Child Safe Recruitment Strategies – Beyond A Working With Children Check

If you work in HR or create organisational recruitment policies for people working with children, you’ll of course, already be very familiar with Working With Children Checks or the equivalent for your state throughout Australia that are put in place to protect children.

Creating a Child Safe organisation requires time and effort, which can sometimes be difficult if you are pressed for resources or urgently hiring. However it is vital to prioritise vetting and hiring processes to reflect child safety principles if your organisation works with children, young people, or vulnerable individuals.

The findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have reinforced the responsibility of organisations to keep children safe. Constant media coverage of high-profile cases of child abuse has highlighted how imperative the hiring process is when protecting children and young people and how far Australia has to go in implementing the National Principles for Child Safe organisations. Recruiting people who are suitable to work with children is a vital early safeguard when protecting children and vulnerable people that your organisation may work with.

While a Working With Children Check is essential, it’s only a small part of the bigger picture when assessing suitability for working with children and young people. Our team has helped many Australian organisations implement recruitment strategies that prioritise the wellbeing of young people, and this article will look at some ways to ensure that Child Safe standards are not only met but exceeded.

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Creating a Child Safe Organisation Takes More Than An Online Check

In Australia, a Working With Children Check is a minimum requirement for recruiting people to work with children and young people. Whilst Australian authorities work hard to share information and provide a clear view of a person’s suitability to work with children, it’s vital to create your own organisational policies to cross-check a candidate’s suitability for a role of trust.

The Australian Crime Intelligence Commission (ACIC) has clear guidelines for Working With Children Checks, which you can view on their website.

They also list the relative industry bodies that issue checks for each state and territory. Each state and territory has its own guidelines, which define the minimum requirements to work with children and issue information through state and territory application screening processes.

Once an applicant has applied, their details are checked against national databases. If an application is approved, these checks are granted in the form of an ID card to the applicant, similar to Working With Vulnerable People Checks.

What Does A Working with Children Check Show?

Unlike a police check, WWCCs look at different factors that are indicative of someone’s suitability to work with children – which includes open matters that have not been finalised and charges that are pending, under investigation or where a person has not been convicted.

Exemptions do exist, and each state has different guidelines. Issues have arisen over time that have seen people exempted incorrectly or not identified as a risk due to information-sharing gaps. Please review the links below for more information on state or territory legislation relative to your organisation.

Australian Capital Territory
Access Canberra –Working with Vulnerable People

New South Wales
Office of the Children’s Guardian

Northern Territory
Northern Territory Government

Queensland Government Department of Justice and Attorney-General –Blue Card Services

South Australia
Department for Communities and Social Inclusion

Department of Justice

Justice and Community Safety

Western Australia
Department of Communities

Child Safe Recruitment Handshake

Exemptions – Why Child Safe Organisations Need To Look More Closely At Exempted Roles

While the Working With Children Check (or equivalent) is necessary for many roles, every state has a list of exemptions. While these exemptions have been created for practicality and on a common sense basis, it’s crucial to be aware of people attached to your organisation who have an exemption.

While most of these employees and volunteers are likely no risk to children working with your organisation, it’s essential to be aware that there are sexual offenders and predators who know these laws and guidelines, too and can take advantage of gaps in legislation. For most organisations, asking for Working With Children Check or the equivalent state based check for people who may be exempt is acceptable and generally will be received with understanding by volunteers, students or employees.

Volunteers, not-for-profits, and students can access free or heavily discounted checks in many states, making them a sensible precaution even if an exemption is possible.

Exemptions vary from state to state, but can include:

  •  Those under 18
  •  People visiting the state for a short time and will be working with children for less than a specific time frame (for instance, under a month in NSW)
  • Family or close relations of children they employ, including parents, spouses, partners, siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents
  • Parents or close relatives helping with school or extra-curricular activities that their children attend
  • Students of any age on clinical health placement
  • Workers who work with or manage other employees who are under 18
  • Incidental working with children roles – visiting schools or providing trades or services

As you can see, there are many exemptions for Working With Children checks, which is another reason HR, managers and service procurement roles need to look more deeply at their organisation’s overall child safety procedures.

Who Is Prohibited From Working With Children?

