Child sexual abuse royal commission: Working with children checks should be urgently strengthened and unified, report finds

By Danuta Kozaki
ABC News
August 17, 2015

The child abuse royal commission says the failure to unify working with children checks is a significant and inexcusable failure by governments.

Working with children checks should be strengthened and unified across all states and territories as a matter of urgency, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has recommended.

Currently in Australia, each state and territory has its own scheme for conducting background checks on people who want to work with children.

But the commission's report into working with children checks found the eight different schemes were inconsistent, complex and gave a false sense of security to institutions and families.

The ABC has reported that some staff working in organisations with vulnerable children in Victoria have been working without valid police or working with children checks.

The commission's report said problems with working with children checks have been recognised by governments for some time, but for too long they have favoured maintaining their own systems over working together.

"We believe that the absence of any action to fix these problems is a significant and inexcusable failure on the part of governments — these problems cannot continue to be ignored," the report said.

The report recommended creating a national model for the checks within 12 months, whereby a centralised database is established to improve information sharing across borders.

The report found the checks were an important tool but without broader child protection strategies, they do not make organisations safe for children.

It said they can in fact be detrimental to children's safety if over-relied upon.

"They can provide a false sense of comfort to parents and communities, and may cause organisations to become complacent," the report said.

The report called for all religious leaders and officers of religious organisations to have the checks, and said people convicted of certain serious offences against children should be denied the right to appeal against adverse decisions.

It said the current system allowed people to "forum shop" whereby a person with adverse records in one jurisdiction may be able to obtain a clearance in another.

"They (the checks) are inconsistent and complex, and there is unnecessary duplication across the schemes," the report said.

"There is no integration of the schemes, and there is inadequate information sharing and monitoring of [working with children check] cardholders."

Bravehearts welcomes recommendations

Bravehearts research manager Carol Ronken said strengthening the working with children checks was "vital" to protecting children.

"We'd definitely support a system that actually gets a little bit more consistency across the states and territories," she said.

We've heard of cases where someone with a criminal history in one state was able to go to another state and start volunteering at a school, where they then abused children

Carol Ronken

"One of the things we definitely notice, being an agency that works across a number of different states, is that there are different requirements in different states and it certainly can create some huge issues.

"I think in some states the working with children check is a little bit more thorough, whereas [in] others it is very much just a criminal history check.

"We would also like to see the working with children checks include things such as employment history."

In Queensland, the system takes into account disciplinary hearings or things that happen within the employment setting that may not progress to the criminal justice system.

Ms Ronken said the issue of forum shopping must be addressed.

"We've heard of cases where someone with a criminal history in one state was able to go to another state and start volunteering at a school, where they then abused children," she said.

"There are other gaps in the system as well.

"We know that parents who volunteer in schools or organisations where their children are ... they don't require a check.

"We know that parents can harm children, so we believe that all volunteers need to be checked."


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