Options for Implementing Child Safe Standards and a Reportable Conduct Scheme in Queensland: Part One
Queensland released its “Growing Child Safe Organisations in Queensland” consultation paper earlier this year to seek feedback on options for the implementation of child safe standards and a reportable conduct scheme in Queensland.
These options were developed in response to recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission). The Queensland Government sought feedback from the public by 22 September 2023.
Ideagen CompliSpace is a leading provider of Governance, Risk, Compliance and Policy programs and consulting services to a variety of organisations, from a range of industry sectors, across all Australian states and territories. One of our main client groups are our approximately 800 non-government schools, including a large number of schools in Queensland. We have been engaged by six Catholic Education Offices, as well as most of the leading Catholic orders that provide education services. We also assist community housing providers, churches, aged care providers and financial services companies.
It is in this context that Ideagen CompliSpace has previously been involved in helping our clients to implement child safe standards (or their equivalent), reportable conduct schemes or both in Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. Accordingly, Ideagen CompliSpace was well placed to provide feedback on Queensland’s consultation paper.
Part One of this article sets outs Ideagen CompliSpace’s feedback on the proposed Queensland Child Safe Standards Scheme and Oversight Body (together with some background information). Part Two will set out Ideagen CompliSpace’s feedback on the proposed Queensland Reportable Conduct Scheme along with feedback on the implementation of both the Reportable Conduct and Child Safe Standards Schemes.
Compliance With Child Safe Standards and a Reportable Conduct Scheme Around Australia
We note that most Australian governments have accepted (either in whole or in principle) most of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, including the recommendation that state and territory governments require child-related institutions in their jurisdictions to implement nationally consistent child safe standards.
We also note that the Royal Commission’s recommended child safe standards were incorporated into the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (National Principles), (which are broader than the Royal Commission’s Child Safe Standards) and that these were endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments.
To meet this recommendation, NSW introduced a set of Child Safe Standards in 2022 that are overseen and regulated by the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian (OCG) and that align directly with the National Principles. In Victoria, Child Safe Standards came into effect in 2016. Following a review in 2019, which recommended revising the existing Standards to align with the National Principles, new Standards were introduced in Victoria in 2022. In Tasmania, the Child and Youth Safe Standards, which mirror the National Principles, were introduced earlier this year and in SA all organisations providing services to children and young people must have child safe policies in place that align with the National Principles.
The Australian Capital Territory Government has also committed to introducing mandatory Child Safe Standards in organisations engaging with children and young people, as recommended by the Royal Commission. Although this has been delayed due to the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the scheme will adopt the existing National Principles as the standards to be followed in the ACT. In the meantime, in the ACT, along with Tasmania and WA, non-government schools are required to comply with the National Principles as part of their registration requirements. Legislation was recently also introduced in the Northern Territory that is expected to impose a similar requirement on NT non-government schools.
We note finally that Catholic Professional Standards Ltd (now Australian Catholic Safeguarding Ltd – ACSL) developed and released the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards (NCSS) in 2019, with a revised version released in 2022. The NCSS align directly with the National Principles, but also give Catholic organisations additional guidance on how they are expected to comply with these in the context of being a Catholic entity.
We whole-heartedly support the Royal Commission’s recommendation that state and territory governments require child-related institutions in their jurisdiction to implement child safe standards that are nationally consistent.
We are therefore very supportive of Queensland’s proposal to implement child safe standards to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children in Queensland organisations.
We also note that a number of Australian governments have also accepted (either in whole or in principle) and implemented the Royal Commission’s recommendation to implement a nationally consistent reportable conduct scheme, based on a model established in NSW.
The Reportable Conduct Scheme in NSW has been in operation since 1999 and is also overseen by the OCG.
In 2017, Reportable Conduct Schemes were introduced in both Victoria and the ACT.
WA and Tasmania have been the latest jurisdictions to implement Reportable Conduct Schemes, with both schemes commencing this year.
We therefore also support Queensland’s proposal to implement a Reportable Conduct Scheme in line with several other states and territories.
Proposed Queensland Child Safe Standards
Format and Language
We note that one of the main issues with any approach to regulating Queensland child-related institutions through mandatory Child Safe Standards will be how these work with other registration/licensing/funding requirements.
While many Queensland-only organisations will face this issue, it will be magnified for national or cross-jurisdictional organisations that may have to meet a multitude of different child safe organisation, registration, licensing and funding regulations in multiple jurisdictions.
We have a number of clients that would face this issue, as they are large organisations with schools in multiple states and territories. It will be our responsibility to assist them to comply with all of their obligations, including those in Queensland and elsewhere.
Further, a significant portion of our clients are Catholic entities, who must comply with the NCSS as well as any jurisdictionally based Child Safe Standards Schemes.
We therefore support the Royal Commission’s recommendation that the states’ and territories’ approach to child safe organisation regulation should be nationally consistent, based on similarly worded principles and subject to similar regulation. Because the Royal Commission’s recommended Child Safe Standards were limited by its terms of reference (so refer only to child sexual abuse), the broader National Principles must be the benchmark for these jurisdictionally based Child Safe Standards.
We therefore strongly recommend that the proposed Queensland Child Safe Standards align directly with the language and format of the National Principles.
It is important to point out the potential overlap between any Child Safe Standards based on the National Principles and other regulatory measures already in place in Queensland. For instance, under the Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000 (Qld) and the Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Regulation 2020 (Qld), organisations currently regulated by the Blue Card System in Queensland are required to develop, implement and maintain a Child and Youth Risk Management Strategy. The requirements of this strategy align in some cases with the National Principles. While this means that certain organisations may already be complying with various aspects of the National Principles, it also means that in the future there might be a doubling up of requirements. This increases the regulatory burden on organisations and may also diminish the efficacy or importance of the new Scheme within the existing landscape. To ensure that these issues are avoided, it would be preferable to combine these requirements.
