Abuse by Carers - Defining a Sad Reality

- Wednesday, March 01, 2017

It is quite clear that employers in aged, disability and other care environments do their best to keep staff and clients safe, yet one dark phenomenon that can raise its ugly head in care contexts is abuse by carers. For many complex reasons, vulnerable people such as the aged, children, and disability clients, can be abused by the very people who are entrusted with their wellbeing.

‘Abuse’ is a broad term that has developed multiple sub-definitions in recent decades. We have seen the basic idea of physical abuse making room for more complex forms such as emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse and disability abuse. As Australia has witnessed via the recent Royal Commission, child sexual abuse has a truly distressing history. 
When an allegation of abuse by a carer arises, investigating the abuse objectively becomes a number one priority. Reportable conduct legislation is now developing across all states and territories; it is essential to understand definitional issues as reportable incidents arise.

Physical acts and omissions

Assault is perhaps the most common of the physical offences experienced in care environments. Rough handling of a client or patient can occur in any number of scenarios such as moving, changing, bathing, providing medication/ injections and feeding. And omissions such as failing to provide food, warmth, medication or post-fall assistance can also amount to offences of neglect. We often see this neglect as a form of abuse of the disabled or elderly. Feeding and changing neglect can also occur as a form of child abuse in care environments. Establishing what is truly accidental versus what is indisputably abusive is a very difficult task indeed.

The question of intent is certainly difficult, and investigations of abuse must weigh the elements involved in defining reportable conduct. For example, what appears at first glance to be abuse might turn out to be an accident or one-off omission.

Sexual abuse and manipulation

It goes without saying that children are one of the most vulnerable subsets of society, particularly in care situations (whether due to disability or family circumstances). Children are also frequently the target of sexual abuse or its precursor, grooming.

In almost all occasions of longer-term sexual abuse, the perpetrator undertakes a grooming process, designed to obtain the trust of the intended victim.
These behaviours can include paying undue attention to one specific care client, engaging in keeping secrets, purchasing gifts or trying to establish independent communication channels.

Once the grooming has taken place, and the abuse has commenced, the child or adult care client may act out, which is demonstrated by either an overtly hostile relationship with the carer (such as avoiding them or engaging in public conflict with them) or an unnaturally close relationship, which may be based on an attempt by the client to appease or satisfy the abuser.
 
The above red flags, identified by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, must be understood by workplace investigators in order to ensure that the most vulnerable potential victims are best protected.

Non-physical abuse by carers

Due to changing values in both public and private settings, the term ‘abuse’ now has a wider and more complex scope. Psychological, financial, and emotional abuse at the hands of carers is now a real hazard across multiple industrial contexts.

Some paid and unpaid carers of the aged, older children and the disabled have been known to trick, steal and/or cajole financial benefit from their charges. This can of course provoke angry and emotional responses from all parties involved, not least of which can be outrage from loved ones. One difficulty that investigators face is gathering material from a shaken and, in some cases, infirm victim. It is essential that specialist investigative expertise be employed in such cases.

High evidentiary standards

In the criminal realm, the evidentiary standard is quite high in cases of alleged criminal assault and/ or neglect by carers. Up-to-date legal advice on these and related issues is essential if a reportable incident is suspected.

For many employers who are made aware of alleged abuse by a carer, it can be hard not to react swiftly against this individual. However, all parties are entitled to be heard in a fair and unbiased way.
For example, an unexplained injury might not signify abuse by a carer, but an undiagnosed medical condition.

The ‘culprit’ might be assumed to be a carer who sees the elderly, disabled or young client each and every day. Yet transitory people in carer environments such as cleaners, aides and kitchen staff must also be carefully vetted whenever allegations of abuse surface during a workplace investigation. Investigators must resist the temptation to draw inferences or assumptions throughout the investigation.

Understanding the way abusers work and the nature and pressures on carers are critical for investigators. Knowing how to define and classify behaviour is a crucial component of determinations over abuse allegations.
These details and advice on what evidence to collect, and how to evaluate evidence are all covered in our new Investigating Abuse in Care course. Positions are still available for courses in March and May 2017. Book now to secure a seat! 

