The Royal Commission's Final Report was released on 15 December 2017. Among the 409 combined recommendations, culture was acknowledged as being key to driving reform in the area of child safety. In summary, recommendations were focused on the culture of:
- state and territory governments
- Federal Government
- Catholic/Jewish or other religious institutions, and
- all institutions.
Child Safe Standards
In Recommendation 6.5, the Royal Commission identified 10 Child Safe Standards that are essential for a child safe institution. These standards are intended as best practice to guide institutions to drive cultural change. The Standards are:
- Child safety is embedded in institutional leadership, governance and culture.
- Children participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously.
- Families and communities are informed and involved.
- Equity is promoted and diversity respected.
- People working with children are suitable and supported.
- Processes to respond to complaints of child sexual abuse are child focused.
- Staff are equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to keep children safe through continual education and training.
- Physical and online environments minimise the opportunity for abuse to occur.
- Implementation of child safe standards is continuously reviewed and improved.
- Policies and procedures document how the institution is child safe.
Royal Commission Recommendations for Implementation of Child Safe Standards
As mentioned in our previous article, the Royal Commission's recommendations regarding the Child Safe Standards are:
- governments should embed the 10 Child Safe Standards, recommended by the Royal Commission, in legislation
- the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) should endorse the 10 Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission
- an independent oversight body should be created in each state and territory responsible for monitoring and enforcing the 10 Child Safe Standards
- the Federal Government should develop a National Framework for Child Safety and establish a National Office for Child Safety in the Department of Prime Minister
- the COAG should consider strengthening teacher registration requirements to improve national consistency and improve the effectiveness of teachers.
The Federal Government and most state and territory governments around Australia have now responded to these recommendations, indicating how they will implement the cultural changes required for ensuring the safety of children.
Federal Government Response to the Royal Commission - Delivered 13 June 2018
The National Office for Child Safety will work with state and territory governments and other institutions to promote the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations, which include the Royal Commission's Child Safe Standards, and their implementation, including recommendations relating to mandatory reporting and reportable conduct. Key themes agreed as priorities by all jurisdictions were:
- supporting child safe organisations
- improving information sharing, record keeping and data collection
- addressing the complex issue of children with harmful sexual behaviours, and
- annually and publicly reporting on progress.
State and Territory Responses to the Royal Commission
All states and territories, except for Victoria, have now responded to the Royal Commission's recommendations in varying ways. States and territories have also progressively implemented legal reform over the course of the Royal Commission (between 2013 and 2018) and we set out these responses below.
New South Wales - Responded on 9 March 2018
NSW was the first state to opt into the National Redress Scheme (along with Victoria) and has also accepted, accepted in principle or accepted as a national priority all the recommendations made by the Royal Commission in Volumes 6 and 7 relating to the implementation of the Child Safe Standards and Institutional Reporting. The only recommendation subject to further consideration is the exemption of religious ministry from mandatory reporting laws.
NSW has also been active in implementing legal reform over the course of the Royal Commission with a Reportable Conduct Scheme in place since 2002 and optional Child Safe Principles from the Office of the Children's Guardian. NSW has recently introduced extensive criminal law reforms to strengthen child protection duties and reporting obligations. Finally, NSW has also introduced various Working with Children Check amendments to further enforce a culture of child safety.
South Australia - Responded on 14 June 2018
The SA Government's response identified 104 recommendations from the Royal Commission for which they were directly responsible. 22 were accepted, 44 were accepted in principle and 37 required further consideration. One recommendation relating to out of home care providers was not accepted.
SA has also been active in implementing legal reform over the course of the Royal Commission with many of the Final Report recommendations complementing the reform recommendations from the SA Child Protection Systems Royal Commission which concluded in 2016. From 22 October 2018, all SA schools will have new registration standards requiring compliance with a new Outcomes Framework for Children and Young People including the implementation of a culture of child safety and a requirement to create child safe environments.
Queensland - Responded on 15 June 2018
The QLD Government's response accepted or supported in principle more than 240 recommendations of the Royal Commission. 89 recommendations were referred for further consideration and no recommendations were rejected.
The recent State Government Budget has introduced measures over the next 10 years to respond to the Royal Commission recommendations and reform the Blue Card system is ongoing. No response in relation to the culture of child safety and the adoption of the Child Safe Standards has been specified.
Australian Capital Territory - Responded on 15 June 2018
The ACT Government adopted all 290 recommendations from the Royal Commission, including creating a criminal offence for not reporting allegations revealed during confession. Of the 307 recommendations that apply to states and territories, the Territory has listed 16 for further consideration and one as noted, saying these require more work. The ACT has also identified that making institutions child safe is one of the four key themes to arise from the Royal Commission Report and it will be a pillar for any further reforms.
The ACT has updated its Reportable Conduct Scheme introduced in July 2017 in anticipation of the Royal Commission recommendations. The ACT has also implemented various Working with Children Check amendments.
Tasmania - Responded on 20 June 2018
The Tasmanian Government noted, accepted or accepted in principle all recommendations made by the Royal Commission in Volumes 6 and 7 relating to implementation of the Child Safe Standards and Institutional Reporting. Despite not directly addressing the Child Safe Standards, legislative reform has occurred across the introduction of in relation to Working with Vulnerable People Registration and new registration standards for schools which require child protection compliance.
Northern Territory - Responded on 22 June 2018
The NT Government has accepted, or accepted in principle, 95 of the Final Report recommendations. A further 12 recommendations are being further considered. The NT Government has noted an additional 82 recommendations, which are the responsibility of religious institutions, and the Commonwealth Government. Of the recommendations relating to Child Safe Organisations, the NT has responded that the implementation of child safety officers across institutions requires further consideration. The NT has not implemented any legal reform over the course of the Royal Commission, however is looking towards implementing the Royal Commission recommendations and the recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory simultaneously.
Western Australia - Responded on 29 June 2018
The WA Government response included that of the 409 recommendations made by the Royal Commission, 310 were applicable to the State Government. The WA Government has accepted or accepted in principle over 90 per cent of the 310 recommendations. In particular, the 36 recommendations related to child safe institutions were all accepted or accepted in principle.
WA has also been active in legal reform. New registration standards that commenced on 1 July 2018, require schools to comply with both the Royal Commission Child Safe Standards and the WA Commissioner for Children and Young People Child Safe Standards. The WA Government was also the first state or territory in Australia to formally apologise to survivors in a session of parliament.
Victoria - No Response
Despite being one of the first jurisdictions to join the National Redress Scheme (with NSW), Victoria has yet to respond to the Royal Commission's recommendations. The reason is unclear. However, it is arguably the most advanced state in relation to child protection reform. Victoria introduced seven child safe standards as a registration requirement in 2016, well before the release of the Royal Commission recommendations. During 2017, Victoria has also taken the lead with other legal reforms including 'failure to protect' offences, 'failure to disclose' offences, a new duty of care to prevent child abuse, a new Reportable Conduct Scheme and a new information sharing scheme (assented in April 2018).
Responses of Other Institutions to the Royal Commission
The Catholic, Uniting and Anglican Churches have all released official responses to the Royal Commission recommendations with the Catholic and Anglican Churches also releasing national professional standards relating to safeguarding children. Both institutions are currently undergoing consultation on draft versions of their national professional standards.
How Schools Can be Proactive With the Royal Commission's Recommendations
Schools should be aware of, and have read, the Royal Commission's 10 Child Safe Standards. Schools can take a proactive approach to child safety by considering how to implement the standards in anticipation of future government legal reform.