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Supporting a child safe culture

Executive Summary

The Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) welcomes this opportunity to submit to the Review of Victoria’s Child Safe Standards (standards).

VCOSS is the peak body for social and community services in Victoria. VCOSS members reflect the diverse community services industry and include large charities, peak organisations, small community services, advocacy groups and individuals interested in social policy. VCOSS supports the industry, represents the interests of Victorians facing disadvantage and vulnerability in policy debates, and advocates for a sustainable, fair and equitable society.

Victoria’s seven child safe standards and three principles became fully operational on 1 January 2017. These focus on governance and leadership; documenting, identifying and managing risk; and promoting the participation and empowerment of children. The three principles recognize that some groups of children face additional risks – Aboriginal and Torres Strait children; children from culturally and / or linguistically diverse backgrounds; and children with disabilities.

In December 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its final report recommending ten child safe standards be incorporated into the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (National Principles). COAG has recently endorsed the National Principles.[1]

Many VCOSS members are category one organisations and are required to comply with the standards.[2]  VCOSS members report that the introduction of Victoria’s standards has resulted in improvements and increased awareness of child safety in organisations. However, members report challenges with initial rollout and the need for ongoing training and support on implementation issues. Experiences with regulatory and oversight bodies have been mixed, and some confusion still exists around the role of the Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) and other regulatory bodies. Greater publicity of the CCYP’s role in education and support about compliance would assist organisations in managing challenging implementation issues.

VCOSS members are supportive of aligning Victoria’s standards with the national approach and incorporating the National Principles. Given the momentum and work that organisations have undertaken in implementing the standards, members were keen to see a smooth transition that builds on existing practices and procedures.

 

Recommendations

Implementing the standards

  • Design a campaign to promote public awareness of child safety, rights and Victoria’s standards
  • Invest in training, support and communities of practice, accessible for metropolitan, rural and regional organisations
  • Ensure training focusses on implementation challenges, provides de-identified case studies, promotes good practice and identifies dubious practice

Children and young people’s engagement with organisations

  • Provide extra guidance to organisations on how to more deeply engage children and young people in service design and delivery

Working with regulatory bodies and the Commission for Children and Young People

  • Better communicate to organisations the Commission for Children and Young People’s roles in education, support, monitoring, compliance and enforcement
  • Increase the Commission for Children and Young People’s resources to better support organisations to be child safe
  • Develop and publish a list of registered training providers on child safe standards
  • Consider opportunities to better streamline information sharing between government agencies
  • Publicly report how standards improve outcomes for children and young people
  • Provide tools to organisations to monitor and evaluate implementation
  • Reduce regulatory and reporting overlap between regulatory bodies and the Commission for Children and Young People using the “report once, use often” principle

Towards a nationally harmonised approach to child safe standards

  • Support national harmonisation, and incorporate the National Principles into Victoria’s Child Safe Standards
  • Update Victoria’s Child Safe Standards to refer to children and young people.
  • Develop new training materials for organisations on the updated standards.
  • Consider lessons from initial implementation including ensuring effective engagement from senior leadership, and developing specific strategies to support a smooth transition.

Implementing the standards

Initial implementation challenges

VCOSS members report that the implementation of Victoria’s child safe standards has driven improvements in creating and updating child safe policies in organisations. Some organisations used the standards to adjust existing policies and practices. Others created new documents and procedures.

One of the challenges identified by organisations was implementing the standards with no additional funding. They reported the standards were highly resource intensive to implement, particularly at the outset. Some organisations created dedicated positions to oversee development or updating policies and compliance. Others created cross-organisation working groups to embed a child safe culture across the organisation, and build internal capacity.

You cannot underestimate the time, energy and focus in managing compliance. We had a manager leading it and multiple team leaders. (VCOSS member)

There were resource implications for our organisation to adhere to the standards. We created two positions with no additional funding. It was time intensive to get up and running. (VCOSS member)

This also created some challenges for volunteer driven organisations, particularly in training large numbers of volunteer staff to comply with the standards.

Organisations also raised the lack of resources and guidance in how to implement the standards. Some reported implementation created significant additional work. Some small organisations noted they would have appreciated standardised templates that they could adapt. On the other hand, others commented the lack of prescription helped support deeper engagement, driving internal cultural change, and resulting in better outcomes. It meant organisations had to consider how best to implement the standards, rather than taking a ‘tick the box’ approach.

VCOSS members report strong senior executive and Board leadership was particularly necessary to help cement change. Where leaders took less ownership, implementation was more difficult.

Having a ‘champion’ of the standards, such as from a wellbeing team, human resources, the Board or senior leadership, helped some organisations navigate the standards through internal processes. For example, one VCOSS member reported challenges and resistance in some rural and regional communities, who questioned the need for the standards, and were concerned they did not apply to their organisation. A champion was able to confront these attitudes.