Investigating Complaints of Abuse by Carers

- Wednesday, February 22, 2017



When vulnerable individuals in our society are subjected to abuse by their carers, our response as a community is understandably one of outrage. It seems beyond belief that this could happen.But the sad reality is that some individuals within aged care facilities, disability care contexts, at home or in childcare centres can face abuse from the very people with whom they should feel entirely safe.

It is clear to us that employers and individuals within the care and community space want to know the best ways to identify, prevent and deal swiftly with allegations of abuse by carers. Accordingly, we closely examine definitional issues, NDIS implications, criminal factors and‘red flag’ phenomena such as unexplained injuries in care contexts. The often sinister and exploitative manifestations of financial abuse will also be placed under the spotlight.

As an organisation, Wise Workplace is passionate at about deploying our investigative, training and advisory resources for the purpose of enhancing work and community places. In this and upcoming articles,we’ll examine some of the complex challenges faced by investigators when allegations of abuse by carers arise.

Defining abuse, common offences and likely culprits 

Physical abuse can certainly be one of the more visual and confronting forms of abuse by carers. However, other less-obvious forms of abuse can be just as damaging and terrifying for the client involved.

Psychological and emotional abuse by carers can include violent anger, emotional manipulation and control strategies. And when discussing financial abuse by carers, the murky waters of ‘gift versus theft’ can be extremely difficult to traverse. Sexual abuse and manipulation also casts a shadow over care environments and the carer/ client relationship. As we have seen with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Australian children have historically suffered terrible assaults at the hands of so-called carers.

In terms of the more common offences, these can include common physical assaults such as rough-handling or scalding, misuse of restricted practices, and excessive and humiliating discipline. Less visible yet still horrendous acts of omission can amount to criminal negligence by a carer, such as threatening or failing to provide fluids or food. Yet despite the subject matter, investigators must take care to remain objective and fair throughout the entire course of an abuse investigation. 

NDIS complaints system 

We certainly all hope that the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will ease some of the financial suffering and lifestyle challenges for disabled individuals. The vision of the NDIS has always been strong and simple – to enable Australians with a disability to curate what we all aspire to: an ‘ordinary life’.

Complaints connected to the newly-fledged system were of course inevitable. The NDIS complaints system enables participants to voice concerns both with their individual situation andthe broader scheme. Yet how effectively the NDIS complaints scheme works for individual situations is still somewhat uncertain. Certainly, those with a disability can lodge an NDIS complaint about a provider of care, but the most that can currently happen is the removal of the provider from the scheme list. 

In NSW, reportable incidents affecting a person with a disability in a residential facility are required to be investigated and reported to the Ombudsman for oversight. The legislation does not cover in-home services and does not come with a national or even state-based ‘suitability to work with disability services’ checking system, like the sister child protection legislation now effective in NSW, the ACT and Victoria. 

There are national reporting schemes in place for aged care service providers, but these have limited scope and there’s no effective mechanism for preventing a carer found to have been abusive from finding further employment as a carer. 

Ultimately while the system is improving, protection will come from prevention through good governance and policy, and effective investigation of incidents when they come to light. 

Criminal conduct – likely conviction in children’s services, aged and disability sector 

Many relationships within the children’s services, aged care, and disability sectors can develop unique complexities that arise as a result of dealing with dependence.Stress and isolation are just two issues that can affect both people with this vulnerability, and their carers. Yet it hardly follows that criminal conduct on the part of a carer can be excused due to the stressful nature of the job. Assault, fraud and theft can and do arise.

Not only is abuse grossly under reported by vulnerable people due to the relative power imbalance of the carer/client relationship, fear of reprisal, not being believed and the very real possibility of the service being removed, but their reports are not treated as being equal to those of their non-dependent counterparts. 

Significant challenges are faced by the young, elderly and disabled when trying to communicate their story, and in being believed. 

When faced with a complaint from a client of abuse or abhorrent conduct by an employee or carer,employers are often forced to confront the unbelievable.The first reaction can be disbelief, and this is swiftly followed by the search for some rational acceptable explanation for the report, injury or loss. 

