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Working With Children Checks

On 19 November 2015 Carroll & O’Dea hosted a Charity Law Legal Seminar attended by representatives of Charities and Not for profit organizations, legal practitioners and public sector employees.  The NSW Children’s Guardian Kerryn Boland, addressed the topic of “Working With Children Checks: What Can Go Wrong?”

Ms Boland stressed that in and of itself the Working With Children Check (WWCC) is not enough to stop abuse. Instead, employers should be focused on creating “child safe systems” which encompass recruitment procedures, written standards, child safe policies put into practice, situational prevention, governance and leadership.

Ms Boland acknowledged that there is sometimes a divergence between legislative requirements and individual policies organisations put into place regarding the WWCC. While the law does not require an individual to have a WWCC clearance before commencing employment in “child-related work” (only to have submitted an application for a WWCC), some employers mandate a WWCC clearance as a pre-employment condition. Furthermore, the NSW legislation currently exempts “a parent or close relative of a child” who volunteers “in activities for the childs school, early education service or other educational institution… or a team, program or other activity in which the child usually participates or is a team member” from being required to obtain a WWCC. However, some schools require all parents who accompany their children on school excursions to have a WWCC clearance.

Ms Boland was appointed as the NSW Children’s Guardian in 2005. The Children’s Guardian is an independent government agency offering adoption services as well as foster care and children’s advocacy.  It began administering WWCC’s in June 2013, at the recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, “to strengthen the protection children receive through Working With Children Checks in Australia.”

The Child Protection (Working With Children) Act 2012 (NSW) requires individuals performing “child-related work” to have a WWCC. To date, Ms Boland reported, the NSW Children’s Guardian has processed 1.2 million checks and extrapolates that 1 in 4 people in NSW will one day have a WWCC. Of those 1.2 million people who have applied for the Check, 1,000 people have been banned from working with children. Individuals are banned from working with children, if they have committed a “disqualifying offence”. Once an individual has received a clearance to work with children, they continue to be monitored by the NSW Children’s Guardian.

Merryn Lynch, Solicitor

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