Child Safety Reporting Obligations – Safeguarding Essentials

Every individual who is concerned that a child has been exposed to or subjected to physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse, or neglect has a moral responsibility to report this belief to authorities, as Child Safety is everyone’s responsibility.

Mandatory Reporting

There are a number of professions where reporting concerns for a child’s wellbeing is a legal requirement. These professionals are called Mandatory Reporters, and their role in relation to reporting child abuse is vital to safeguarding children and young people and alerting government authorities to concerns.

If, in the course of a mandatory reporter’s role, they form a belief on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of protection from physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse or neglect they are legally required to make a report to relevant authorities as soon as practicable. The legal obligations in relation to mandatory reporting vary from state to state, however, all mandatory reporters are required to make reports to their respective state’s child protection authority.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) released their final report on 15 December 2017. The Royal Commission made a large number of recommendations in Volume 7 in relation to reporting obligations. The Royal Commission recommended that each state and territory introduce mandatory reporting guidelines and achieve consistency in mandatory reporter groups across the country.

In Victoria, the list of mandatory reporters under section 182 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic) continues to grow. Currently, medical professionals such as doctors, nurses and midwives, school staff such as teachers, principals and counsellors, police, early childhood workers, youth justice workers, psychologists, religious ministry and out-of-home carers are all legally required to report concerns for child abuse to authorities. The list of mandatory reporters for each state and territory differs, as does the legal obligation to report, and consequences for failing to report. States and territories are continually implementing and amending their respective legislation. In Victoria, a mandatory reporter may be fined up to $1,850 as a result of failing to comply with their obligations.

Other Reporting Obligations

On 13 November 2013, the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations released a Final Report (Betrayal of Trust Report). The Betrayal of Trust Report made a number of recommendations which casued Victoria to implement new offences for failing to ensure the safety and wellbeing of a child.

While not all states have implemented the recommendations to legislate responsibility on individuals and organisations to report concerns for a child experiencing or being likely to experience sexual harm, some states, such as Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales, have paved the way for other states and territories to create similar legal responsibilities.

Failure to Protect

One of the legislative amendments arising from the Betrayal of Trust Report was the introduction of the Failure to Protect offence. This offence applies when there is a substantial risk that a child who is under 16 years-old and is under the care, supervision or authority of a relevant organisation will experience sexual harm from an adult within the organisation. It is an offence for a person with authority to be aware of the risk but fail to reduce or remove the risk and can result in a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.

Relevant organisations include religious bodies including churches, education and care settings, out-of-home care services, community services, medical services, government agencies, councils, sporting groups, charities and youth organisations.

Failure to Disclose

In addition, the Betrayal of Trust Report resulted in legislative amendments in Victoria to introduce the Failure to Disclose Offence. This offence applies if any adult has a reasonable belief that another adult has sexually offended against a child who is under 16 years-old does not report this belief to authorities. It is an offence to not report these concerns to police and can result in a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment.

What steps should Organisations take to comply with Reporting Obligations?

Organisations with mandatory reporting requirements must have policies and procedures in place to ensure staff are aware of their legal responsibilities and obligations and how to make a report to child protection or police when required. Appropriate training, guidance and support is a vital component of increasing staff capacity and awareness in this regard.

If an organisation or an individual within an organisation is concerned a child is experiencing harm in the organisation, in their home environment or in the community, they should gather information and make enquiries to assist the government authorities as required, however it is not that person’s role to investigate an allegation or make findings. All conversations and any action taken should be documented so that information can be shared with relevant authorities. It is also the responsibility of staff members to ensure that a child’s immediate safety needs are met.

How can Safe Space Legal help?

The team at Safe Space Legal have extensive experience working with organisations to ensure they are meeting their child safety obligations and can support organisations by providing:

  • Drafting of 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;
  • Providing training on legal obligations, duty of care and child safety;
  • Conducting investigations which are compliant with relevant state and territory 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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