When matters are reported to the police, the justice system is constrained by the requirement of a high standard of proof and convincing verbal evidence to be provided to support the physical evidence, if there is any. 

While this approach can be very effective at conviction where serious criminal offences have left unquestionable physical evidence, the myriad offences where very little or no conclusive physical evidence is left leaves the criminal justice system rather lacking. 

For the safeguarding of the vulnerable and the safety of carers, a skilled independent investigation of complaints by the service provider is paramount.

Grooming and sexual manipulation: identifying the warning signs

Recognising the hallmarks of grooming can radically increase the opportunity for service providers to eliminate sexual and financial abuse in care situations.
 
The inclusion of grooming as a set of behaviours in the NSW Reportable Conduct legislation is no accident. 
Common behaviours of grooming include showing special attention to one client over others, buying gifts and establishing often secret private communication networks. Tapping into our most basic human need to be loved, adults and children alike are vulnerable to this tactic. 

The aim of the abuser is to establish a perception of a special relationship that facilitates the request of favours that would otherwise be denied. These favours may be sexual or financial. 

Clear policy guidelines, recurrent education of carers about professional boundaries and the important role of bystander observation are all critical in preventing grooming in care situations. Often only possible in high trust relationships, grooming and abuse can flourish when alternate support and social systems are degraded through loneliness or isolation. 

The investigation of breaches of professional boundaries or grooming behaviour requires an intimate knowledge of this behaviour and careful consideration of the communication systems in place. 

Investigating unexplained injury in care facilities 

It goes without saying that injuries occur in all workplaces, not just the community sector. Yet there are certain injuries that can arise in care environments that understandably cause warning bells to ring for employers and loved ones alike.

Bruising to the head and upper body can be a clear sign that all is not well. Unexpected bed sores, scalds or unusual abrasions can also indicate that the ‘care’ in care facility might need immediate attention. 

Yet like the collection of any evidence, workplace investigators must be extremely careful not to jump to conclusions when an unexplained injury arises.

If we see a vulnerable individual with an injury, it is essential that facts be collated with a clear head. With the right investigation tools,careful and informed analysis of expert medical and other objective evidence,valuable decisions can be made.

Financial abuse: what does it look like?

For both professional and volunteer carers, there is no doubt that the task of caring can be rather thankless. As a result, the temptation to use power inappropriately for financial gain can be all too real. Minors can also be taken advantage of financially.

Financial abuse of those in a care situation can take on a number of forms. A Power of Attorney might be deployed in a manner that sees unexplained money disappear from a patient’s bank account. Aged, disabled and/or child clients can also be cajoled or tricked into signing documents that place their finances in peril. Sometimes a carer will suggest they ‘look after’ the patient’s sizeable home and then send them to live in poverty. 

At a more basic level, we sometimes simply see valuables and cash removed from rooms, or heavy-handed tactics being used on pension day to allow ATM access.  Emotional weapons are often deployed.

Abuse by carers – a fair investigation is crucial

Whether you need to inquire about the investigation of suspected abuse by a carer, want training around the issue, or are seeking advice on your safeguarding processes, Wise Workplace can provide a suite of solutions designed for your situation. 

Abuse against vulnerable children, the elderly and/or people with a disability unfortunately persists across society. However,safeguarding and investigation of alleged abuse by carers is an area of strength for us – give us a call.

What Does Child Protection Look Like in 2017?

- Wednesday, February 15, 2017

There is no doubt that the sobering outcomes of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse have caused Australian organisations to take stock of their child protection strategies. Investigating and preventing abuse in care has become a non-negotiable priority issue for many citizens and institutions across the nation. So what is the current state of play?

