Keeping Children Safe in Schools

A safe learning environment is essential to children of all ages. Australia has almost 4 million children enrolled in over 9,400 primary and secondary schools across the country. Children rely on the adults around them and in schools to protect and care for them, however, incidents impacting child safety come to light in the media far too often. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse shone a light on this issue - according to the Royal Commission’s report issued in 2017, almost one in three of child sexual abuse cases heard in the Royal Commission’s private sessions occurred in schools. There is potential for governments, schools and communities to do better in preventing circumstances in which child abuse and neglect are often found and ensuring the safety of children in Australia.

Effective governance and good risk management, supported by sound processes and systems, are key to providing a safe environment for children. In practice parents, staff, other workers and members of the community enter schools every day and understanding who is on school premises at any point in time is not easy.

The National Office for Child Safety is providing leadership, working across governments and sectors to deliver national policies and strategies to enhance child safety and reduce harm to children. One key legislative requirement is the Working with Children Checks (WWCC scheme) adopted by each state and territory in Australia. The WWCC scheme is designed to screen people who are seeking child-related work. Complying with this law is challenging, especially for those education institutions operating schools across borders.

Our experience suggests there are a number of compliance challenges facing schools. These include:

• Understanding the differences between the State and Territory WWCC legislation.

• Allocating sufficient resources to manage the WWCC compliance process.

• Managing the issues of the day; school life is busy. Problems often present themselves on a day by day basis. Competing priorities can lead to failures in the WWCC process.

• Using legacy systems to record and track processes undertaken by the school and to prompt checks to be undertaken in the future.

• Covering workers beyond the payroll including volunteers or contractors.

These challenges often see schools fail to adequately perform WWCC processes. We see those schools that have dedicated risk and compliance resources and maintain sound systems and processes do better in this area. In particular, schools that perform well maintain a WWCC register, have periodic review processes, provide WWCC training, conduct audit processes and assign clear roles and responsibilities to staff involved.

Unfortunately, conforming to the specific requirements of the legislation is only half of the story. Safety risk presents itself in many different circumstances and scenarios in the day to day life of a school. Ensuring the right people are on school grounds is critical. Understanding and managing the activities and associated risks taken on by a school, whether before or after school hours, by employed staff or volunteers, on school premises or otherwise, is also very important. Today, assessing and effectively managing risks that arise from both the planned and unplanned activities of a school are essential elements to providing a safe environment for children.

How can we help?

Taking time to assess the governance, risk management and processes and systems your school has in place to provide a safe environment for children is an important first step. We provide services to over 500 schools in Australia and have extensive experience in safety in education. Our risk and audit professionals can assist in helping you assess how well your school is performing against the legislative requirements and compared to other schools around Australia.

We have over 100 offices throughout Australia and New Zealand. Our national practice enables us to leverage a team in each state and in different regional centres. We can mobilise a team close to your school to help you ensure that you are providing a safe education environment for the children in your community.

Contact your local adviser for more information.