Vicsport recently undertook consultation with more than sixty state and regional sporting organisations to examine the role these organisations play in protecting children from harm and identify areas for future action. The consultation process highlighted that sporting organisations that view safeguarding children as everybody’s responsibility, adopt proactive and preventative strategies and take a risk management approach are most effective.
Principles for child safe organisations
There is broad agreement across Australia on what constitutes a child safe organisation. With identifiable consistency in the principles and standards promoted by child focused agencies, including:
- proactive approaches that embed a child friendly and child safety culture in an organisation
- a policy and statement of commitment to safeguarding and child protection
- a code of conduct outlining expectations for behaviour
- a risk management approach
- human resources practices that reduce the risk of harm to children by new and existing personnel, encompassing recruitment and selection (including but not limited to WWC Checks), ongoing supervision, training and support
- clear documented processes for responding to and reporting breaches of codes of conduct and the suspected harm or abuse children
- participatory approaches that involve and empower children and young people
For a number of community organisations, including sport organisations, adhering to these principles would require a shift from primarily relying on screening a person’s criminal record (e.g. Working with Children Check) to strategies and approaches focused on creating child safe environments.
Safeguarding children through member protection approaches
As a whole the sport sector has been proactive in developing policy and procedures to protect sport participants from harm and discrimination. All organisations surveyed through Vicsport’s sector consultation process indicated they have a policy related to safeguarding and child protection. Over ninety percent (91.3%) of these policies took a ‘member protection’ approach, drawing on national frameworks developed by the Australian Sports Commission.
In the context of increased community understanding and awareness of what constitutes a child safe organisation it is timely for sport organsiations to review member protection policies and procedures. Sport organisations taking a broad member protection approach should ensure this includes proactive measures to safeguard and protect children and specific response processes for child related member protection issues.
New legal obligations for organisations to protect children
Any review and revision process undertaken by sport organisations should be cognisant of changes to the legal obligations of organisations to protect children from abuse in Victoria. The Victorian Government has introduced new criminal offences for failing to report child sexual abuse, failing to protect a child from sexual abuse if a person knows or believes a child is at risk and they are in a position of authority and for grooming. These reforms impose new duties and responsibilities on all organisations working with children, including sport organisations, to be proactive in creating child safe environments and reporting suspected harm and abuse.
Changes to the Working with Children Check
Changes to the Working with Children Check Act 2005 came into effect on October 26, 2014. The changes reinforce that the Working with Children (WWC) Check does not assess a person’s suitability to work with children, as this can only be done by an organisation or club itself. The Department of Justice Working with Children Check Unit provided the following advice in relation to these changes:
The WWC Check is just the starting point. There are a number of other important actions organisations need to take to determine a person’s suitability to work with children and create safe environments for children. For example, organisations should also reference check people they plan to engage in child related work, and continue to monitor their behaviour around children.
Awareness, Partnerships and Support
Overall, Vicsport’s consultation highlighted that Victorian state and regional sport organisations are aware of the importance of safeguarding and protecting children participating in sport. Sport-based initiatives aimed at promoting safe environments – including the Play by the Rules platform – and adoption of member protection policies have contributed to this awareness. At the same time opportunities were identified to promote that safeguarding children is everybody’s responsibility, strengthen associated organisational culture, policy and procedures and to better engage children, young people and their families in policy and program design. The need for the industry to better understand children’s experiences in sport through well-designed research was also identified.
Vicsport’s consultation underscored that to strengthen child safe environments in sport, continued joined up work between government, sport and child focused organisations is important. There are sport organisations at all levels that will need support to raise awareness, build capacity and improve systems.
A number of efforts are already underway. Vicsport’s consultation was supported by Sport and Recreation Victoria with expert input from lead agencies promoting child safe practice, including the Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP), the Working With Children Check Unit (WWCU) in the Department of Justice, the Department of Social Work and Social Policy at La Trobe University and the Australian Sport Commission (ASC).
A number of these stakeholders are actively working to strengthen child safe environments in sport. The ASC has engaged the Australian Childhood Foundation to lead a national project to consider child safe standards for sport. La Trobe University has initiated pilot research focused on children’s experience in sport in Victoria, including experiences of harm. The research aims to provide information to help to ensure that children’s participation in sport in Victoria is a safe and positive experience. Sport and Recreation Victoria are continuing to support initiatives aimed at developing safe, welcoming and inclusive sporting clubs including the Victorian Code of Conduct for Community Sport. In addition, the Victorian Government’s Department of Human Services is consulting on what support community organisations require to strengthen child safety standards, including on adapting training, support and standards for each sector. Vicsport will support these processes and continue to work with industry stakeholders to promote and strengthen child safe environments in Victorian sport.
Australia Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (n.d.) Principles for Child Safety in Organisation. Paper endorsed by the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians. [Online] Available at: http://www.ccyp.vic.gov.au/downloads/accg-principles-for-child-safety-in-organisations.pdf. Accessed June 2014.
Department of Human Services, State Government of Victoria (n.d.). Creating child friendly communities. [On-line] Available at: http://www.dhs.vic.gov.au/for-individuals/children,-families-and-young-people/child-protection/protecting-children-together/creating-child-friendly-communities. Accessed June 2014.
Play by the Rules (n.d.) Play by the Rules: Child Safe Environments. [Online] Available by: http://www.playbytherules.net.au/legal-stuff/child-protection/child-protection-laws-explained/child-safe-environments. Accessed July 2014.
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2014) Interim Report, Volume 1.
State Government of Victoria (2014) Betrayal of Trust Implementation: Child Safe Standards. Consultation Paper, October 2014.
State Government of Victoria (2014) Victorian Government Response to the report of the Family and Community Development Committee Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations ‘ Betrayal of Trust’. [On-line] Available at: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/file_uploads/Government_Response_to_the_FCDC_Inquiry_into_the_Handling_of_Child_Abuse_by_Religious_and_Other_NonGovernment_Organisations_C6QLfJYH.pdf.
Vicsport (2014) Everyone’s Business: State and Regional Sporting Organisations and Safeguarding Children in Victorian Sport. Final Report September, 2014.
 Principles and standards for child safe organisations are broadly consistent in reports and frameworks produced by the Australia Children’s Commissioners and Guardians, in the interim report of the Royal Commission and in the mandatory minimum ‘child safe’ standards schemes in Queensland and South Australia (State of Victoria, 2014).
 This shift is consistent with child safe standards across Australia and academic literature on situational crime prevention that highlight the importance of creating safe environments instead of relying on a presumption of safe individuals (State of Victoria, 2014; Higgins, 2013).
 www.ausport.gov.au/supporting/integrity_in_sport/resources/national_member_protection policy_template.
 See the final report on Vicsport’s sector consultation on State and Regional Sport Organisations and Safeguarding Children in Victorian Sport, September 2014.
 Betrayal of Trust Implementation: Child Safe Standards – Consultation Paper. For further information see: http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/home/safer+communities/protecting+children+and+families/betrayal+of+trust+implementation.
 Amendments to the Working with Children Act, 2005: Important information regarding the Working with Children Check. Email circular from the Working with Children Check Unit, Department of Justice 6 October, 2014. For further information visit www.workingwithchildren.vic.gov.au.
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