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South Australian Schools Must Now Comply with the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations

11/08/21
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NSW

In its final report, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) recommended that:

  • all child-related institutions implement nationally consistent child safe standards
  • these standards be based on the Royal Commission’s recommended 10 Child Safe Standards
  • the standards be mandatory for all institutions engaging in child-related work and embedded in state and territory legislation
  • an independent oversight body in each state and territory has responsibility for enforcing the standards (but that this can be delegated to sector regulators e.g. school registration bodies).

 

In 2018, all Australian governments accepted (either in whole or in principle) these recommendations of the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission’s 10 Child Safe Standards have now been incorporated into the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (National Principles), which are broader than the Royal Commission’s Standards, and which were endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in February 2019, making them the benchmark for nationally consistent child safe standards. Many states and territories have made it mandatory for organisations engaged in child-related work or services to implement the National Principles in their child safe policies and procedures, including schools.

Under the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017 (SA) (Safety Act), certain child-related organisations in South Australia, including non-government schools, are required to lodge a child safe environments compliance statement with the Department of Human Services (DHS) when they first prepare or adopt policies and procedures for ensuring a child safe environment. A new compliance statement must be lodged whenever these child safe policies and procedures are varied or substituted.

Prior to 1 July 2021, the compliance statement was required to set out how a school complied with the “Child Safe Environments Principles of Good Practice” (Principles of Good Practice) which had been developed by the then Chief Executive, Department for Education and Child Development. This requirement has now changed.

 

What Has Changed?

DHS has recently released information on its website that from 1 July 2021:

  1. The National Principles have replaced the Principles of Good Practice.
  2. All organisations that are required to develop child safe policies and procedures must align these with the National Principles.
  3. The child safe policies and procedures must also reflect the following child protection legislative requirements:

Under the Safety Act, an organisation’s child safe policies and procedures must be reviewed every five years (at a minimum). This means that, at an organisation’s next review date, its child safe policies and procedures must be reviewed for compliance with the National Principles and with the above requirements, and amended, revised or replaced as necessary. If the review results in amendment, revision or replacement of any of the child safe policies and procedures, a new compliance statement must then be lodged.

DHS has made it clear however that it does not expect organisations to comply with the above requirements outside of their organisation’s regular policy review process and timelines.

For example, if your school originally lodged a compliance statement on 1 January 2021 and your policy review cycle is every two years, your school will need to review its policies and procedures by 1 January 2023 and, at that time, update them to include the National Principles and other required content. A new compliance statement should then be lodged.

 

What Should Schools Do?

Schools need to consider their child safe policy review cycle and ensure that this occurs at least every five years. At their next policy review, or if their child safe policies and procedures are amended for any other reason prior to that review (for example, if they are updated due to legislative change), schools will also need to update their policies and procedures so that they comply with the National Principles and to include the other child protection legislative requirements listed above. A new compliance statement will then need to be lodged with DHS.

Schools will also need to prepare to implement the National Principles at their school. This is a major piece of work, given the breadth and depth of the National Principles, and will require a committed effort from a school’s governing body, leadership team and school community.

 

 

Deborah De Fina

Deborah recently completed five years working with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse where she assisted the Royal Commission to establish the Private Session process and subsequently managed its legal aspects. Prior to working with the Royal Commission, Deborah had her own successful consulting practice where she specialised in the statutory child protection system, legal issues facing children and vulnerable people, and legal aid. She also spent more than nine years at Legal Aid NSW, as a child protection solicitor, Senior Solicitor and then Solicitor in Charge, Child Protection. Deborah holds a Juris Doctorate from the Columbia University School of Law, a Master of International Affairs from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and a Diploma in Law from Sydney University.

 

Karen Zeev

Karen recently completed three years working at the NSW Ombudsman and the Office of the Children’s Guardian as a Senior Investigator in employment related child protection. Karen also spent three years at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse as a Senior Legal and Policy Officer and was a key contributor to the “Redress and Civil Litigation” and “Criminal Justice” reports. Karen has worked as a commercial litigation lawyer both in the private and public sector and holds a bachelor’s degree in Arts/Law (Hons).

 

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