Good governance practices around child safety can help to protect those within your organisation from criminal and civil liability. A lack of child safety practices could, at the most extreme end, lead to situations such as that of USA Gymnastics’ team doctor Larry Nassar, who was able to abuse approximately 250 children over a number of years before being convicted and sentenced only recently. Ensuring that your organisation does all that it can do to protect child safety is paramount.
One aspect of ensuring your organisation is child-safe is ensuring that your staff who are required to hold valid Working with Children Checks in fact do so. As a result of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (‘the Royal Commission’), Victoria made changes to the Working with Children Act 2005 (‘the Act’) (with changes commencing in August 2017) in order to strengthen the Working with Children Check regime, with a view to ensuring greater protections for children.
Not everybody who has contact with children is required to have a Working with Children Check. Under the Act, those who are doing child-related work (and who are not exempt from obtaining a Working with Children Check under the Act), are required to obtain a Check. This is applicable to both paid staff and volunteers.
The changes to the Act include the following key changes, which ought to be taken into account by sporting organisations:
- The definition of ‘direct contact’ in the Act has been expanded to include oral, written and electronic communication.
- Previously, ‘direct contact’ only referred to physical contact or face-to-face communication. In today’s electronic age, ‘direct contact’ now includes phone, email or other electronic communication with a child. Eg: if someone’s role requires them to email or call children only, with no face to face contact, they may require a Working with Children Check.
- References to the requirement for ‘supervision’ from the Act have been removed.
- The result of this is that even if a person’s contact with children as a result of child-related work is supervised by another person, they will still need to apply for a Check.
- Criminal charges (where no conviction has been recorded) for serious sexual, violent or drug offences are now considered part of the Check assessment and re-assessment.
- For certain criminal offences, the Working with Children Check regulator will now consider in its assessment and re-assessment, charges that have been withdrawn, discontinued, set aside on appeal or which have led to an acquittal.
While the Working with Children Check regime is specific to Victoria, organisations who operate in other states are advised to familiarise themselves with their own states’ regime in order to ensure compliance.
In addition to compliance with statutory regimes relating to child safety, sporting organisations are also encouraged to develop their own child safety policies so that expectations relating to matters of child safety are explicitly communicated to those who are bound by such policies. If you require assistance drafting a child safety policy or are after legal advice in relation to issues of child safety, please contact our team of lawyers at SportsLawyer at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on (03) 9642 0435.
Nothing in this article should be relied on as legal advice. The contents of this article should be regarded as information only, and for specific legal matters, independent advice should always be sought. Please contact Paul Horvath on email@example.com or phone 03-9642-0435 to discuss any matter or to arrange an appointment.