Another organisation observed that change management is a slow process, and relying on only one staff member to champion and implement the standards can be too onerous. Ownership from leadership teams was needed to support change management and instill a commitment amongst staff. CEO’s who championed the standards were seen as especially critical, as they could orient the whole organisation toward compliance.

Other organisations noted that reaching some staff who have incidental contact with children was challenging, as they often did not view adhering to the standards as relevant to their job.

Raise awareness of the standards

Recommendation

Design a campaign to promote public awareness of child safety, rights and Victoria’s standards

VCOSS members observed minimal awareness raising activity to organisations and the community when the standards were first released. One VCOSS member noted that Worksafe and occupational health and safety messages are everywhere, but no similar commitment exists to promote child safety. A public awareness campaign to raise awareness of children’s rights and safety and help shift community attitudes is needed.

This could involve holding public forums, media or advertising campaigns, or creating a recognisable logo. This is particularly important if Victoria moves towards national harmonisation, noting that National Principle 3 states that families and communities are informed, and involved in promoting child safety and wellbeing. As up to 80 per cent of all child sexual abuse occurs in a familial relationship, and not institutions – a public awareness campaign provides another tool for government to help prevent abuse and promote child safety.[3]

 

 

Provide further training opportunities

Recommendations

  • Invest in training, support and communities of practice, accessible for metropolitan, rural and regional organisations
  • Ensure training focusses on implementation challenges, provides de-identified case studies, promotes good practice and identifies dubious practice

 

VCOSS members report training is essential to embed the standards into practice, with implementation procedures, guidance and advice for dealing with challenging situations.

Some organisations include training on the standards during staff inductions. This allows discussion of the standards, and emphasises the organisation’s commitment to creating a child safe culture. Including a statement of commitment to child safe standards in position descriptions and holding staff training sessions, were seen as valuable tools to build staff understanding and ownership.

We added a very clear Child Safe Statement to our existing Code of Conduct, which all staff and volunteers adopt on commencement and reaffirm annually as part of their appraisal. The Code contained all of the key elements of the Child Safe Standards but the child safe statement added greater emphasis and priority. (VCOSS member)

Some organisations observed staff turnover complicated implementation, particularly if the staff member was leading the standards work. It was noted training needs regular review due to staff turnover, but also as new issues arise. Workers often want deeper training around how to apply the standards to different situations. Some workers also report lack of clarity around risk assessment and reporting processes, and lack of certainty about exactly how to ‘do’ child safe standards.

Holding communities of practice (COP) were identified as a priority by VCOSS members. We are pleased to see that the CCYP has recently invited organisations to submit an expression of interest to participate in a COP facilitated by the CCYP, with the first meeting to be held in March 2019.  We would encourage CCYP to continue a COP over the medium term to build organisational and staff capacity in best practice implementation of the standards, especially if Victoria aligns its standards with the National Principles.

Ensuring that rural organisations can access training should be a priority. Investment in online modules to cover the gaps in delivery was suggested as an extra opportunity to skill up this part of the sector.

 

 

Children and young people’s engagement with organisations

Recommendation

Provide extra guidance to organisations on how to more deeply engage children and young people in service design and delivery

VCOSS members report challenges in promoting deeper engagement of children and young people with organisations. Challenges include making the process fair and accessible, accounting for different ages, and the ability of children and young people to input into policy and process design. Some organisations report this has been easier in individual programs than organisation-wide.

Other VCOSS members note the standards have strengthened their engagement with children, who now have a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities. This has included actively asking young people if they are aware of their rights, or creating an audit tool to measure progress. Simple language about child safe standards that children understand is included on some organisation’s websites. Providing accessible and easy to read versions of the standards has also helped promote engagement.

Some organisations feel the standards inhibit their ability to engage with young people. For example, workers are no longer transporting clients to and from appointments, which was previously an opportunity to engage the young person in a non-threatening way. One organisation noted their workers felt they couldn’t “high five” a child, or put their arm around them to comfort them when distressed, impeding relationship building.

VCOSS notes the Department of Health and Human Services is currently conducting a project determining how government can better value, hear and act on the voices of children and young people.[4] This process could also provide ideas and insight to community sector organisations to promote deeper engagement with children and young people in service design and delivery, by highlighting best practice and examples of innovative practice.

Working with regulatory bodies and the Commission for Children and Young People

Guidance, monitoring, compliance and enforcement of standards

Recommendations

  • Better communicate to organisations the Commission for Children and Young People’s roles in education, support, monitoring, compliance and enforcement
  • Increase the Commission for Children and Young People’s resources to better support organisations to be child safe
  • Develop and publish a list of registered training providers on child safe standards
  • Consider opportunities to better streamline information sharing between government agencies
  • Publicly report how standards improve outcomes for children and young people
  • Reduce regulatory and reporting overlap between regulatory bodies and the Commission for Children and Young People using the “report once, use often” principle

VCOSS members report they did receive sufficient education and guidance on the standards, although the materials, including videos and documents, produced by the CCYP and Department of Health and Human Services were agreed to be high quality.

