All early childhood services operating in Victoria are required to comply with the Child Safe Standards.
The Child Safe Standards work by changing organisational culture to embed child safety in everyday thinking and practice. They aim to:
- Promote the safety of children
- Prevent child abuse
- Ensure organisations have processes in place to respond to and report all allegations of child abuse.
Why the Child Safe Standards are important
Child Safe Standards raise awareness and help early childhood services become child safe environments.
The Child Safe Standards were introduced in response to recommendations from the
Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Non-Government Organisations. The Inquiry found that more must be done to prevent and respond to child abuse. The Child Safe Standards apply to all organisations that provide services for children, including early childhood services.
Compliance with the
Child Safe Standards is a requirement of the
Child Wellbeing and Safety Amendment (Child Safe Standards) Act 2015.
Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) has powers to oversee and enforce compliance with the Child Safe Standards. CCYP may also refer allegations of non-compliance to relevant authorities such as the Quality Assessment and Regulation Division (QARD) in the Department of Education and Training (DET).
Creating a child safe organisation
The Child Safe Standards are underpinned by three overarching
principles which must be considered when complying with each Child Safe Standard:
- Promoting the cultural safety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
- Promoting the cultural safety of children from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds
- Promoting the safety of children with a disability.
There are seven Child Safe Standards that early childhood services must implement to create and maintain a child safe organisation:
Strategies to embed an organisational culture of child safety, including through effective leadership arrangements
A culture of child safety is enhanced by recognising the importance of child safety at all levels of the early childhood organisation, including the approved provider, nominated supervisor, educational leader, educators and staff members, family day care educators, families and volunteers.
Early childhood services need to ensure:
- leaders and managers create an organisational culture that protects children from abuse
- this influences the organisation’s policies, procedures and practices
- people in all roles within the organisation, including educators, staff and volunteers, know and understand the organisation’s commitment to child safety
- leadership is aware of allegations and substantiated cases of abuse and that they respond in ways that protect children from abuse
- commitment to continuous improvement through regular reviews and updating policies, procedures and practices, and being open to scrutiny
- the polices and procedures related to governance and service management , required by regulation 168(2)(l) and regulation 170, are in place and implemented.
A child safe policy or statement of commitment to child safety
A child safe policy is an overarching document that provides key elements of an organisation’s approach to becoming child safe. This should include, statement of commitment to providing a child safe and child friendly environment, roles and responsibilities, reporting procedures and guidance on how the organisation manages child abuse risks. Services must have in place and follow policies and procedures in relation to providing a child safe environment (regulation 168(2)(h) and regulation 170). In Victoria it is recommended that these policies and procedures reflect the requirements of the Standards and the principles.
A code of conduct that establishes clear expectations for appropriate behaviour with children
Services must have in place and follow policies and procedures in relation to staffing, including a code of conduct for staff members (regulation, 168(2)(i) and regulation 170.
To create and maintain a child safe organisation, you should consider reviewing the service’s code of conduct to ensure that it provides all persons with management or control, the nominated supervisor, person in day-to-day charge, educational leader, educators, staff members, family day care educators, volunteers, students on placement and families and children with a set of clear principles about how they should behave in a child safe environment. This will contribute towards establishing clear behavioural expectations and boundaries for all people interacting with children.
Screening, supervision, training and other human resources practices that reduce the risk of child abuse by new and existing personnel
Screening processes should comprehensively assess a person’s suitability to work with children, including questioning applicants’ past experiences and conducting background and referee checks.
This should be done by engaging various recruitment tools, not just using the Working with Children Check or registration with the Victorian Institute of Teaching to check suitability to be involved in the early childhood service.
Services must have in place and follow policies and procedures in relation to staffing which should include information about recruitment processes (regulation, 168(2)(i) and regulation 170).
Early childhood services need to ensure that newly recruited and existing staff members and volunteers understand the importance of child safety, are aware of the relevant policies and procedures, and are trained to minimise the risk of child abuse.
An early childhood service must ensure that nominated supervisors and staff members at the service who work with children are advised of the existence of the current child protection law and any obligations they may have under that law (regulation 84).
Once persons are engaged by the service the provision of ongoing support, supervision and training is critical to managing and reducing the risk of child abuse.