Abuse in Care: NSW initiatives

We reported in 2016 that the NSW legislature had made considerable headway into strengthening the state’s response to allegations of child abuse. NSW was the first state to draft and implement Reportable Conduct laws, which set out details of the types of events, behaviours and history that require reporting. This can include the insidious phenomenon of grooming conduct, whereby children are encouraged to trust a person who later engages in child abuse. Boundary violations are also one of the many behaviours that employers now must monitor. Last year, we also saw the powers and involvement of the NSW Ombudsmen gain traction, with better coordination of information around reports of child abuse in care

Child protection developments nation-wide

As we head into 2017, we are seeing some further promising action happening in other Australian states and territories. The ACT is leading the charge to stamp out child abuse, with the introduction of its own Reportable Conduct legislative scheme. Working off the NSW model, the ACT is embedding similar mandatory reporting mechanisms into the fabric of the territory government’s business-as-usual practices, yet as with NSW, there are inevitable challenges around information sharing across agencies.

Victoria has begun its own task of developing and implementing a range of up-to-date laws dedicated to fighting child abuse in care environments. The state is not as far advanced as the ACT in these initiatives, but there are positive signs that the state government will do what it can to improve information sharing within the bounds of privacy requirements.

Protecting against abuse in 2017 and beyond

The work ahead is considerable. As we can see, not all states and territories are currently on board with the necessary structures to counter child abuse. Yes, it is certainly a considerable task – to implement new legislation on reportable conduct, to link agencies more effectively and to update enforcement knowledge and skills. And for those employers investigating child abuse, any uncertainty around legal requirements can create unique investigative challenges. 

As the Royal Commission has painfully shown, no work is too arduous when it comes to protecting Australia’s children from abuse – and indeed protecting any vulnerable individual such as the elderly or disabled in institutional settings.

Harmonisation of anti-child abuse measures

One major outstanding task is the harmonisation of child protection legislation and policies around Australia. There is little hope of tightening the system if alleged perpetrators can simply cross borders into ‘’more relaxed” jurisdictions. COAG has ear-marked this coordination of child abuse responses as a priority area in 2017. We are hopeful that the council will show the necessary chutzpah to pull the states and territories into line on this urgent task of protecting children against abuse.

Even if the federal nature of Australian government makes Commonwealth measures difficult to implement in this space, harmonisation of separate schemes is far from impossible. There are many precedents demonstrating that the states can unify when the subject matter is sufficiently pressing. Surely this is perhaps the most pressing issue imaginable?

Investigating the abuse of children and other vulnerable people

At Wise Workplace, we help employers to monitor and investigate alleged abuse at the ground level. While various governments around Australia are doing their best to learn and act from the Royal Commission, we are determined to give every employer the opportunity to establish the strongest possible strategies against child abuse that they can – right now.

Whether you are seeking advice on workplace audits, workplace investigations into abuse of children or others, the current legal state-of-play on reportable conduct – or indeed all of the above, then please do not hesitate to give us a call.

We’re also excited to announce our first training offerings in NSW and Victoria on the particulars of the abuse in care schemes, successful investigations and some important steps to take in every workplace. We can’t emphasise how important this is for all employers to take on board. Make sure you book in soon, as numbers are limited. Hope to see you there!

 

 


Is Child Protection a Priority in Your Volunteer Organisation?

- Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Volunteer organisations have a special place in the heart of every community. The vital work that they carry out most often involves providing assistance to those who are in need. Issues of poverty, homelessness, abuse, infirmity and mental illness are just some of the challenging aspects within the day-to-day operations of many volunteer groups.

Volunteering and our kids

Children and young people can often have a strong connection to one or more volunteer organisations in the community. This might be as a recipient of food parcels, being minded while parents sort out finances, or assisted to find accommodation. On the other side of the equation, children are increasingly involved in volunteer activities themselves as parents encourage their children to do their bit. Whether planting seedlings in waterways, helping to sort second hand clothes or lending a hand at the local pet shelter – children are involved members of many volunteer organisations throughout Australia.

It is sobering to say the least to necessarily consider child safety concerns within volunteer organisations. Education and training are essential for any adult volunteers working with children, as is a police check and Blue Card or Working with Children Check.

But it goes beyond this. Continuous improvement of policies and procedures relevant to child safety will be the hallmarks of a truly safe volunteer organisation.

