From 6 – 12 September 2020, National Child Protection Week will celebrate its 30th year with the theme of “Putting children first”. It encourages all organisations, communities and individuals that work with children to consider how they can prioritise children and their safety. It goes to the heart of child safety strategies to create a child safe culture across the whole organisation and community. However, organisations often continue to struggle to put these ideals into practice. With competing priorities, how can organisations ensure children and their safety are put first?
Creating a child safe culture
Creating an organisational culture that puts children first involves setting child safety as a priority from the top and recognising the role that every person can play. Organisations need to do more than ‘set and forget’ policies and procedures.
The ten National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (National Principles) drawn from the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) recognises the need for a multi-faceted approach to child safety and are a good starting point for organisations. The National Principles are currently considered best practice but will soon become a legal requirement for organisations that work with children in certain states. For example, Victoria is committed to amending the seven Victorian Child Safe Standards to align with the National Principles and New South Wales is considering the National Principles in the development of its own Child Safe Standards.
5 practical steps that organisations should take to foster a child safe culture include:
- Ensure board buy-in – the prioritisation of child safety needs to start from the top. A lack of support from leadership is one of the risk factors identified by the Royal Commission. It is important that in its consideration of strategy, risk and governance, child safety is a key factor. Board members should undergo child safety training, be responsible for approving child safety policies and ensure that child safety is a standing agenda item.
- Engage your community – organisations that work with children will struggle to achieve a child safe culture without obtaining the support of its broader community, including parents / guardians, stakeholders and of course, the children it works with. Organisations should consult with its community on its child safe strategy and policies and provide education to create broader awareness.
- Go beyond policies and procedures – while putting in place a comprehensive suite of policies is a key aspect of child safety, this is only the starting point. Organisations need to do more by ensuring implementation of the policies, training with its staff and volunteers on the documents and their responsibilities and a continuous process of evaluation and improvement.
- Prioritise prevention – simultaneous with taking a risk-based approach to monitor and manage risk, organisations should prioritise prevention. This includes strong HR policies and screening processes to ensure the right individuals are entering your organisation and putting in safeguards to prevent child abuse from occurring.
- Learn and improve – for many organisations, their child safety strategies and documentation are new. In light of the rapidly changing legislative landscape, organisations need to ensure a system for ongoing review and evaluation. As a community, we are all engaging in a process of continuous learning and adapting to the changing child safety environment.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of creating a child safe culture is the need to educate and empower children themselves. The Royal Commission found that organisations that failed to empower children created a greater risk of both the occurrence and length of time of child abuse.
Organisations need to involve the children that they work with in their child safe strategy. This will often test assumptions that the organisation may erroneously hold. A key example of this is the increased use of technology by children and the associated child safety risks. If organisations are not aware of how children are interacting online, how can they mitigate these risks?
Similarly, terms such as ‘child safety’ and ‘child protection’ are not commonly used by children. Without understanding what safety means to children and what makes them feel safe, an organisation will struggle to create a culture that fosters safety and wellbeing.
As a starting point, it is worth organisations asking these questions of the children they work with and testing their assumptions. Organisations should seek to understand what safety means for their children, where they feel safe / don’t feel safe and how they feel the organisation can keep them safe. Consulting with children and allowing them to feel heard is a safeguard in itself as empowered children who understand their rights or feel that they have a voice are less likely to suffer abuse and more likely to speak up if they do.
Get involved: National Child Protection Week
As National Child Protection Week kicks off, there is no better time for your organisation to review its strategies for putting children first. This is even more critical at a time when COVID-19 is having a profound impact on children and their safety and well-being. We are seeing record settlements for historical child abuse, such as a recent $1.5 million judgment in Victoria which shows an increased recognition by Courts of the impact of abuse.
Join Moores’ Practice Leader, Skye Rose and Lawyer, Rena Ou Yang next week for two webinars which will guide your organisation towards better child protection standards.
Both webinars will take place during National Child Protection Week, in partnership with Our Community. They will assist organisations in better understanding their child safety obligations and how to respond to reports of child-to-child abuse.
Click here to find out more and secure your spot.
How we can help
For more information on child safety matters or for expert advice on any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact us.