Processes for responding to and reporting suspected child abuse
Each child attending an education and care service must be protected and all persons involved in the service must be:
- advised of the existence and application of the current child protection law and any obligations that they may have under that law (regulation 84)
- aware of their roles and responsibilities to identify and respond to every child at risk of abuse or neglect (NQS, element 2.2.3)
Early childhood services should:
- ensure a supportive environment for children, personnel or families who report allegations of abuse or child safety concerns
- develop and implement clear policies and procedures to ensure staff, volunteers, families and children know how to report allegations of abuse, and feel comfortable doing so
- be clear of the responsibility of personnel to report, and to whom they should report if a child discloses abuse or concerning behaviour. All persons involved in early childhood services have a legal duty of care and should make a report about any type of child abuse. All registered teachers including early childhood teachers (ECT) are mandated reporters of child abuse.
- have clear policies and procedures for notifying relevant authorities of suspected child abuse that comply with all legal requirements. This may include Victoria Police, Department of Health and Human Services - Child Protection, the CCYP, the Victorian Institute of Teaching and the Department of Education and Training (QARD)
- be aware of the requirements to notify DET (QARD) as the regulator of services operating under the National Law or Children’s Services Act of incidents or allegations or circumstances or complaints relating to the health, safety or wellbeing of a child
- services need to be aware of additional requirements under the Reportable Conduct Scheme as well as VIT notification requirements in relation to registered teachers including early childhood teachers.
Strategies to identify and reduce or remove risks of child abuse
Early childhood services have specific responsibilities to protect the children in their care prescribed in the National Law. For example these include that:
- the service is operated in a way that ensures the safety, health and wellbeing of the children being educated and cared for (section 51)
- every reasonable precaution is taken to protect children from harm and from any hazard likely to cause injury (section 167)
- children must be adequately supervised at all times the children are in the care of the service(section 165)
- children are not inappropriately disciplined (section 166).
Early childhood services should adopt a risk management approach by considering their child safety risk(s) based on the nature of their activities with children, physical and online environments and the characteristics of children to whom they provide services.
This covers both ‘business as usual’ risks and risks posed by specific activities such as excursions and children being educated and cared for overnight. Where risks are identified, organisations are required to reduce or remove them to help ensure the safety of children.
To ensure the safety of children a risk management framework should:
- identify and assess risks, having regard to the cohorts of children who attend the service and the service’s operating environment
- manage ‘situational’ risks of child abuse associated with any activities involving children (e.g. supervision requirements for children by suitable staff)
- have risk mitigation strategies – e.g. awareness raising and training, engaging health and welfare services
- identify and manage risks if abuse occurs
- be regularly reviewed and evaluated.
Strategies to promote the participation and empowerment of children
Early childhood services need to have environments where children feel safe and comfortable in reporting concerns or allegations of abuse. Children often do not report abuse because they feel uncomfortable or they do not know how to raise their concerns or allegations of abuse.
Simple and accessible processes that help children understand their rights. There should be processes in place that if a child raises a concern for their safety or an allegation of abuse that this is taken seriously and investigated in a way that addresses the concern raised.
The National Quality Framework requires services to provide an environment for children that promotes their agency (element 1.2.1), maintains respectful and equitable relationships (regulation 156) with each child and allows children to feel secure and confident. Services are also required to provide education and care in a way that maintains at all times the dignity and rights of each child and has regard to the family and cultural values, age and physical and intellectual development of each child (regulation 155).
When services are providing such an environment, children are likely to feel empowered and comfortable to disclose any concerns they may be having and if they are feeling unsafe.
Services are required to deliver an educational program based on an approved learning framework and based on the developmental needs, interests and experiences of each child (section 168).
Services can implement this standard by including the following in their educational program:
- age-appropriate resources for children and families on children’s rights
- child-friendly information and communications about personal safety, and how to voice concerns about personal safety
- provide a safe environment for children to express concerns where they will be taken seriously and not judged.
Education and care services must also have in place and follow policies and procedures in relation to interactions with children and dealing with complaints (regulation 168(2)(j), regulation 168(2)(o) and regulation 170) which are relevant to promoting the participation and empowerment of children.