Safer communities for children are a shared responsibility
If you believe a child is in immediate danger, call the Police on 000
You do not need to be absolutely certain that abuse or neglect of a child has occurred to call the child protection authority in your state or territory. If you suspect a child is at risk of harm, call the authority.
You can also find information, or refer people to:
Australians have been appalled by the abuse of children by people in organisations entrusted with their care. The victims’ experience was all the more abhorrent because of the complicity of others who turned their backs on the victims and covered the tracks of the abusers. Many people did not speak up, listen or act.
It is clear that safer communities for the most vulnerable are the shared responsibility of individuals, the family, the community, and organisations and government.
Become a child safe organisation by applying the Child Safe Standards
The Victorian government is introducing compulsory minimum Child Safe Standards for organisations to help keep children safer.
The Child Safe Standards promote cultural change in organisations so that protecting children from abuse is embedded in everyday thinking and practice.
The APA supports these standards and the safety they promote.
Many organisations already have policies and procedures to keep children safe. The Child Safe Standards are intended to build on these measures and increase consistency across sectors.
The standards are mandatory for some organisations but the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would also like as many organisations to apply the standards voluntarily so children are as safe as possible no matter where they receive services.
The Overview of the Victorian Child Safe Standards provides valuable guidance and examples of how organisations can promote child safety, and embed protecting children into everyday actions. The self-audit tool, which accompanies the overview, will help organisations assess their progress in becoming a child safe organisation.
Who do the Standards apply to?
The new standards apply to all in scope organisations that provide services for children. The standards will start applying to organisations from 1 January 2016 in phases:
Phase 1: Organisations that provide services for children that are government funded and/or regulated will be required to work towards compliance from 1 January 2016
Phase 2: Other organisations that provide services for children will be required to comply from 1 January 2017
Organisations in Phase 2 should plan now for implementing the standards by 1st January 2017.
If you provide services to children with disability in Victoria, the Department has advised us that the Standards will apply to you –private practitioners providing services under the NDIS will be in Phase 2, unless they are included in Phase 1.
What do you need to know to create safer communities for children?
- We encourage all members in Victoria and in other states and territories to read the Child Safe Standards and the Overview of the Victorian Child Safe Standards and self-audit tool to see how they might voluntarily apply the standards to make our communities safer for children.
- If you provide physiotherapy services to children in Victoria, you should check the list of in scope organisations to see when or if your organisation is subject to the standards.
- We encourage you to understand the three criminal offences, and how they empower you to protect children.
- There are no additional regulatory requirements at this stage. Existing legal requirements to provide a safe environment for children, and for staff working directly with children to hold Working with Children Checks, will not be altered. The Department has advised the APA that Phase 1 organisations should start working towards meeting the standards from 1st January 2016 with existing mechanisms, rather than requiring compliance immediately, from that date.
State and federal governments respond to child abuse allegations within religious and other non-government organisations
In April 2012, the Victorian government began a landmark inquiry into the handling of child abuse allegations within religious and other non-government organisations.
The inquiry’s final report, Betrayal of Trust, was tabled in Parliament in November 2013 and contains 15 recommendations. The recommendations aim to rebuild trust in religious and other non-government organisations by reforming legislation and creating organisations that are safe for children.
Since 2013, the Australian government’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been investigating how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse, and how to respond to past abuse, and how better to protect children in the future.
The Victorian government has reformed legislation and introduced new standards to deal with sexual offences against children
Governments have been developing legislation, and the Victorian government has developed Child Safe Standards to respond to victims’ accounts of abuse, and to prevent harm in the future.
Reform of legislation has been a key response to preventing and dealing with sexual offences against children in Victoria and elsewhere. In 2014 the Victorian parliament created three new criminal offences:
- a grooming offence which targets communication, including online communication, with a child or their parents with the intent of committing child sexual abuse
- a failure to disclose offence that requires adults to report to police a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed against a child (unless they have a reasonable excuse for not doing so)
- a failure to protect offence that applies to people within organisations who knew of a risk of child sexual abuse by someone in the organisation and had the authority to reduce or remove the risk, but negligently failed to do so
The Victorian government is also consulting with stakeholders on a potential redress scheme for victims of institutional child abuse.
Failure to disclose – what it means for health workers in Victoria
Registered practitioners are often concerned about the tension between their duty to protect confidentiality and the need to disclose offences.
Health professionals in Victoria must disclose information to protect children if they have a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed by an adult against a child under 16.
This exemption to normal obligations to protect privacy is intended to protect the registered practitioner from criminal liability.
Examples of situations where a person might have a reasonable belief that an offence had been committed:
- a child tells you they have been sexually abused
- a child states that they know someone who has been sexually abused - sometimes the child may be talking about themselves
- someone who knows a child states that the child has been sexually abused
- professional observations of the child’s behaviour or development leads a mandated professional to form a belief that the child has been sexually abused
- signs of sexual abuse leads to a belief that the child has been sexually abused.
What does this mean if you live outside Victoria?
The Australian government’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will shape legislation and policy across Australia.
We expect that other state and territory governments have common goals related to protecting vulnerable people in the near future, and that these and other similar standards will bring more organisations into scope.