MODEL SAFE ENVIRONMENT POLICY + PROCEDURE CHECKLIST
This document is an updated version of the Safe Environment Policy Models + Checklist released by LGA in 2005. It has been updated to take account of amendments to the Children’s Protection Act 1993 (SA) which came into effect on 1 January 2007, and new arrangements for certain aged care services funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.
PART ONE – BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT Page 1. INTRODUCTION 1
2. THE SAFE ENVIRONMENT PROJECT 1
3. CHILDREN’S PROTECTION ACT 1993 (SA) 1 3.1 Child Safe Environment Policies and Procedures 3
3.2 Mandatory Reporting 3
3.3 Criminal History Screening 3
4. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND AGEING (CWTH) 4
5. MODEL SAFE ENVIRONMENT FRAMEWORK 5
5.1 Risk Management Review 5
6. SAFE ENVIRONMENT CHECKLIST 6
PART TWO – RESOURCES AND CONTACTS Attachment 1: Model Safe Environment Policy 12
Attachment 2: References and Contacts 17
Attachment 3: Roles and Responsibilities - Examples 18
Attachment 4: Managing the Risks of Abuse 20
Attachment 5: Dealing with Criminal History Information 21
Attachment 6: Child Safe Mandatory Reporting Training Options 22
Members of a Local Government Safe Environment Focus Group have contributed to the development of this document. The contribution of those practitioners has been invaluable, and sincere thanks goes to all those who have participated.
Date Released – November 2007 1. INTRODUCTION The abuse issues raised in recent years in various organisations has very publicly revealed the need for all organisations to be vigilant about creating a safe environment and minimising the risk of harm to children and other vulnerable people in their care.
By demonstrating leadership and ensuring effective policies and procedures are in place, Councils will have a level of confidence that they are taking all steps necessary to provide a safe environment for children and other vulnerable people for whom they have a duty of care responsibility. In addition to children, other vulnerable people could potentially include:
young people (over 18 years of age)
people with a disability (physical, intellectual or a mental illness)
the frail aged
people who experience disadvantage, for example, Aboriginal Australians and new arrived immigrants or refugees.
At first glance, Local Government may not seem a high-risk area for exposure of children and other vulnerable people to a risk of exploitation or abuse. However, increasingly Councils are providing child care services, school holiday programs for children, social and recreational programs for young people, and social and community care options for frail, aged people and people with a disability.
2. SAFE ENVIRONMENT PROJECT The Safe Environment Project was initiated to support Councils in assessing existing policies and good practice approaches aimed at ensuring children and other vulnerable people are protected from harm.
At the outset it is acknowledged that the approach to policy development and good practice approaches will vary from Council to Council. Accordingly, this resource is not intended to be a “one size fits all” template, but rather it is presented as a series of prompts and ideas for Councils to consider as they reflect on current practices and the need to review existing policies, procedures and practices.
In some cases, amendments to existing policies and procedures may be all that is required. In other cases, it may be an opportunity to develop additional policies and good practice approaches.
3. CHILDREN’S PROTECTION ACT 1993 (SA) Amendments to the Children’s Protection Act 1993 (SA) were proclaimed on 31 December 2006.
The amendments arose from A State Government reform program responding to the Layton Child Protection Review, tabled in Parliament on 26 March 2003.The reform program – Keeping Them Safe: the South Australian Government’s Child Protection Reform Program acknowledged the need for a whole of community approach and resulted in amendments through the Children’s Protection (Miscellaneous) Amendment Act 2005 (the Act).
The key principle which underpins the Act is that all children should have a right to feel safe and be safe at all times.
The amendments set out responsibilities for government and non-government organisations (encompassing Local Government Councils) including sporting clubs, churches and religious groups, and volunteer organisations. In summary, the amendments widen the safety net to protect children by:
requiring government and non-government organisations to develop policies and procedures which reflect SA Department for Families and Communities (DFC) principles and Standards to ensure child safe environments;
requiring criminal history police checks for those working with children in prescribed positions; and
extending mandatory reporting obligations to employees and volunteers in religious organisations and organisations that provide sporting or recreational services where there is a suspicion of child abuse .
Section 8 C (3) of the Act provides:
(3) this section applies to an organisation that –
provides health, welfare, education, sporting or recreational, religious or spiritual, child care or residential services whooly or partly for children: and
is a government department, agency or instrumentality or a local government or non-government organisation.”
The Chief Executive Officer of DFC has carriage of the administration of the Act, including the functions of:
developing codes of conduct and principles of good practice for working with children;
providing guidance on the recruitment and supervision of staff in government and non-government organisations who may have contact with children in the course of their employment;
developing and issue of standards in relation to criminal history screening; and
monitoring progress towards child safe environments in the government and non-government sector and to report regularly to the Minister on the subject.
More information about the reform program and legislative amendments can be accessed via www.familiesandcommunities.sa.gov.au. Implementation of the legislative amendments described in this section is to occur as soon as practicable after proclamation (31 December 2006) and before 31 December 2007
DFC Guidelines were not released by the Chief Executive DFC until late October 2007. Accordingly, the Chief Executive DFC accepts this delay in providing guidelines has impeded implementation by 31 December 2007. However, it is expected that as of 31 December 2007, Councils will have taken steps to progress the development of policies and procedures for implementation as soon as practicable. Accordingly, the model policy framework and procedure checklist in this document has been prepared and issued as drafts to enable Councils to progress down this path, and the final document will be updated when DFC endorsed documents become available.
