Does your Child Safe Code of Conduct need a health check?

A clear and comprehensive Child Safe Code of Conduct is crucial for communicating the expected standards of behaviour and requirements of all people engaged by an organisation. Where organisations work with children, it’s also required by relevant Child Safe Standards and National Principle for Child Safe Organisations.[1]

Reviewing and updating child safety policy documents and codes of conduct may not feel like an important priority, but taking a set and forget approach to codes of conduct without periodic reviews can miss important opportunities to strengthen behavioural expectations of workers, particularly in relation to online conduct. Codes that don’t comprehensively address acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, professional boundaries, ethical behaviour, and provide guidance on managing inappropriate conduct can significantly undermine an organisation’s ability to effectively manage inappropriate conduct by workers towards children.

Expectations regarding communication with children (whether in person, online or by phone), contact and relationships with children outside of work, grooming behaviours, and travel are often inadequate and out of date and fall short of legal and community expectations.

We’ve put together this quick summary to help you perform a health check on your organisation’s Child Safe Code of Conduct.

1. Appropriate and inappropriate behaviours

Your Code of Conduct should outline in sufficient detail those behaviours acceptable and unacceptable, both in and outside of work. Accepted or expected behaviours should address ways in which workers can create a positive environment to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of children.

Unacceptable behaviours should be specific to the organisation’s activities and address situations or scenarios that workers may face during their employment which pose high risk of harm to children.

The behaviours should have regard to:

  • the nature of the organisation’s engagement with children;
  • demographic of children the organisation engages (i.e. particularly vulnerable children such as children with disability);
  • demographic of workers (e.g. youth organisations may engage young people or children under 18 as workers); and
  • activities in which adult workers will interact with children during the course of their work;
  • all forms of possible contact with children (having regard to the rapidly changing online space and ability to communicate by phone, email, text, applications, and all forms social media etc), and whether there are any exceptions to expectations (such permitting family members to be connected on social media with their own children).

Further, care must be taken to ensure that workers understand behaviours that are unacceptable, irrespective of whether they occur in connection with their work (such as grooming and child, or engaging in physical violence towards or in the presence of a child).

Providing clear direction to workers as to acceptable and unacceptable behaviours will clarify expectations and ensure organisations have clear guidelines if workers breach the Code of Conduct.

2. Address risks for online environment

The National Principles for Child Safe Organisations and all Child Safe Standards require organisations to address both physical and online environments to promote the safety and wellbeing of children and young people and minimise the risk of harm.

Organisations that do not engage with children on online platforms may believe that it is not necessary to consider online environments. However, online environments represent a significant risk of potential harm to children, and organisations may owe a duty of care to children beyond the actual time the child is engaged with the organisation.

Organisations can also be held vicariously liable for a worker’s abuse of a child if it is found that organisation did not take reasonable steps to prevent the abuse from occurring. In determining liability, a court will consider the adequacy and currency of an organisation’s policies, procedures, code of conduct and training for workers.

Addressing contact with children on online platforms outside of hours is critical to ensure the organisation properly exercises its duty of care.

3. Code of Conduct for children and young people

Organisations may require a separate Code of Conduct which sets expectations for children in relation to their behaviour with each other to safeguard against risks of harm. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse found that 16% of participants reported sexual abuse by other children in institutions.

There is a risk of harm being inflicted by other children particularly in relation to sexual, physical, bullying, harassing and online behaviour. Clear statements of non-tolerance of serious harm such as sexual assault, cyberbullying and image-based abuse will allow organisations to take action where children are at risk of harm from each other. In states with affirmative consent laws, organisations should consider providing information and training on what is required for consent.  

Organisations will need to ensure that the code of conduct is accessible in accordance to the age and capacity of children they engage with, and that it covers the full list of expectations regarding

4. Review and update periodically

The Code of Conduct should be reviewed and updated to reflect changes in the organisation or changes in the law. The process of review should be clearly stated within the Code including when it will be reviewed, who will undertake the review, and who is responsible for approving changes. The version and date of the review should be stated on the Code to make clear what updates needs to be incorporated.

How we can help

Moores is one of the only law firms in Australia with a dedicated safeguarding and child safety team. Experts in our field, we support organisations with advice and training on their child safety obligations and drafting or amending codes of conduct, child safety policies and procedures to align with best practice, not just meet the minimum standard.

Contact us

Please contact us for more detailed and tailored help.

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[1] Currently, Child Safe Standards have been adopted in New South Wales and Victoria. Whilst similar, South Australia has adopted the Child Safe Environments – Principles of Good Practice, and the ACT has adopted the Children and Young People Standards.States without state-based Child Safe Standards include Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, where the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations are relevant. Additionally, schools in Victoria must ensure that their Code of Conduct complies with more prescriptive requirements of the Ministerial Order 1359