Children and young people are the most vulnerable members of society, almost solely dependent on adults to build safe environments. An environment where children and young people are protected, where their voices are heard, and to role model acceptable social norms and behaviours.
The Royal Commission in Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse highlighted alarming examples of abuse, neglect and exploitation of children and young people within organisations. Between 2016 and 2017 there were 60,930 cases of substantiated child abuse in Australia. We know that child abuse is overwhelmingly underreported, and these figures do not capture the full extent of the problem. This is unacceptable.
Recently, the Council of Australian Governments endorsed the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. These 10 principles focus on ensuring children are safe, happy and engaged through expanding the expected requirements of organisations working with children and young people such as strong leadership, culture and governance (Standard 1).
The principles expand the onus – and potential liability – on all organisations involved with children, making child safeguarding a priority nationally. Furthermore, these principles will be the expected norm for all organisations that come into contact with children and young people.
Whilst the principles are not yet mandatory, community expectations are changing. These principles are not only expected of organisations who directly engage with children such as schools. They apply to all organisations who have direct or indirect contact with children through any means such as education, social services and care, healthcare, transport, community recreational facilities and more.
Child safety is the responsibility of everyone but leadership and boards of organisations, businesses and institutions need to act now. These new principles are grounded in a child’s rights approach are work in conjunction with existing state based and sector based legislation, standards and regulations that make child safety a priority.
The ongoing reputational risks associated with a failure to make child safety a priority, including strong public backlash and scrutiny and loss of public trust, are significant. The damage this does to a child and their family is life changing and something no organisation should allow to happen.
Facing this level of change is daunting – the role of leadership in embracing these shifts and influencing change is critical.
So what should you do?
If your organisation interacts with children directly or indirectly, now is the time to start the conversation about how to better prepare for the changes to legislation and the ongoing shift in community expectations.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you perform Child Safety Risk Assessments in order to identify, monitor and manage situations, environments or circumstances which may be high risk to children?
- Do you periodically report child safety related incidents and near misses to the Board and Senior Leadership, overseeing preventative action on any emerging risks or trends?
- Are you confident that all staff, contractors and volunteers which are brought into your organisation are safe and are aware of their child safety obligations?
If you answered ‘No’ to any of the questions, your organisation may not meet current legislative obligations or better practice requirements and may not have appropriate safeguards in place to protect children from abuse, detect abuse and respond to abuse.
If you are serious about preventing, identifying and responding to child safety risks, then these changes need to be addressed immediately.