Once again, each state has a different policy, but generally, a person cannot obtain a WWCC or the state based equivalent if:

  • They have been convicted or an adverse Reportable Conduct Scheme finding has been made against a person of a sexual offence against a child
  • Any child sex or sexual abuse offences, including material offences
  • Violent crime convictions (regardless of the age of the victim)
  • They are subject to orders that relate to sexual offences

This does not stop people from employing fraudulent methods of obtaining a WWCC, and it also may not be helpful if they have not been investigated or charged.

While these are an excellent vetting resource for employers and organisations with volunteers working with children, it’s vital to do your checks as thoroughly as possible and understand that Working with Children Checks have limitations.


Child Safe Recruitment Child Drawing

Child Safe Recruitment Strategies – Moving Past the Basics

Child safety is the cornerstone of any organisation working with children and young people. Implementing thorough recruitment strategies goes beyond being a legal and compliance requirement; it’s a profound ethical obligation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the most vulnerable members of our society. It’s also imperative to create physical and online environments designed to meet children’s safety and wellbeing needs.

Reinforcing Child Safe recruitment involves creating an organisational culture that does more than tick the box. It’s about thoroughly vetting your staff and volunteers to ensure that you keep young people safe.

Child Safe Environments Require More Than Meeting Compliance Checks

A commitment to safeguarding children from harm, abuse, and exploitation should always be a number one priority of EVERY organisation and business working with children and young people – not an afterthought. This commitment should be woven into the fabric of organisational policies, procedures, and culture.

Creating A Culture Of Speaking Up

In many instances when matters of child sexual abuse arise within an organisation, other staff or parents will reflect that ‘they had a feeling something wasn’t right’ or that they knew more than they may have spoken about.

This can happen for several reasons, and it’s often because sharing that you have concerns about someone working with children can feel like allegations are being made falsely if there is no direct evidence. Levelling any information like this could seriously affect someone’s career or personal life, which is why some hesitate to raise concerns.

Having said this, as a Child Safe organisation, it is imperative to have safety mechanisms built in to assess any concerns raised thoroughly without damaging someone’s reputation. Encourage all staff, volunteers, and others associated with the organisation (parents, carers, and children) to speak freely about their concerns and offer anonymous and discreet options for sharing concerns.

This can be in the form of a specific feedback phone number, email or suggestions box. Make it straightforward on intake (of new employees, volunteers, and families using the services) that your organisation is a Child Safe Organisation and that you encourage feedback on any concerns, even if they are made privately. Tell them how and where to share feedback, and let them know how they will be addressed and acted upon.

This encourages others to speak up and allows a community-driven approach to creating and maintaining a Child Safe organisation. If concerns are raised within your organisation, they must be taken seriously (whether accurate or not) and communicated with relevant authorities.

Child-Related Work and Working with Children Checks

All job advertisements should clearly state the organisation’s commitment to child safety to ensure that potential applicants are aware of the organisation’s culture of child safety and deter those who are not suitable to work with children.

Thoroughly assessing resumes, references and having an employee obtain or verify a WWCC is an indispensable first step with hiring. These checks serve as a critical screening process and evaluate an individual’s history and suitability for working with children – but they don’t always tell the whole story.

Ask questions, and lots of them, when you check references. Look at social media profiles and get a feel for the person being hired. Use questions that move past a yes or no answer, like ‘How would you describe this person’s interactions with children?’ and ‘What made you decide to hire them?’. This gives space for people to expand on the picture, which helps to inform your decision. Consider your recruitment policies having an obligation on applicants to declare any prior child safety concerns and investigations – such a step will deter unsuitable people and will also encourage full disclosure at the outset of the recruitment period process.

Selection Criteria and Suitability

Job descriptions should include specific child safety selection criteria, focusing on factors such as experience, understanding of child safety, and a commitment to maintaining a child-safe environment. Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to ask for examples, put forward scenarios and assess the character of the person you are interviewing.

It’s also essential to go on both facts and feelings. Someone may check out on paper brilliantly but may not feel right. Use both of these gauges to measure suitability, and consider the ‘If in doubt, leave it out’ concept if something isn’t sitting right or there is any risk that the person will not contribute to a culture of child safety.

Never Make Hiring Decisions Out Of Desperation To Fill A Role

Sometimes, recruitment can be deeply challenging due to a lack of strong candidates including where there are staff shortages or shortages of qualified people that suit a role. It’s always worth considering the bigger picture and the damage that hiring the wrong person can cause. Think outside of the square and see if you can come up with some creative recruitment strategies that open a pool of suitable and child-safe candidates. We often conduct child safety investigations where an unsuitable person has been hired out of desperation to fill the role, which ends in devastating consequences.