It was noted the CCYP has supportive staff whom workers can call with questions about the standards. However, people were concerned that many workers might not know about the general enquiry line.[5]

People don’t know the extent of support available from the CCYP. (VCOSS member)

Greater publicity of the CCYP’s role in education and support for compliance with the standards should be considered.

Given the likely increase in the CCYP’s work, consideration should also be given to increasing resourcing. VCOSS understands a significant portion of the CCYP’s resources is spent on the reportable conduct scheme. Directing resources to education and compliance around child safe standards, focusing on prevention, will help support organisations to achieve their child safe objectives.

Members also reported uncertainty about the CCYP’s compliance and auditing functions. We understand the CCYP currently focuses on working closely with organisations to improve compliance. However some VCOSS members noted that a stronger approach and preparedness by CCYP to use its compliance powers may be needed, particularly where organisations have not demonstrated a commitment to implement the standards or remedy issues.

Members also reported being unclear about responsibility for providing child safe training, and appropriate trainers an organisation can approach. Organisations observed some training is currently provided by CCYP, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, Australian Childhood Foundation and Child Wise, but other providers may also exist. Members queried whether a list of registered providers can be made available, who are audited for consistent quality. Developing and publishing a list of registered training providers on child safe standards can help organisations access the right training.

Organisations report challenges in not having a central reporting system for monitoring, compliance and enforcement. They consider this a barrier to reporting and sharing of information between government agencies, leading to duplication in reporting. Current regulatory oversight of standards involves duplication, across regulatory bodies and CCYP.  VCOSS members view that government agencies should be able to better share information with other agencies.

Two regulatory bodies are extremely confusing. Make it explicit but have it in one place. (VCOSS member)

Dealing with the Commission and DHHS was a bad process. A staff member’s complaint was raised directly to the Commission, Commission raised directly with DHHS. Commission and DHHS agreed without the organisation to do a full assessment against the Child Safe Standards and didn’t really deal with the actual complaint. Organisation reported to DHHS, DHHS reported to Commission and back through the same process. Over 12 months later the organisation hasn’t heard back from the Commission regarding the status of the complaint or the outcome. (VCOSS member)

Some VCOSS members believe the absence of a link between the child safe standards and the Human Services Standards is a missed opportunity for streamlining compliance.

Other organisations also reported the absence of a feedback loop for standards compliance, limited accountability, and no feedback for people making reports. Organisations are also unclear whether the standards are improving outcomes for children and young people.

VCOSS members were of the view that more could be done in funding agreements to help promote compliance with the standards. For example, better assessment of evidence of compliance could be included in funding agreements.

Funding agreement can be a more powerful tool in promoting compliance (VCOSS member)

Organisations generally supported the CCYP’s role as the independent regulator. But ensuring these bodies more effectively work together is critical, particularly given that DHHS has more limited powers to compel organisations to provide information.

Publicly reporting how standards are improving outcomes for children and young people through a regular, accessible ‘report card’ can help organisations to see their benefits. Developing and providing tools to organisations to monitor and evaluate their own implementation could also help organisations to identify areas of risk and that require further attention.

 

 

Towards a nationally harmonised approach to child safe standards

Opportunities and challenges in aligning with the National Principles

Recommendations

  • Support national harmonisation, and incorporate the National Principles into Victoria’s Child Safe Standards
  • Update Victoria’s Child Safe Standards to refer to children and young people
  • Develop new training materials for organisations on the updated standards.
  • Consider lessons from initial implementation including ensuring effective engagement from senior leadership, and developing specific strategies to support a smooth transition

Victoria’s standards currently include three cross-cutting principles that organisations must comply with in implementing the seven standards. These principles include:

  • Principle 1 – promoting the cultural safety of Aboriginal children
  • Principle 2 – promoting the cultural safety of children from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • Principle 3 – promoting the safety of children with a disability

These principles have raised awareness of more vulnerable cohorts amongst staff, and the need to better tailor communication and engagement with children that have diverse needs. Some VCOSS members reported difficulty in applying the principles given the lack of prescriptiveness, and have struggled with promoting accessibility.

VCOSS members consider other cohorts could be included in the principles. These include young people with lived experience of mental health difficulties, LGBTIQ+ and young people that have experienced trauma and abuse, such as young people in out of home care. VCOSS members were of the view that if Victoria’s principles are retained, the inclusion of a specific principle that focusses on LGBTIQ+ children should be added as a minimum.