Constant evaluation of child safety initiatives

Due to constraints upon virtually all resources within a volunteer organisation, it is perhaps inevitable that some tasks are put on the ‘back burner’. Administrative duties can be the first to be overlooked in the face of relentless service demand from clients. Yet if one area of volunteering must be continuously examined and improved for possible flaws, it is the organisation’s child safety strategy. Laws, criminological knowledge and technology are constantly changing. Volunteer management staff must be vigilant when it comes to assessing and reassessing their internal policies around children. 

As the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse has demonstrated, there are some recognisable patterns to the behaviour of adults who seek to cause harm to children. Specific procedures are necessary for example around the prevention of grooming behaviours by perpetrators, as well as the creation of opportunities for abuse. 

Yet the commission emphasises that there is no one set of looks or behaviours that mark out a child abuser. This is a complex and ever-changing area and expert advice and auditing services are at times required to ensure that volunteer organisations remain up-to-date with their child safety obligations.

The broader child safety equation

The Australian Human Rights Commission developed its Child Safe Institutions Report in 2013, as part of a response to the ongoing royal commission. Importantly, child safety is seen to entail a broad notion of the potential dangers faced by children within organisations – educational, religious, volunteer, sporting or otherwise.
When we consider hazards such as the availability of inappropriate computer or television content at volunteer sites, physical and emotional damage from clientele interaction, bullying from other volunteers, accidents, or the potential for sexual abuse where inadequate supervision exists, it becomes clear that child safety within volunteer organisations should be much more broadly conceptualised that it perhaps is currently.

Child-safe systems and culture

We understand that operators of volunteer organisations are pulled in all directions. However, child safety is simply one of those ‘non-negotiables’ within 21st century organisational contexts. This is a growing and changing field of workplace knowledge, and involves the variables of procedural systems, workplace culture, legal compliance and training. All these skills are a key component of our specialy tailored investigations course to provide you with the skills necessary to investigate abuse in care complaints whether you work in a volunteer agency, not for profit or government agency. 

Offering courses in Sydney and Melbourne this year our Investigating Abuse in Care course will include investigating grooming behaviours, markers of a pedophile, conducting interviews, drafting allegations, dealing with respondents, risk assessment and weighing evidence to make sound decisions. 

Register for your place online and receive an information pack on what to do next. Book now for 2017 courses.



A Perplexing Problem: Protecting Children Overseas

- Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Every year billions of Australian dollars are provided to fund aid projects overseas. The money is targeted to assist developing countries with education, housing, health and community projects. Naturally children are a prime target group for these aid programs.  The majority of these organisations are funded by the Australian public via donations and government funding provided to not-for-profit organisations, many of them faith based organisations.

International rules and expectations govern the protocols for handling and responding to allegations related to child protection, however, enforcing these laws is a tricky business often involving multiple jurisdictions and multiple agencies who may disagree around responsibilities and liabilities.

Policies and procedures are not enough to protect children who are by definition amongst the most vulnerable in the world.

Small operations, voluntary management and high dependency on the goodwill of front end service delivery mitigate against strong child protection regimes. Poor oversight due to long distance, remoteness and cultural differences are also key features of this problem.

Funding bodies in Australia are expected to have high quality child protection systems and policies in place to gain government funding but the challenge of enforcing or even providing adequate training in the expectations to the end providers of the service can be beyond reach. 

Now that we know that we cannot unquestioningly depend on the nature of goodly people to act without harming children, what cost do we place on the need to provide secure safe environments for children receiving charitable services?

Documents provided today by the Guardian relating to the level of abuse within detention centres on Nauru demonstrate the abject failure of outsourced government funded programs. How then do we expect small voluntary projects to be faring against these standards?

It is clear that policies and procedures are woefully inadequate yet how much of the donated money do we want spent on compliance when it comes to protecting children? 

WISE Workplace is regularly requested to undertake investigations of allegations made against staff overseas who are working or administering charitable projects. The work requires a high level understanding of the environment, the agency, funding requirements, boards and community management structures, and the local culture and cultural background of staff and service recipients.   The work remains some of the most challenging to investigate.  Weak employment relationships can lead to inconclusive outcomes and an inability to enforce any restrictions on volunteers in the field.

