Clubs and associations for children – do they comply with child protection laws and principles?

Recently in the news, an Opera Australia singer was charged with historic child sex offences in NSW and a Scouts leader was charged with serious child sex offences in QLD.  These incidents occurred in organisations with responsibilities to ensure the safety of the young people who participate in singing and Scouts activities. Like our previous article on ADF Cadets nationally, these incidents also raise questions about the application of child safe laws and principles to organisations other than schools.

What organisations are involved in child-related work?

According to the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012 (NSW) (WWC Act) (and equivalent state and territory legislation), to fall within the ambit of child protection laws and principles an organisation must be within the scope of the legislation and must undertake the prescribed child-related work. Child-related work is defined differently in each jurisdiction but there is a dual test for organisations across all jurisdictions.  Firstly, the organisation needs to be an organisation recognised for the purposes of the WWC Act in that particular jurisdiction. Secondly, the organisation needs to be involved in work where the staff and workers have direct contact with children or are employed in a child-related role. Both these tests must be met for an organisation to fall under the scope of the WWC Act.

Schools are always considered organisations which engage in child-related work due to their direct contact with children on a day-to-day basis. However, each state varies when it comes to determining other types of organisations which may also be included. Generally, the broad categories of organisations included in the WWC Act’s ambit for the purposes of child protection include:

  • children’s health services
  • child protection services
  • clubs or other bodies providing services for children
  • disability services
  • early education and child care
  • entertainment for children
  • justice services
  • religious services
  • residential and boarding services
  • transport services.

What this means in practice is that any club or association which provides a service that has direct contact with children will be included. This might comprise:

  • sporting clubs or associations
  • theatre or drama groups
  • musical societies or programs
  • sporting, cultural or entertainment venues
  • church associations involving children
  • babysitting services
  • private coaching or tutoring services.

It is irrelevant whether the position is considered as employment or voluntary, with all positions which have direct contact with children required to get a Working With Children Check and comply with all child protection and child safe laws in their state.

The NSW Principles for Child-Safe Organisations

While the Working With Children Check is important, it is only one way to keep children safe. Organisations need to think about other things they can do to reduce the risk of harm to children when in their care.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) highlighted 10 elements of child safe organisations:

  1. child safety is embedded in institutional leadership, governance and culture
  2. children participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously
  3. families and communities are informed and involved
  4. equity is promoted and diversity respected
  5. people working with children are suitable and supported
  6. processes to respond to complaints of child sexual abuse are child focused
  7. staff are equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to keep children safe through continual education and training
  8. physical and online environments minimise the opportunity for abuse to occur
  9. implementation of Child Safe Standards is continuously reviewed and improved
  10. policies and procedures document how the institution is child safe.

These recommendations have been embodied in the NSW Principles for Child-Safe Organisations (Principles), which have been developed to help organisations to think about how they can implement these child-safe elements in their day-to-day work.

These are:

  • Principle 1: The organisation focuses on what is best for children
    Aim: That children know their rights, they are listened to and their concerns are taken seriously.
  • Principle 2: All children are respected and treated fairly
    Aim: That all children are treated fairly, regardless of ethnicity, culture, religion, sexuality and abilities.
  • Principle 3: Children’s families and communities are welcome and encouraged to participate in the organisation
    Aim: That families and communities get involved with the organisation.
  • Principle 4: Children receive services from skilled and caring adults
    Aim: That staff and volunteers are supported and know how they should behave towards children.

To assist organisations interpret each of the Principles, the New South Wales Government has published a guide titled Principles for Child-Safe Organisations.

Opera Australia and the Scouts Association

It is unknown what child protection policies and procedures Opera Australia and Scouts Association had, or have, in place. However, at a minimum those who had contact with children would need a working with children check under their state laws. In light of all the useful resources from the Royal Commission about how to improve child safety in organisations who supervise children, they may also refer to that information for an audit or review of their existing policies and procedures.

If these offences had occurred in Victoria or WA, mandatory reporting legal standards for ensuring child safety now apply.

What schools and other organisations can do

Both schools and any other organisation involved in child-related work should have an established child protection program which sets out work systems, practices, policies and procedures designed to not only ensure compliance, but also to develop safe and supportive environments and a child safe culture. This may include:

  • a child safety code of conduct
  • clear guidelines for reporting child abuse or suspected child abuse
  • a holistic policy for a child safe culture
  • policies which cover bullying and harassment of children
  • a robust complaints policy so family and the community can be involved
  • family and community support through a good communication policy.

Above all, all organisations, whether a school or any other organisation involved in child-related work, should adopt a risk management approach to child protection, establishing staff training to ensure a child safe culture.

Lauren Osbich is a Legal Research Consultant and School Governance reporter. She can be contacted here.

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