Child safety: The cheat sheet

If you read nothing else about child-safe organisations, read this.

Creating a child-safe culture requires more than simply having a set of policies and procedures in place. It’s about creating a culture where all staff, volunteers and board members take responsibility for promoting and ensuring child safety. It’s also about promoting participation and empowerment of children – giving children a voice in decision-making, and not just child safety-related decisions but organisational planning as well. When children are empowered in an organisation they are more likely to report concerns in relation to their safety.

Creating this child-safe culture is not just relevant to organisations providing services for children. It must be embedded in the Australian community – because we all have a duty of care to keep children safe. The sad reality is that children can be abused in any circumstances, so it’s critical that organisations, individuals and communities take a stance to make child safety our number-one priority.

This involves more than just complying with regulations – we must implement best practice. ICDA’s series of help sheets on the subject, including this one, provides guidance, practical tools and advice for organisations working with children, taking into account mandatory requirements and how organisations can ensure best practice.

The social and legal context of child-safe organisations

Recent federal and state government initiatives have highlighted the responsibility that not-for-profit organisations have for preventing and appropriately responding to child abuse.

Understanding the context and findings of these inquiries (including the ones outside your organisation’s home state) will help you to understand your risks and legal responsibilities, and to prepare appropriate policies and procedures for your organisation.

In 2013 the Federal Government established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to look into how institutions have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.

The Royal Commission’s final report was released in 2017. Some of the key themes from the report are outlined below:

  • The old mentality that children should be “seen and not heard” is no longer appropriate (if it ever was). Families and institutions are encouraged to empower children to speak their minds, and to listen and respond appropriately to a child’s concerns.
  • A “head in the sand” mentality is not acceptable when it comes to child safety. Organisations must take preventative action, and actively deal with any complaints in a timely and compassionate manner.
  • It is not acceptable to put off taking action against an alleged perpetrator unless or until they have been charged with a criminal offence. Organisations need to take appropriate action as soon as a complaint is received.
  • It is not appropriate to deal with a matter internally when you have real concerns that a criminal offence has been committed. All allegations of child abuse must be immediately reported to the police or other relevant authority.
  • It is not acceptable to hand a matter over to the authorities and then wash your hands of it – your organisation must actively participate in the investigation process and follow up with regulatory bodies to ensure that the issue has been appropriately dealt with.

Do these things now

To ensure compliance with the law and protection of children within the care of your organisation you must immediately take the following actions:

  • Understand the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations and, if relevant, the child safe standards that apply in your state or territory (Victoria and NSW have their own standards)
  • Implement a child protection policy or statement of commitment to child safety (see the ICDA sample policy)
  • Put in place strategies to promote the participation and empowerment of children and their families in your organisation
  • Put in place a code of conduct that establishes clear expectations for appropriate behaviour with children (see the ICDA sample code of conduct)
  • Create and embed screening, supervision, training and other human resources practices that reduce the risk of child abuse by new and existing personnel
  • Put in place strategies for identifying and reducing or removing risks of child abuse
  • Codify mandatory and voluntary processes for responding to and reporting suspected child abuse
  • Document the strategies your organisation has employed to prevent child abuse (training provided to staff, policy review schedule, etc).

ICDA provides practical tools to help you achieve all the strategies outlined above.

However, it’s important to note that the most important thing you can do is to embed an organisation-wide commitment to the protection of children. This must be led from the top and you must encourage and foster a culture of proactively dealing with and reporting concerns relating to child safety.

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