Every day millions of Australian children and young people participate in educational, sporting and recreational activities provided by government and community organisations. For the majority of children and young people, involvement in these services is positive and beneficial.
However, the risks of abuse to children and young people in organisations has been highlighted by past and current inquiries such as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. These inquiries have illustrated the undeniable need for organisations to adhere to a commitment and set of values that have child protection and wellbeing at its core.
Creating a culture of child safety within an organisation is essential in mitigating the risk of harm to children. From the work Child Wise has done over the past 25 years in assisting organisations to become more child safe, we have found that safety doesn’t just happen – a commitment to protecting children must be embedded in the organisation and be understood and accepted by everyone.
There can be many barriers to becoming a child safe organisation – fear, denial, lack of resources, lack of knowledge, complacency and closed cultures.
In assessing child safety within an organisation, the following questions can help determine areas for improvement to ensure that risks are minimised and children are better protected from harm:
Legislation – Is everyone aware of the legislation that applies to the organisation and their role when it comes to child safety and reporting? Is the organisation meeting its legislative requirements?
Open and Aware Culture – Is the organisation aware of what child safety looks like? Is everyone able to speak up about their concerns, free from fear of retribution? Is child safety subject to reflective practices and continuous improvement?
Policies and Procedures – Are they well understood and accessible to staff, volunteers, parents, and children and young people?
Codes of Conduct – Do staff and volunteers, children and young people understand acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, including professional boundaries?
Recruitment and Screening – Are there robust and consistently applied recruitment and screening policies? Are these adhered to and promoted?
Risk Management – Are child safety practices a standard part of the risk management approach within the organisation? Have high risk activities been identified and strategies for mitigation implemented?
Child Safety Champions – Are there dedicated people who are accountable for child safety and can provide internal expertise, confidentiality, ongoing support and reporting?
Education – Does the organisation provide child safety education to staff and volunteers at induction? Does everyone understand child abuse, how to spot signals, how to prevent it and who to talk to if they believe there is a child at risk?
Reporting – Does the organisation have a robust and legislatively compliant reporting system that is known and accessed by staff, volunteers, children and young people?
Children’s Voice – are the children within the organisation empowered with the knowledge and means to speak up about any concerns they have? Are policies written in child friendly language?
It is critical for organisations to approach child safety systemically to create sustainable change. This means engaging all stakeholders – children, young people, parents/carers, staff, managers and leaders – and addressing every aspect of an organisation – from governance to daily practice. It also means inviting challenging discussions about problems.
As unsettling as it may be, we must acknowledge that child abuse can and does happen. We all have a responsibility and duty of care to ensure the safety of children.