For those organisations with managers in Australia trying to manage complaints or allegations arising from activities overseas, using the support of experienced investigators can be a godsend melding the investigative skills of experienced child protection investigators with the cultural and service delivery expertise of the coordinators working for the agency.

Our top 10 list of must do’s if you are a coordinator of a charity funded project overseas:

  1. Nominate a single contact person with responsibility for dealing with complaints related to child protection within your agency
  2. Have clearly articulated Child Protection Standards and Guidelines
  3. Have clearly articulated procedures for dealing with complaints
  4. Understand the criminal law in the country of service delivery
  5. Understand the employee relationship between the funding body and the service providers on the ground
  6. Know your legal obligations under your primary funding agency agreement
  7. Respond quickly to complaints
  8. Conduct a risk assessment and take protective action if necessary
  9. Identify a suitable contact person on the ground in the foreign country to be a liaison pain
  10. Seek specialist help when complaints are serious or complex to investigate.

WISE Workplace runs regular training programs on the principles of undertaking workplace investigations. Our facilitators have extensive experience and expertise in managing all kinds of challenging investigations including running operations overseas via Skype using local contacts.  Our unique Investigating Abuse in Care course provides valuable skills in how to assess complaints, reporting obligations, drafting allegations, interviewing victims and respondents, making decisions and maintaining procedural fairness. Book now for courses in March and May 2017.

FWC Contradicting Public Expectations on Child Protection?

- Wednesday, April 06, 2016
FWC Contradicting Public Expectations on Child Protection?

Child protection and child abuse are issues of such a serious nature that they’re currently the subject of their own Royal Commission. But a recent decision of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) seems to fly in the face of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, as well as the advances in reportable conduct legislation in NSW.  
The FWC decision

O’Connell v Catholic Education Office is the case in question. O’Connell was a teacher who had been employed by the NSW Catholic Education Office (CEO) since 1979, in various teaching roles.   

In December 2014, allegations arose that he had behaved inappropriately towards a child. He was put on leave by the CEO. In February 2015, he was formally charged with indecently assaulting a child under the age of 16 years.   

O’Connell denied the allegation, and asked for alternative duties, suspension or leave until the charge was determined. The CEO instead terminated his employment.   

In August 2015, the charge was withdrawn.   

O’Connell claimed that he had been unfairly dismissed as the CEO could have arranged for him to work in an alternative role, pending the charges being determined.   

The CEO claimed that once O’Connell had been charged, he became a “disqualified person” under the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act (the Act). It had no choice but to terminate, as the Act prohibited his continuing employment in child-related work.   

The CEO used this as a jurisdictional argument – as there was no unfair dismissal, the FWC could not determine the matter.   

The matter was heard by the full bench of the FWC.   

Untangling the web of legislative language  
The FWC said that its duty was to give the words the meaning that had been intended by parliament.   

It found that there was no barrier in continuing O’Connell’s employment – he could have been redeployed to other duties that involved no contact with children.   

It also found that parliament was unlikely to have intended termination of employment whenever there needed to be further inquiries about a child protection matter.  This could have disastrous consequences for many innocent workers.   

The FWC looked to the second reading speech of the Act to determine parliament’s intention:

“Employers with the capacity to do so may suspend a barred worker or redeploy such a worker to a non child-related role.”    

Because termination was by choice and not mandated by legislation, there was jurisdiction for the FWC to hear the unfair dismissal claim.   
Inconsistency with other decisions
FWC considered the decision of Mahony in which a teacher’s employment contract had been frustrated because the criminal charges against him meant that he could not work with children.     

It found that the Mahony decision had been made without the benefit of extensive submissions that could be considered before reaching a conclusion. The FWC said it was not bound by Mahony.   

It also considered the case of Fraser, in which it was found that employers have a choice about whether to comply with or ignore laws requiring termination of employment. It said that this decision was wrong.  

What does it all mean?

The FWC has made it clear that its  O’Connell decision is now the authority for similar matters.

But it seems at odds with NSW’s working with children police check requirements, which are considered some of the most rigorous in all of Australia. This was particularly evident in the case of BQY, who eventually won the right to become a registered teacher after a fairly minor encounter with a former student.    