For this reason, we recommend that the Queensland Government incorporate the Child and Youth Risk Management Strategy requirements into the new Queensland Child Safe Standards, as far as possible, to reduce the regulatory burden on Queensland organisations.
We also support the Queensland Government’s desire to make sure that organisations deliver a culturally safe environment for all children, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
We note that Queensland proposes two approaches to achieving this, namely creating an additional standard (the approach taken in Victoria) or including cultural safety as a guiding principle across all standards (the approach taken in Tasmania).
As stated above, it is our belief that the Child Safe Standards should remain consistent with the National Principles, as far as possible, to relieve any regulatory burden on organisations.
While we appreciate that there are advantages and disadvantages to both of the approaches taken in Victoria and Tasmania, we also note that cultural safety is already embedded in several of the National Principles, including in particular Principles 3 and 4 and that other Principles also require additional measures to encourage cultural safety in an organisation.
It is therefore our recommendation that, rather than the two approaches proposed, the Queensland Government should instead expand on National Principles 3 and 4 (as well as any other relevant Principles) in Queensland’s Child Safe Standards, to set out particular requirements for creating a culturally safe environment for children with diverse backgrounds, including in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
We believe that this approach will:
- ensure consistency with the National Principles
- unlike a single standard, ensure that cultural safety is firmly embedded across all of the Child Safe Standards
- unlike a guiding principle, help organisations and regulators understand more clearly exactly how organisations can create culturally safe environments for children when implementing particular Standards.
This approach should be supported through consultation with stakeholders from the relevant communities.
Cultural safety should also feature prominently in capacity building activities, which we discuss in Support for Organisations, in Part Two of this article.
Scope of Organisations
The kinds of organisations that are regulated in Queensland should align, as far as possible, with those that are regulated in other jurisdictions. Taking a nationally consistent approach to regulation means that organisations that work across jurisdictions and across sectors will not have to meet different requirements.
In NSW, all organisations that fall within the scope of NSW’s Reportable Conduct Scheme also fall within the scope of the NSW Child Safe Standards Scheme. In addition, local government authorities, religious organisations and sport and recreation organisations providing services to children are required to implement the NSW Child Safe Standards. However, there are still child-related organisations in NSW, such as disability services, that do not fall within the ambit of the NSW Child Safe Standards Scheme.
In its recently introduced scheme, Tasmania requires the entities listed in Schedule 2 of the Child and Youth Safe Organisations Act 2023 (Tas) to comply with its Child and Youth Safe Standards. This list aligns with the scope of organisations recommended by the Royal Commission.
Victoria has not limited the organisations to which its Child Safe Standards apply to only those that fall within the scope of its Reportable Conduct or Working with Children Check Schemes. In Victoria, the organisations that have to comply with its Child Safe Standards are all organisations that:
- provide services specifically for children
- provide facilities specifically for use by children who are under the organisation’s supervision; or
- engage a child as a contractor, employee or volunteer to assist the organisation in providing services, facilities or goods.
Similarly, state authorities and all organisations that carry out “child-related work” in SA must comply with the National Principles.
In our view, a broader reach is preferable to a narrow one, as this will ensure that organisations that work across sectors and across jurisdictions can meet all of the jurisdictionally based Child Safe Standards schemes that may apply, by requiring that all of their entities meet the National Principles, regardless of where in Australia their entities are located. We would therefore recommend that Queensland’s Child Safe Standards Scheme apply to organisations similar to those that are regulated in Victoria and SA rather than the more limited NSW model.
The introduction of Queensland’s proposed Child Safe Standards and Reportable Conduct Schemes should not exacerbate what is already a complex child protection system in Queensland.
With this view in mind, we agree that the appropriate approach for implementing and ensuring compliance with the Child Safe Standards in Queensland is a collaborative, rather than a co-regulatory, approach between an independent oversight body and sector regulators. We agree that this approach would, for instance, avoid uneven application of the Scheme across sectors or conflicts of interests that may arise by enabling sector regulators to provide guidance and enforce compliance requirements only for their sector.
We also agree that the same body should be responsible for overseeing Queensland’s Reportable Conduct Scheme, as suggested by the Royal Commission. Indeed, we suggest that, like in NSW, the same oversight body should also be responsible for managing Queensland’s Working with Children Check (WWCC) Scheme, to enable information gathered for one Scheme to be easily accessible when the regulator is considering compliance with the others (this is particularly important for the Reportable Conduct and WWCC Schemes).
Under the proposed collaborative model, we would still expect the independent oversight body, as the principal regulator, to work with sector regulators as necessary to minimise the regulatory burden on organisations and ensure consistency with existing frameworks. They should also oversee implementation of and compliance with both the Child Safe Standards and Reportable Conduct Schemes by organisations that are not regulated and should have their own monitoring and enforcement powers, similar to those of the OCG.
We recommend that a single independent oversight body be given primary responsibility for overseeing the implementation and enforcement of both the Queensland Child Safe Standards and Reportable Conduct Scheme to promote efficiency, clarity and consistency. We also recommend that the same body be given responsibility for Queensland’s WWCC Scheme.
This body should be responsible for developing guidance about the new Child Safe Standards and Reportable Conduct Schemes for all organisations that provide child-related services. It should also be directly responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance in organisations that are not otherwise subject to sector regulation or oversight through funding agreements.
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