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Keeping community services organisations child safe

ACWA Inc - Thursday, May 02, 2019
You’ve most likely heard the term child safe organisation before. If not, you can probably guess at what it means. But for frontline community workers and their supervisors the specifics of what makes an organisation child safe is set to become essential knowledge.

Regulatory changes across Australia are on the way to ensure organisations that provide services or facilities for children comply with nationally consistent child safe standards. This will apply to many community services organisations.

Child safe organisations prioritise child safety and well-being through policies, procedures and practice approaches that are child focused, proactive in protecting children from harm, and ensure allegations of harm are responded to appropriately.

Of course, organisations with children in its care should already be operating like this. Unfortunately, we know this is not always the case. In fact, it was the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that deemed child safe standards necessary.

In response to this recommendation the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) endorsed the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations in February this year. You can access the National Principles here.

The child safe principles are:
  1. Child safety and wellbeing is embedded in organisational leadership, governance and culture.
  2. Children and young people are informed about their rights, participate in decisions affecting them, and are taken seriously.
  3. Families and communities are informed and involved in promoting child safety and wellbeing.
  4. Equity is upheld and diverse needs respected in policy and practice.
  5. People working with children and young people are suitable and supported to reflect child safety and wellbeing values in practice.
  6. Processes for complaints and concerns are child focused. 
  7. Staff and volunteers are equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to keep children and young people safe through ongoing education and training.
  8. Physical and online environments promote safety and wellbeing while minimising the opportunity for children and young people to be harmed.
  9. Implementation of the national child safe principles is regularly reviewed and improved.
  10. Policies and procedures document how the organisation is safe for children and young people.
What this means for community services organisations

The National Office for Child Safety is coordinating the implementation of the National Principles but each government must determine how they will ensure organisations in their respective jurisdiction uphold the principles.

This is an extensive process. Decision-makers must consider:
  • Sector and organisational readiness
  • Existing regulation and frameworks
  • Regulatory compliance
If a government decides to make it mandatory for organisations to meet the National Principles, they need to make some serious decisions. Which agency will be the regulatory body? How can organisations prove their compliance? What should be the penalty for non-compliance?

We have put together an overview of where each state and territory stands on implementing the National Principles and what changes might affect your organisation.

Australian Capital Territory
At this stage, the ACT’s focus is on supporting organisations to meet the National Principles, rather than regulating them to do so.

In October 2018, the ACT Government partnered with the ACT Public Advocate and Children and Young People Commissioner to hold a series of stakeholder forums to gauge sector readiness to implement the standards and learn what supports to develop to assist organisations. You can read the resulting report here. (LINK)

The forums did touch on regulation which indicates it is still a possibility.

New South Wales
New South Wales is committed to regulating child safe standards. The NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian is developing the scheme and conducted a stakeholder consultation earlier this year. You can read the discussion paper here. The Office is working through the feedback to determine the best model.

Northern Territory
The Northern Territory has provided little detail about how it will manage the National Principles other than to report that legislative reform is being considered as part of the development of a single Act to replace the Youth Justice Act 2005 and the Care and Protection of Children Act 2007.

The Queensland Government has stated that work is underway to develop a model to implement and oversee child safe standards as well as a model for a Queensland Reportable Conduct Scheme to ensure organisations are adequately prepared to respond to allegations of harm.

South Australia
South Australia is already regulating organisations to ensure they provide a child safe environment. Relevant organisations are required to have a child safe policy in place, meet relevant history obligations and lodge a child safe environments compliance statement.

The state government believes they can integrate the National Principles into the existing framework and has flagged that changes are on their way.

In October 2018 the Tasmanian Government reported that work to draft legislation to support the implementation of the National Child Safe Principles will take place in January through July this year.

Victoria has its own regulated child safe standards in place. The Commission for Children and Young People oversees compliance.

The Victorian Government is currently reviewing the standards and will release an outcome report in July.

Western Australia
Western Australia has existing guidelines for child safe organisations although these are not compulsory. They do, however, interact with other reporting systems.

The Western Australian Government has committed to supporting capacity building for organisations as a priority for 2019-2020 but has made no indication of an intention to regulate the National Principles.

Preparing for changes

We are developing an information sheet to help frontline practitioners better understand the child safe systems they work (or will work) under.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has developed practical tools and resources to support managers and leaders implement the National Principles in their organisation. Visit https://childsafe.humanrights.gov.au/


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