There is also anticipation that the Royal Commission will recommend that uniform child protection laws are established in Australia. This, along with the recent inquiry into how reportable conduct legislation has been operating in NSW over the past 16 years, now makes the law in this area very uncertain.   

The FWC decision is unlikely to sit easily with the other anticipated child protection changes, but as a full bench decision, it carries great weight. It may be a case of parliament having to make changes to the wording of the legislation to ensure that the law falls into step with public expectations and is consistent with political response to this very important issue.   

Information Sharing and Child Abuse - A Continuing Issue

Jill McMahon - Wednesday, March 23, 2016

 

This month the NSW Ombudsman hosted a forum reflecting on the past 16 years of Reportable Conduct legislation in NSW.

With over 800 attendees, the gathering represented an exceptional group of people with a wealth of expertise in this sensitive and tricky area.

Key messages from the group included the need for:

  • Improvements in information sharing between agencies
  • Widening the legislation to include sporting groups and religious orders
  • A national Working With Children check system, rather than state based
  • A national register for the suitability of employment with children
  • Greater protection for the disabled

The resounding need to make the system work better and provide comprehensive protection for all Australian children was

a national system of information sharing and

actual practical information sharing between agencies

WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM IDENTIFIEd?
Privacy legislation requires that organisations do not share personnel records. Whilst steps have been taken to enable information sharing between agencies in NSW these only apply where a current risk exists to children, and they remain inadequate and slow.

Name changes, spelling errors, data entry, human error and overwhelming fear of breaching the privacy act seem to be the main causes of a lack of information sharing particularly by the larger agencies such as the Police and Family and Community Services.

providing information to policE

Currently organisations are expected to make reports to police of any suspected child abuse or Reportable Conduct.  The police, however, are not so good at returning the favour when agencies are trying to investigate non-criminal reportable conduct of their own.

What do the police do with your information?

  •  Police will receive information about a crime but they won’t give it out (Privacy restrictions)
  •  Police won’t necessarily act on the information provided
  • With no formal complaint from the victim, police won’t act
  •  With no likelihood of a conviction police won’t necessarily investigate
So if your victim is non-verbal, young, disadvantaged, unsupported, suffering from metal illness, has behavioural difficulties or has low self-esteem, their complaint may not be investigated.

In fact, if your victim has all the characteristics of a child likely to become the target of a paedophile, they are less likely to be successful in a criminal prosecution.  This is no coincidence.

This is why the legislation on reportable conduct is so important. By extending the definitions of acceptable behaviour of people who work with children and lowering the standard of proof - early patterns of behaviour known to be linked to serious sexual offending such as grooming and breaching professional boundaries  can be identified and individuals can be permanently barred from working with children – in NSW.

This legislation ensures  the protection of many times more children than the criminal justice system and actually prevents offenders having access to children.

 

In many ways it is far superior to the criminal justice system

in providing actual protection and preventing abuse.

 

Under the criminal justice system, child abuse remains difficult to prosecute and difficult to convict.  It is unnecessarily burdensome on the victims of abuse putting them through protracted and distressing criminal trials and appeal processes.

The NSW forum presented compelling arguments for the need for improved information sharing between all agencies in addition to not just a state based criminal records check but a national one and a national register of suitability to work with children.

There are high expectations that the Royal Commission into Institutional response to Child Sexual Abuse will recommend Australia wide legislation similar to that in NSW.  Let’s hope it is a seamless system that stops people slipping through the cracks!

If you have a workplace complaint and you're not sure how you should respond to it, or you would like to discuss how we can help build capacity within your organisation to respond to complaints  - WISE Workplace provides high quality specialist investigators to conduct workplace related investigations into abuse of children, people with a disability and the elderly. We have been working with Reportable Conduct legislation since it’s inception in 2001. Call us to discuss how our services may be able to help your organisation develop a response and systems that protect your clients.  Give us a call on 1300 580 685.

For more guidance on your obligations to report and respond to incidents of child abuse, The Institute of Community Directors Australia produced this excellent Child Protection Toolkit in January 2016 to assist not for profit agencies.

 

Link to toolkit.