Victorian child-safe standards: changing soon

As a result of its 2013 inquiry into the handling of child abuse, the Victorian Government mandated that organisations working with children adhere to a series of standards to promote child safety, prevent child abuse and properly respond to allegations.

Until 30 June 2022, these standards apply in Victoria: https://ccyp.vic.gov.au/child-safe-standards/.

From 1 July 2022, these standards will apply in Victoria: https://ccyp.vic.gov.au/news/new-child-safe-standards-start-in-victoria-on-1-july-2022-to-better-protect-children/.

For a comparison of the current and future standards, click here: https://ccyp.vic.gov.au/assets/resources/New-CSS/Whats-changing-comparison-of-current-and-new-Child-Safe-Standards.pdf.

Some practical strategies to help organisations to work to the Victorian standards are provided below. These strategies are framed in terms of the standards that apply until 30 June 2022.

Standard 1: governance and leadership

Strong and clear governance arrangements allow leaders to ensure child safety is a focus within their organisation.

  • Ensure strategic direction, vision and mission statements include child safety.
  • Provide induction/ training in recognising and responding to child abuse for all personnel including at leadership level.
  • Appoint an appropriately trained child safety officer or champion.
  • Build responsibility for embedding an organisational culture of safety into performance arrangements and position descriptions for senior staff.
  • Promote a confidential reporting culture.
  • Maintain adequate records of child safety issues (ensuring the keeping of such records respects privacy).
  • Institute improvements to child safety policies and procedures as a regular agenda item at leadership and staff meetings.
  • Clearly communicate child safety policies and procedures to all staff, volunteers, children and families and publish policies for child safety on the organisation’s website.

Standard 2: clear commitment to child safety

Demonstrate your commitment to child safety by documenting how your organisation will meet its duty of care and responsibilities.

  • Use our sample policy to get you started on developing a Child Protection Policy suitable for your workplace.
  • Train your staff on the policy and provide plenty of question-and-answer time to work through the practical components of how people report concerns as they arise.
  • Publicly communicate your organisation’s stance on child protection – on your website, in your annual report, and via recruitment advertisements.
  • Ensure your child-safe policy or statement is on your website for all to see and read.
  • Communicate your child-safe statement in community languages, ensuring that it is culturally appropriate for Aboriginal people and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
  • Ensure that your child-safe information is accessible for people with a disability.

Standard 3: code of conduct

Establish clear expectations for appropriate behaviour with children.

  • Update your code of conduct to include:
  1. clear and specific standards of conduct for working with children in different situations, e.g. boundaries for physical contact in sports coaching or where restraining a child with a disability who is at risk of harming themselves;
  2. a set of clear principles (suitable for your organisation) about how workplace participants should behave in a child-safe environment
  3. a statement about your organisation’s zero tolerance when it comes to inappropriate behaviour towards children.
  • Train staff on the updated code of conduct.
  • Require staff and volunteers (and all those working with children) to sign a copy of the code of conduct, acknowledging they have read it, understand it, and agree to abide by it.

Standard 4: human resource practices

Develop and implement human resource practices that reduce the risk of child abuse occurring within your organisation.

  • Ensure potential applicants are aware of your organisation’s commitment to child safety.
  • Apply a stringent recruitment process to all appointments for roles that involve working with children.
  • Ensure that your recruitment and selection processes focus on factors that may indicate a risk to child safety, i.e. “red flags” (e.g. reluctance to undergo a Working with Children Check or police check).
  • When hiring or appointing personnel who will work or interact with children, ensure that they have a fulsome understanding of child safety and the relevant reporting protocols, and that they respect Aboriginal culture, cultural and linguistic diversity and the needs of children with a disability.
  • Carry out appropriate working with children checks, police checks and reference checks.

Standard 5: responding and reporting

All staff and volunteers must understand their role in keeping children safe, including their reporting responsibilities.

Reporting

  • Ensure a supportive environment for children, staff, volunteers or families who report allegations of abuse or child safety concerns – never discipline a staff member for reporting a concern (unless there is clear evidence that the complaint was made for an improper purpose such as retribution).
  • Train your staff, volunteers, families and children on your organisation’s reporting procedures so that they know how to report abuse allegations, and to whom.
  • Train staff and volunteers on how to identify signs of risk.
  • Ensure that those handling complaints understand when to notify authorities, including the police and child protection, of suspected child abuse.
  • Ensure that there is an information feedback loop – that is, that the person who made the complaint knows what has been done with that information so that they can have confidence that the organisation is handling the matter appropriately.
  • Publicise (e.g. on your website) the ways in which people can report concerns (e.g. on your website), tailoring messages for children and families and providing information in a variety of languages and relevant modalities (such as braille and assistive technologies, as appropriate).

Responding

  • Your first priority should always be to ensure that children are safe. This may mean that you need to suspend the alleged perpetrator and provide them with alternative duties during the carrying out of an investigation (seek legal advice before standing someone down). You may also need to contact a support person for the affected child, including a parent or carer as appropriate.
  • Provide support and comfort to a child reporting abuse or safety concerns, and ensure that a child is never blamed or interrogated.
  • Provide ongoing support to all participants in the investigation (including the alleged perpetrator), and ensure that all participants are aware of any Employee Assistance Program or counselling services available to them.
  • Regularly review and seek feedback on your processes and policies to ensure they are serving the community you support.

Standard 6: risk management and mitigation

To reduce the likelihood of harm organisations must think about and define the risks.

  • Ensure that your risk management program includes a process designed to evaluate risks posed to children, taking into account the organisation’s activities, size and resources, and the types of children you work with.
  • Have a risk management committee that regularly discusses child protection and any incidents and reports with the aim of assessing and limiting or eliminating any ongoing risk.
  • Remove risks to children where possible (e.g. terminate staff and volunteers who are not suitable to work with children – seek legal advice before terminating such a relationship).
  • Remove physical risks to children. The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services recommends that organisations working with children
    • provide staff and volunteers with training in identifying children at risk of abuse
    • identify organisational child abuse risks such as blocked-off and out-of-sight spaces (especially rooms with doors that can be locked)
    • roster staff with experience and qualifications to manage high risk environments.
  • Always learn from past lessons and talk about incidents and complaints at senior management level to ensure that lessons are shared and benefited from across the organisation.

Standard 7: empowering children

Children have a right to be heard and have their concerns and ideas taken seriously.

  • Provide children, including children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and children with a disability, with accessible information about what child abuse is, their rights, and how they can raise concerns about abuse – e.g. through information sheets, websites and social media.
  • Help children to understand their right to make decisions about their body and their privacy through age-appropriate training carried out by child safety professionals such as child psychologists.
  • Gather feedback from children about your organisation’s child safety policies and processes and seek input on whether children would feel safe to raise concerns. Implement improvements based on this feedback.
  • Train staff and volunteers on methods of empowering children and encouraging children’s participation.
  • Encourage participation and empowerment of children in a range of organisational activities (not just those relating to child safety), such as organisational planning and decision making.
  • Raise awareness in the organisation and the community about children’s rights.

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