The Australian Child Maltreatment Study

How to Safeguard Children from Harm: Part 2

The Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS) followed 8,503 Australians across five years to chart the long-term impact of exposure to physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, and exposure to family violence. The prevalence of abuse and neglect experienced by children is alarmingly high, with four out of 10 children being exposed and subjected to maltreatment throughout their childhood. No child should have their sense of safety and security compromised by an adult entrusted to ensure their safety and wellbeing through the provision of care and supervision. Children have the human right to feel safe and be safe, including when they are away from home.

Part 1 of our article on the The Australian Child Maltreatment Study ( outlines the findings and recommendation of the ACMS. The ACMS found that the long-term impact of exposure to trauma led to higher rates of engagement in risk-taking activities and substance use, poorer physical, psychological socioeconomic outcomes, and higher levels of interaction with emergency service providers such as hospitals and police.

The ACMS recognised that changes must occur at a systemic, organisational and individual level to ensure that children are proactively protected from harm. The ACMS also recommended that if children are exposed to harm, children receive a prompt, appropriate and considerate response which ensures their immediate safety and wellbeing needs are met, and the long-term impact of exposure to harm is mitigated.

Child maltreatment includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and exposure to domestic violence.

Safeguarding Children from Harm

Organisations play a vital role in ensuring children are protected from maltreatment. There are a number of ways organisations can ensure that they provide a safe environment for children and mitigate risks of harm.


Compliance with the Child Safe Standards

The National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (National Principles) have been endorsed by all states and territories across Australia and some states have enacted them into legislation. All organisations should comply with the National Principles, and compliance with the respective state Child Safe Standards is mandatory in some states. The National Principles are the minimum expectations an organisation is required to adhere to support the organisation to provide a safe environment for children and young people. Organisations must also be familiar with their state obligations. For instance in Victoria there are currently 11 Child Safe Standards (Standards) in operation, and the Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) has a wide range of powers to ensure enforcement with the Standards.

Adherence to the National Principles, and respective mandatory Standards, ensures that organisations have child safety embedded into their culture. The National Principles also ensure a culturally safe environment for children and young people, organisations empower children and young people to understand their rights, children and young people are well informed about policies and practices, and that their unique diversity is respected. Organisations who adhere to the National Principles ensure their policies and practices promote child safety and that their employees are properly equipped to keep children and young people safe.

Policies and Procedures

All organisations working with children should communicate a clear public commitment to child safety and ensure that they implement at minimum a Child Safety Policy, Reporting Procedure and Code of Conduct to ensure that staff working within the organisation, children and the wider community are aware of their child safety obligations.

Risk Mitigation

Organisations have a duty of care to protect children from maltreatment and have a responsibility to mitigate risk which is reasonably foreseeable. Organisations are required to conduct frequent risk assessments and take steps to mitigate risk of harm to children. Risk mitigation is an essential component of safeguarding and not only proactively ensures children are protected from harm, but also ensures that if harm occurs, the root cause is identified and eliminated so that such harm cannot occur again.

Training and Support

Organisations should strive to ensure all employees have the knowledge and skills to mitigate risk, keep children safe and respond appropriately when an allegation of abuse is made. Child safety training is a vital component of child safeguarding and builds employee capacity and awareness of current issues.

Training and support is a key component in supporting employees to feel equipped to identify indicators of harm, to talk to a child who may have experienced abuse or who has made an allegation of abuse, to respond confidently to an allegation of abuse, and to understand any legal obligations which need to be met when an allegation is made.

Complaints Mechanisms

Organisations should implement policies and procedures which clearly outline the steps and processes which are required to ensure an organisation is compliant with its legal obligations to respond to allegations of abuse and harm. Employees should have a thorough understanding of all policies, procedures and codes of conduct so that they can ensure ongoing compliance with any legal and moral obligations.

Organisations should have complaints mechanisms in place which are easily accessible to children and young people in a format which makes a child or young person empowered to understand their rights and know that their complaint will be taken seriously and responded to appropriately. Complaints mechanisms should provide clear pathways for a complaint to be made and set out the next steps so that a child or young person feels confident and understands what will happen with their complaint.

Reporting Obligations

Organisations have a number of different legal obligations when it becomes aware of abuse which has occurred. Depending on the allegation, an organisation may have a legal obligation to report to Child Protection, police or other regulators such as the Department of Education or Working with Children Check departments. Organisations also have a legal obligation to report allegations of abuse to the relevant state authority under the Reportable Conduct Scheme.

Investigating Allegations of Abuse

Unfortunately, no matter how stringent an organisation may be with respect to child safety, critical incidents may still occur. When an allegation of abuse is made, organisations must ensure they respond promptly and appropriately. Investigations should only be completed by a qualified specialist investigator with appropriate training in childhood trauma and trauma-informed practice.

Organisations should gather as much information as possible to support an investigation and ensure they share information with relevant authorities including police, child protection and other regulators. Information gathering and record keeping are important processes which not only support a child or young person to feel valued and heard, but also demonstrates that the organisation is taking its duty of care seriously and complying with its various obligations.

Four out of 10 children being exposed and subjected to maltreatment throughout their childhood

How can Safe Space Legal help?

The team at Safe Space Legal have extensive experience working with organisations to safeguard against child maltreatment and provide the following services:

  • Drafting policies, procedures, and codes of conduct which meet the Child Safe Standard requirements;
  • Providing legal advice on risk mitigation and conducting root cause analysis to address and respond to incidents of harm;
  • Provide training and support to organisations to ensure employees are aware indicators of harm, as well as their legal and moral obligations to respond;
  • Ensuring complaint and reporting processes are compliant with an organisation’s legal obligations;
  • Providing assistance and support to respond to allegations of child abuse in line with legal reporting obligations; and
  • Conducting investigations which are compliant with relevant Reportable Conduct Schemes.

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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