In this regard, VCOSS notes that Principle 4 in the National Principles includes a specific focus on diversity and states: Equity is upheld and diverse needs respected in policy and practice.  Under key action areas, this principle specifically recognizes all of the three cohorts identified in Victoria’s standards as well as those who are unable to live at home and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children and young people. VCOSS members would support incorporation of Principle 4 into Victoria’s standards.

There are three National Principles Victoria does not have in its standards.

  • Principle 3 – Families and communities are informed, and involved in promoting child safety and wellbeing

VCOSS members felt that in order to do Victoria’s standards well, organisations should already be engaging families. By working with families and carers and sharing what professionals are doing, this is likely to help bring them along on the journey. Some organisations, however, reported concerns that an extra requirement about family engagement could seem too onerous. However, with the right level of support, organisations are likely to embrace this new standard.

  • Principle 8 – Physical and online environments promote safety and wellbeing while minimizing the opportunity for children and young people to be harmed

VCOSS members report growing awareness of the role of the online environment in children and young people’s lives, and the risks of cyber bullying. One in 10 young people experience cyber bullying every few weeks.[6] Bullying at school is also a significant issue for many young people. Members consider that incorporation of principle 8 into Victoria’s standards would help highlight this as an area of risk for organisations.

  • Principle 9 – Implementation of the national child safe principles is regularly reviewed and improved

VCOSS members support incorporating this principle and its focus on organisation’s continuously reviewing and improving their implementation is useful, particularly at a leadership level and for Boards. It helps ensure it is not a “one off” exercise, but remains ongoing.

VCOSS members broadly support incorporating the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations into Victoria’s standards. For members that operate across different states, national consistency was considered a large benefit as it allows a single set of policies and training material to be developed and delivered to staff. Other benefits identified include helping address the problem of offenders moving across the country and supporting greater community engagement around the issue of child safety.

In considering incorporation of the National Principles, VCOSS members were keen to maintain existing standards. For example, there was strong support for standard 7 and its emphasis on promoting children’s empowerment and participation. This standard should not be lost as part of any reform.

Members also reported that standard 6 (strategies to identify and reduce or remove risks of child abuse) doesn’t have a direct equivalent in the National Principles and that this is an important standard to keep.

The National Principles also refer specifically to young people, and VCOSS members were supportive of Victoria’s standards referring to both children and young people.

Incorporation of the National Principles into Victoria’s standards also provides an opportunity for organisations to review and update their policies. Given the challenges identified by organisations in initial implementation, it would be useful if training materials and additional support is made available to organisations. As part of the next wave of implementation, members were keen to build on what Victoria already has and ensure a smooth transition. This is particularly important given that Victoria is already ahead of other states in having developed its standards and the reportable conduct scheme. VCOSS notes that the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has recently released practical tools and resources to support organisations to implement the National Principles.[7] These include:

  • The Introductory self-assessment tool for organisations which will help organisations consider their current child safe practices and areas for improvement
  • The Child Safety and Wellbeing Policy template that addresses the ten National Principles
  • The Example Code of Conduct that organisations can adapt to set out expected standards of behaviour when engaging with children and young people
  • The Charter of Commitment to children and young people template which would be developed in consultation with children and young people in the organisation
  • The Checklist for online safety, developed with the Office of the Safety Commissioner that assists organisations to consider potential safeguarding risks and aspects of online safety to better protect children and young people.
  • The Guide for parents and carers helps parents and carers to think about how an organisation operates and to consider its safety and wellbeing arrangements for children.

In addition, VCOSS notes that the AHRC is developing e-learning tools for each of the National Principles. While these are useful, given our recommendations that Victoria retains its standards and moves towards incorporating the National Principles, we would recommend that new materials be developed to help support organisations during the transition. Specifically, updating the practical tools and resources created by the AHRC would benefit organisations as it would provide one set of materials that they can use to support implementation.

[1] Australian Human Rights Commission, Child Safe Organisations, Child Safe Organisations National Principles, https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/childrens-rights/projects/child-safe-organisations

[2] Victorian State Government, Review of Victoria’s Child Safe Standards, Issues paper, November 2018.

[3] ABC News, Background Briefing – The family trap: how the Royal Commission is missing many abuse cases, 11 August 2013

[4] Department of Health and Human Services, Voices of the Child

[5] Commission for Children and Young People, What can I report to the Commission, https://ccyp.vic.gov.au/child-safety/what-can-i-report-to-the-commission/

[6] Alannah & Madeline Foundation, How to stop cyber bullying, https://www.amf.org.au/bullying-advice/bullying-for-parents/how-to-stop-cyber-bullying/reference

[7] Australian Human Rights Commission, Child safe organisations, https://childsafe.humanrights.gov.au/