Child Safety in Western Australia: The Reportable Conduct Scheme


On 15 December 2017, the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) made a number of recommendations, including recommendations that each state and territory develop a Reportable Conduct Scheme. The Royal Commission recommended that the Scheme include an independent oversight body with the power to scrutinise organisations, monitor investigations, conduct investigations, capacity build and engage in public reporting. It was also recommended that the Scheme provide clear requirements for obligatory reporting, definitions of reportable conduct, definitions of employees and protections for reporters.

On 1 January 2023, the Reportable Conduct Scheme in Western Australia commenced (Scheme). This is a significant development in child safety and safeguarding in Western Australia. It follows other states who already have Reportable Conduct Schemes in operation. The Ombudsman Western Australia office is the independent body administering the Scheme.

An Overview of Reportable Conduct

The Scheme provides that any person may make a report to the Ombudsman if they form a belief based on reasonable grounds that:

  1. an employee with the care, supervision or authority over children has or may have engaged in reportable conduct at work or outside of work
  2. an employee with the care, supervision or authority over children has been convicted for a child abuse offence.

The Scheme requires organisations to notify the Ombudsmen of reportable allegations within 7 working days of the head of the organisation becoming aware of the allegation or a conviction.

A reportable allegation under the Scheme is defined as ‘any information that leads a person to form the belief on reasonable grounds that an employee of an organisation covered by the Scheme has engaged in reportable conduct, whether or not the conduct is alleged to have occurred in the course of the employee’s employment’. Reportable allegations also include historical conduct of current employees, but not previous employees of an organisation.

The Scheme is gradually being rolled out. The types of reportable conduct currently covered by the Scheme include:

  • sexual offences against, with or in the presence of a child – this includes sexual penetration of a child, indecent dealings with a child, procuring, inciting or encouraging a child to engage in sexual behaviour or an indecent act, and production, distribution or possession of child exploitation material;
  • sexual misconduct against, with or in the presence of a child – this includes inappropriate touching, sharing pornographic images, speaking about sexual acts without a legitimate reason, comments to a child expressing a desire to act in a sexual matter towards them or another child, and grooming behaviour;
  • physical assault against, with or in the presence of a child – this includes applying physical force to a child without lawful justification or excuse or causing a child to apprehend the immediate and unlawful use of physical force against them; and
  • other prescribed offences as conduct which is reportable – this includes any conviction for an offense of a sexual nature committed against, with or in the presence of a child. The definition of ‘conviction’ includes a court making a finding of guilt or a conviction, a court accepting a guilty plea, a court granting an acquittal on the basis the accused is of unsound mind, or a spent conviction.

From 1 January 2024, the Scheme will expand to include other types of reportable conduct including significant neglect of a child, and any behaviour that causes significant emotional or psychological harm to a child.

Who is Included in the Scheme?

The definition of ‘employee’ under the Scheme is broad and includes paid employees, volunteers, contractors, ministers of religion, carers under the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (Western Australia) such as foster carers and kinship carers, family day care educators and assistants.

Organisations covered by the Scheme are any organisations which have the care, supervision or authority over children and includes government departments, child protection and out-of-home care services, childcare and education providers, health care providers, and justice and detention services. From 1 January 2024, the organisations within scope of the Scheme will expand to include accommodation services, religious institutions and disability services.

Organisational Obligations

Under the Scheme, the head of organisation is required to notify the Ombudsman of an allegation or conviction against an employee within seven working days of becoming aware of the allegation or conviction. The head of organisation is then responsible for ensuring that the allegation is properly investigated, and must provide a report to the Ombudsman on the outcome of the investigation as soon as practicable.

What should organisations be doing in light of these changes?

Organisations operating in Western Australia must ensure they are acting now to ensure that they are compliant with the Scheme. We recommend that organisations should ensure:

  • Appropriate complaints processes are set up which are fully compliant with the Scheme
  • Policies and procedures are up to date to reflect the new obligations under the Scheme
  • Consider outsourcing child safety investigations to ensure that appropriately qualified investigators with experience in child safety conduct investigations in compliance with the Scheme
  • Training is provided to staff in relation to the operation of the Scheme
How can Safe Space Legal Help?

The team at Safe Space Legal have extensive child safety and safeguarding experience. We have worked with many organisations across Australia to ensure they are complying with their obligations under respective reportable conduct schemes and frequently conduct independent child safety investigations.

Safe Space Legal provides the following services to ensure organisations meet their legal obligations:

  • Drafting legally sound child safety policies, procedures and codes of conduct;
  • Support organisations to recognise gaps in policy and/or practice which put it at risk of non-compliance with legal obligations through thorough root cause and gap analyses;
  • Providing training on legal obligations, duty of care, reportable conduct schemes and child safety;
  • Conducting child safety and safeguarding investigations which are compliant with relevant state and territory reportable conduct schemes;
  • Assistance and support to respond to allegations of child abuse including notifications under reportable conduct schemes; and
  • Provide advice on risk mitigation.

Contact [email protected] or call 03 9124 7321 to organise a complementary discussion in relation to your organisation’s child safety and safeguarding needs.

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