Children and Youth
The role of local government
Council facilities and services
Early childhood education and care
Plans and policies
Child protection and child safe organisations
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
There are several recommendations and new pieces of legislation arising from the findings from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which councils should note.
On 15 December 2017 the Royal Commission presented a final report to the Governor-General, from the five-year inquiry into institutional responses to child sexual abuse and related matters. The report is across 17 volumes and contains 409 recommendations. Both the Australian Government and the NSW Government responded to the recommendations in June 2018.
NSW Government Response
The themes of the NSW Government response can be grouped into recommendations regarding:
- Justice for victims
- Criminal justice and sentencing
- Child safe institutions and prevention
Councils as leaders in the community and providers of services to children have a responsibility to ensure councils are child safe institutions. One key recommendation from the NSW Government Response for councils is 6.12 which states:
“With support from governments at the national, state and territory levels, local governments should designate child safety officer positions from existing staff profiles to carry out the following functions:
a. developing child safe messages in local government venues, grounds and facilities
b. assisting local institutions to access online child safe resources
c. providing child safety information and support to local institutions on a needs basis d. supporting local institutions to work collaboratively with key services to ensure child safe approaches are culturally safe, disability aware and appropriate for children from diverse backgrounds.” (Accepted in principle)
As part of this recommendation, the NSW Government through the Office of the Children’s Guardian will engage with councils.
New legislation includes:
New legislation introduced during 2018 in response to the Royal Commission has also clarified the legal responsibility of organisations to protect children, report abuse and in some cases increased penalties for not doing so.
- Child Protection (Working With Children) Amendment Statutory Review Bill 2018 NSW (April 2018)
Implications for councils: New sections to make it an offence for an employer to fail to obtain and verify the details of a worker employed to work with children or to keep a record of the details that were obtained. The bill provides for penalty infringement notices to be served on employers who fail to ensure that staff working with children have obtained clearance. Employers can verify whether a worker has the appropriate clearance through an online process.
Implications for councils: This includes the ‘failing to protect’ offence where a person will commit an offence if they know that another adult in the organisation who works with children poses a serious risk of physically or sexually abusing a child.
This also includes the ‘failing to report’ offence where a person will commit an offence for failing to report child abuse. The new offence, Section 316A, will apply where a person knows, believes or reasonably ought to know that a child abuse offence has been committed against a child.
- Civil Liability Amendment (Organisation Child Abuse Liability) Bill 2018 (October 2018)
Implications for councils: Councils can be held vicariously liable for the abuse of children perpetrated by people who are employed by council and by people who are “akin to employees” of council. This may include family day care workers, as well as volunteers and contractors.
In addition, councils, as providers of children’s services, which do not take reasonable steps to prevent child abuse of children in their care, may be liable in a negligence action.
- Children’s Guardian Act 2019 (November 2019)
Implications for councils: All councils, county councils and Joint Organisations are relevant entities for the purposes of the Act. This means that councils will have obligations to investigate reportable allegations which are allegations that an employee who is engaged to provide services to children or who is required to hold a Working with Children Check (WWCC) has engaged in sexual offences, neglect or assault or ill-treatment of a child, and to make determinations about reportable convictions, which are convictions for an offence.
The Act requires an employee of an approved education and care service to report to the general manager of the council a reportable allegation or reportable conviction that relates to an employee of the service. The Act also requires a relevant entity to have a code of conduct and policies in place to prevent and detect reportable conduct by employees of the entity. LGNSW has provided a summary of the Act.
The NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian has resources available online for creating child safe institutions and also offers training courses, both online and in-house.
Cumberland Council has recently developed a Child Protection Policy which was placed on public exhibition during National Child Protection Week (2- 8 September). NSW councils are encouraged to share and refer to this document as needed.
Councils requiring assistance with legal responsibilities can contact Jessica Wood, LGNSW Legal Officer, on 9242 4125.
Councils requiring assistance with prevention and child safe institutions can contact Elizabeth Robertson, LGNSW Policy Officer, on 9242 4028.
The Office of the Children’s Guardian can also be contacted for support on 8219 3600.
National Redress Forum
On 5 March 2020, LGNSW hosted a special briefing with the NSW Attorney-General, the Hon. Mark Speakman MP, to understand new obligations under the National Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.
The National Redress Scheme is part of the Federal Government’s response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Councils, and mayors specifically, have new obligations under these reforms, which the State Government has committed to.
The NSW Government’s response focuses on three areas: justice for victims; criminal justice and sentencing; and child safe institutions and prevention.
While historical cases of child abuse in councils and council-run institutions are expected to be rare, councils were signed up to the National Redress Scheme by the NSW Government, which will underwrite any financial liability.
The video below was taken at the forum.
The role of LGNSW
LGNSW advocates for local government children and youth services to ensure legislation and funding enables councils to continue to support these essential services.
The planning and regulation of children and youth services is a complex policy area. In NSW, the provision of children and youth services is a shared responsibility between the three levels of government, with multiple stakeholders and government agencies involved including the:
Department of Education and Training (Federal)
Early Childhood Education and Care Directorate, through the Department of Education (NSW)
LGNSW engages with the local government children and youth sector through coordination of an email network to feed information and advice between the relevant council staff and the LGNSW policy team. Please contact Elizabeth Robertson to express interest in joining the network.
LGNSW is also a member of the Local Government Children’s Services Manager’s network and the Local Government Youth Development Network hosted by Youth Action.