Responsibilities of Employees and Volunteers

Clearly outline responsibilities regarding child safety from the very beginning. This includes a commitment to prompt reporting of concerns, engaging in ongoing education, and actively preventing and responding to child abuse. Build these into your checks, performance reviews, KPIS and employment contracts. Ensure there is a well considered induction and ongoing training program for all persons who work with children.

Start new staff with trusted members of your existing staff, and keep a close eye on their actions and performance. Have people work together, and consider other measures and safeguards to prevent placing children at risk of harm. A child-focused approach should be taken with every piece of policy or procedure that an organisation implements.

Child Safe Recruitment Child in Glasses

Advanced Child Safe Recruitment Strategies

Moving beyond the basics, organisations should consider the following advanced strategies to fortify their Child Safe recruitment processes.

1. Advanced Interview Techniques:

Enhance your interview process to address child safety specifically. Pose situational questions that assess a candidate’s ability to identify and respond to concerns related to child safety.

2. Performance Contracts with Child Safety Clauses:

Include child safety clauses in employment contracts. Clearly outline expectations regarding child safety responsibilities, reporting procedures, and adherence to organisational child protection policies.

3. Advanced Reference Checks – Who Have They Listed? Are There Gaps?

Go beyond traditional reference checks by probing a candidate’s history of working with children. Inquire about their approach to child safety and understand the organisation’s child protection policies. Question why they have not provided their most recent supervisor, or a person of authority at a previous organisation. Often referees who are colleagues as opposed to supervisors, may not be privy to information that leadership is aware of and therefore their reference may not be reliable.

Advanced Engagement of Contractors

Extend child safety considerations to contractors and external service providers. Develop clear guidelines and expectations for contractors regarding their responsibilities in maintaining a safe environment for children.

Inclusive Diversity in Recruitment – Cultural Suitability Matters

Promote diversity in your recruitment process. Recognise that children come from diverse backgrounds, and having a team reflecting this diversity fosters an inclusive and culturally safe environment. Sexual abuse is only one type of abuse that can profoundly affect a person, and mental, cultural, emotional and physical safety must be prioritised.

Create A Clear Code of Conduct

Develop a clear child safety code of conduct that explicitly outlines expectations for staff, volunteers, and contractors concerning their behaviour and interactions with children.

Make what is and isn’t acceptable very clear. Put signs around your organisation with your policy. Add a clear way to report (anonymously if needed) in as many places as possible that is visible to staff, families and children.

Offer Advanced Training Programs

Offer advanced training programs that go beyond primary child protection education. Provide in-depth training on recognising and responding to grooming behaviours, understanding the impact of trauma on children, and fostering a Child Safe culture within the organisation.

Ensuring Compliance and Creating Ongoing Improvement

Behind every good Child Safe recruiter, there also needs to be strong, detailed policies and procedures that back up Child Safe hiring choices.
To ensure the effectiveness of advanced Child Safe recruitment strategies, organisations must…

1. Regularly Review and Update Policies

Policies and procedures related to child safety should be regularly reviewed and updated to align with emerging best practices and legislative changes. Keep your team updated, and make sure everyone is on the same page.

2. Monitor and Evaluate

Implement a system for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of Child Safe recruitment processes. Regularly assess the effectiveness of strategies, identify areas for improvement, and make adjustments as needed.

3. Continuous Education

Provide continuous education for staff, volunteers, and contractors. Child safety is an evolving field, and staying informed about new developments and challenges is crucial for maintaining a high standard of child protection. It’s also vital to ensure that online environments promote safety – so if they make up part of your organisation, make sure they are also safe for children and young people.

An Evolving, Holistic Approach to Child Safe Recruitment Is Necessary

Moving your recruitment strategies beyond the basics requires a holistic and proactive approach to succeed and become ingrained in culture. By incorporating advanced, thorough techniques and fostering ongoing education, organisations can create environments where the safety and wellbeing of children and young people are at the forefront.

Committing to and promoting child safety should not be seen as a mere compliance requirement but as an integral part of an organisation’s identity and values. In doing so, we collectively contribute to a society where every child is provided with the safety and security they deserve.

This is general information only. Please contact us for expert legal advice that considers your unique personal situation before making any decisions based on this article.

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