necessary to become one, Ms Furness submitted. The hearing adjourned to January 21.  

 

 

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