As the long-term manager of the Gatehouse Centre at The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH), Karen Hogan has seen first-hand the way that trauma and sexual abuse services for children and young people have grown in Victoria over the past four decades.
Karen’s first contact with the RCH was 40 years ago as a social work student. During her training, Karen completed a placement with an agency that used a counselling model that focused on the problems of the individual. From this experience Karen emerged with a sense that this way of working did not appeal and that she wished to engage in issues around the broader systems that were the basis of children’s and families’ experience of trauma. This understanding has informed her work ever since.
As a young social worker at the RCH Karen worked in the surgical, general medical and plastics units where staff were encountering children who had been abused, yet there was no specialist unit to which they could be referred. With interest in the sector from Premier John Cain, in 1983 the hospital established the Child Protection Unit. As part of these developments, sexual abuse was starting to be recognised as an area of specialist need in the treatment of children. Eventually the Child Protection Unit evolved into the Gatehouse Centre and after just a few weeks as the deputy head of this new unit, Karen was approached to become its leader, a position she has held ever since.
Over this time, Karen has seen many changes in the unit and in the sector in general. She notes that children’s voices are more highly valued now and that there is a much better understanding of issues around staff burnout. Perhaps most significantly, Karen has been a witness to, and a participant in, the transformation of services for children who have been sexually abused into the comprehensive, state-wide, multi-disciplinary and multi-agency system that exists today.
Karen has great admiration for the 40 staff she now leads and for the many young people she encounters. While the field is challenging and there are “never enough hours in the day”, Karen remains positive about the ongoing support the Gatehouse Centre receives from the RCH in assisting children who have experienced abuse: “I think the hospital enables creativity, they give us permission to do the best we can in here and outside, they support us”.
In September 2019 Karen was awarded the Robin Clark Leadership Award for her work protecting the wellbeing of children at the annual Victorian Protecting Children Awards.
Listen to an audio extract from Karen Hogan’s 2019 oral history interview
Transcription of audio extract:
“I think that because the sexual assault system that we’re part of state-wide is also mainly an adult service that children and young people need a voice. I so often laugh and I feel like all I need is to say ‘don’t forget the children and young people’ and when they see me they go, oh my goodness here she comes, yeah we won’t forget the children and young people. But it is important for the children and young people to have a voice in systems that are often adult dominated. Those committees have been instrumental in challenging legislation, or looking at new legislation, or looking at work practices across a range of agencies. And you learn a whole lot from other people and they you, so it’s that respectful, sometimes tough, sometimes difficult, but always trying to get the best outcomes in the end.”