Children with Disability: Embedding the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations

Recommendations Arising out of the Children and Young People with Disability Australia Consultation Report

In 2022, the National Office for Child Safety commissioned a project with Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) for the purpose of developing safety resources to support organisations who have care, supervision and authority of children and young people with disability. Phase one of the project, looked at how to appropriately embed the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (National Principles) into these resources has recently been completed and the consultation report was released on 18 April 2023 (Consultation Report). The CYDA consulted with children and young people with disability, families and organisations and made recommendations to improve embedding the National Principles into resources and practice.

CYDA’s Research and Consultation

CYDA found three main gaps which should be considered in any future resource development:

  1. Disability is rarely mentioned in the existing National Principles resources and there are no existing resources which implement all National Principles to encompass the needs of children and young people with disability.
  2. Existing resources were lengthy reports and documents which are difficult for staff and volunteers to absorb and translate into practice.
  3. Most resources do not provide practical tools to support staff and volunteers to implement the National Principles. CYDA found that resources which provided templates, guidelines and step-by-step guides often did not incorporate any guidance specifically in relation to children and young people with disability.

Challenges and Gaps in Implementing the National Principles

The Report found that organisations faced challenges implementing the National Principles in a meaningful way. Organisations repeatedly stated that funding and resourcing issues created a significant barrier, while staff and volunteers felt that the existing resources did not allow children and young people to balance safety while being able to take risk. Those consulted also felt that accessing resources in a form that could be interpreted and understood by various audiences was difficult and that accessing services and supports which were disability-aware, culturally safe and trauma-informed was equally difficult, which had a significant impact on a child’s capacity to feel safe.

A further challenge was the identified gap in training and staff knowledge to work with and support children and young people with a wide variety of needs. Stakeholders felt that such a lack of adequate training resulted in ignorant and prejudicial practice which impacted the safety of children and young people with disability. Caregivers raised concerns that this information sharing is often left to them and that they are required to fill in knowledge and skills gaps by teaching organisations how to provide safe care for their children. Organisations also found it extremely difficult to find appropriate resources to support employee’s knowledge and skill development to enable them to work safely with children and many raised concerns that employees do not have adequate knowledge of safeguarding policies and practices. Negative experiences like this for consumers was found to impact their overall trust in an organisation and their willingness to engage with services.

Children and young people expressed how important it is to participate in organisation processes and to have access to complaint mechanisms when things go wrong. Those consulted felt there is often no safe, supported or accessible way to raise issues, concerns and complaints and this can leave them with a lack of empowerment and self-determination. They often were not aware of the legal obligations of organisations to provide appropriate complaint mechanisms and did not know what processes and policies were available to support them.

Feedback from Consumers

When consulted, consumers were able to identify ways that they felt the National Principles could be implemented to support the needs of children and young people with disability. This included:

  • Having dedicated well-being and rights workers within an organisation
  • Explaining processes to consumers
  • Engaging in collaborative communication practices
  • Creating community awareness of disability; and
  • Employing people with lived experience.

Many consumers felt that people with lived experience working in an organisation would improve culture and practice and would make children and young people feel safer. Organisations also felt that a consistent approach across organisations, the state and the country is essential to ensure that the National Principles are implemented in a meaningful way to promote safety and ensure compliance.

Findings from the Consultation Report

CYDA found that resources need to be accessible to both organisations and consumers in a variety of means and formats to ensure that people with disability can understand not only the National Principles but their right to safety under the National Principles. CYDA found this could occur by developing a co-design framework which allows consumers to be involved in the development of resources to ensure inclusivity and accessibility. The key messages and recommendations which have come out of the Report highlight the need for a co-design framework to be developed.

Key Messages

CYDA have provided five key messages as a result of the consultation process which need to be understood and implemented to ensure resources embedding the National Principles are successful:

  1. There is a knowledge gap in disability which creates a pattern of prejudice and harmful attitudes which become embedded in organisational culture.
  2. The National Principles have been developed to keep children safe, however, some organisations are not building trust, supporting self-care or attending to a child’s complex and varied needs to help them understand what it means to be safe.
  3. Resources must promote meaningful inclusion based on respect and consideration of a child or young person’s identity outside of disability, by including children and young people with disability in the development of processes and practices of an organisation.
  4. There is a need for greater regulation of the National Principles through transparent complaint processes, systems to share information and stringent recruitment processes to ensure the safety of children and young people with disability.
  5. Small to medium-sized organisations must be able to access resources which allow them to implement the National Principles consistently and in line with larger organisations.


CYDA have made three broad recommendations, which are to be implemented in conjunction with the below key messages:

  1. Resource development should use a co-design framework which shares decision-making power with children and young people with disability as those most affected by the issues at hand, as well as the staff and volunteers working with the children and young people with disability.
  2. Key messages should be fully read so that there is a clear understanding of what issues need to be addressed in order to support organisations working with children and young people to implement the National Principles and promote safety.
  3. Child safety resources should incorporate both the key messages and children and young people’s experiences of the National Principles outlined in the consultation report.

Learnings from the Consultation Report

Organisations have a duty of care to take all reasonable steps to ensure that children and young people with disability are safe and feel safe when they are under the care, supervision and authority of organisations. Organisations must respond appropriately to incidents of harm and it is essential that organisations have clear and consistent policies and procedures in place to safeguard against harm. It is important for organisations to have transparent practice resources which can be accessed and understood by children and young people, as well their caregivers so that they can feel safe, supported and heard.

Organisations must also understand the unique needs of the children and young people they work with and provide adequate training to staff to help them not only work with children and young people with disability, but also support staff to understand which policies and procedures guide their practice. Skilled staff who have adequate knowledge and skills to work with vulnerable children and young people is extremely important to assist children and young people to feel safe.

How can Safe Space Legal Help?

The team at Safe Space Legal have extensive safeguarding experience and provide the following services to organisations:

  • Providing advice and drafting of child safety policies, procedures and codes of conduct which are compliant with the National Principles;
  • Support organisations to recognise gaps in policy and/or practice which put it at risk of non-compliance with legal obligations;
  • Ensuring that complaints and reporting processes are compliant with legal obligations and relevant Reportable Conduct Schemes;
  • Child safety training;
  • Child safety and safeguarding investigations which are compliant with relevant Reportable Conduct Schemes;
  • Assistance and support to respond to allegations of child abuse including notifications under Reportable Conduct Schemes; and.
  • Root cause analyses following critical incidents

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

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