The mandatory reporting requirement will not be new for some Councils, for example where the requirement arises with respect to industry standards, funding criteria, mandatory reporting requirements which were in place prior to the amendments, Office for Youth funded programs, aged care accommodation, and the delivery of home and community care services.
A summary of the relevant amendments to the Children’s Protection Act 1993 (SA) follows.
Child Safe Environment Policy and Procedures
Section 8C(1) of the Act requires Councils to establish policies and procedures for ensuring that:
child safe environments are established and maintained within the organisation; and
appropriate reports of abuse or neglect are made (under Part 4 of the Act).
The policies and procedures must reflect DFC standards, but may vary according to the size, nature and resources of the organisation.
Prior to the amendments, mandatory reporting was required by
health professionals and those working specifically with children, namely a medical practitioner, registered or enrolled nurse, dentist, pharmacist, psychologist, police officer, community corrections officer, social worker, teacher, approved family day care provider; and
any person who is an employee of, or volunteer in a government department, agency or instrumentality, or a local government or non-government organisation that provides health, welfare, education, child care or residential services wholly or partly for children.
S11(2) amendments extend mandatory reporting requirement to
a priest or other minister of religion (excluding the confessional)
a person who is an employee of or volunteer in, an organisation formed for religious or spiritual purposes, and
a person employed by, or volunteering in, organisations that provide sporting or recreational services wholly or partly for children.
It is the last dot point that is particularly relevant as it captures a range of programs and/or services provided to children by Councils.
3.3 Criminal History Screening
Section 8B requires criminal history screening to be undertaken in non-government organisations prescribed by regulation (whether an employee, volunteer, agent, contractor or subcontractor)
of people (over 18 years of age1) occupying or acting in a prescribed position
before a person is appointed to, or engaged to act in a prescribed position
at any time as the organisation thinks necessary or desirable for the purpose of establishing or maintaining child safe environments.
Note: At the current time, regulations only prescribe this requirement for non-government schools. That is, there is no regulation requiring local government (Councils) to undertake police checks. However, DFC Child Safe Environment Standards referred to in 3.1 above include criminal history screening for those in prescribed positions as an indicator of compliance. The implementation of these standards will also ensure the fair and reasonable management of criminal history information and support the privacy of individuals as far as reasonably practicable.
If criminal history screening is undertaken the information obtained must be dealt with in accordance with DFC standards. The application of these standards will ensure the fair and reasonable management of criminal history information and support the privacy of individuals to the extent possible. The relevant DFC standards are included as Attachment 5. A prescribed position is a position that requires or involves prescribed functions which involve any of the following:
Regular contact with children or working in close proximity to children on a regular basis
Supervision or management of persons in positions requiring or involving regular contact with children or working in close proximity to children on a regular basis
Access to records relating to children
Functions of a type prescribed by regulation (none as at September 2007)
The Children’s Protection Act 1993 does not include definitions of regular contact, close proximity, or regular basis.
As a result DFC suggest that the terms must be given their ordinary everyday common sense meanings and that ultimately it will be up to the courts to decide what the terms mean in the context of the Act. Generally speaking the term regular contact implies contact that has a constant or definite pattern, or which recurs at short uniform intervals or on several occasions during short periods of time such as a week.2 Councils will need to consider this guidance in identifying prescribed positions, and if necessary contact DFC or their own legal advisors for advice.
It is also to be noted that most people do not have a criminal history, and that criminal history checks are recognised by DFC as only part of a comprehensive screening process which also involves interviews, referee checks, and other background checks to assess suitability for working with children.
4. AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND AGEING New arrangements were announced by the Department of Health and Ageing for criminal history (police) checks for certain staff and volunteers working in the area of aged care which came into effect on 1 March 2007. These requirements apply to Australian Government subsidised aged care services, namely Community Aged Care Packages (CACP) Extended Aged Care at Home (EACH) Packages, and EACH-Dementia.
Approved providers providing services under the Aged Care Act 1997 (Cth) were contacted directly about these new requirements. Further information can be obtained via www.health.gov.au/internet/wcms/publishing.nsf/Content/ageing-mailfax-200601512.htm or by contacting the Department’s Aged Care Information Line on free call 1800 500 853.
At the present time, criminal history checks for staff and volunteers working in Home and Community Care (HACC) funded programs are not mandatory unless the staff or volunteer is working with children and young people up to 18 years of age (as required by the Children’s Protection Act 1993 (SA)). However, criminal history screening in these circumstances is considered to be good practice, and it is likely to become a mandatory requirement in the future for all those working in the aged care area.
5. MODEL SAFE ENVIRONMENT FRAMEWORK A Model Safe Environment Checklist follows in section 6. The aim of this Checklist is to support Councils to develop policies and procedures to foster a safe environment and comply with the requirements of the Children’s Protection Act 1993 (SA). With respect to these requirements, Councils’ attention is drawn to the following key issues.
Councils may have some or all of the requirements written into existing policies, procedures and codes of conduct. The legislation does not require a re-write or reproduction of policies, but rather that the policy framework in place reflects the DFC standards.
The draft DFC standards as referred to previously are set out in the Checklist. Councils are not required to take these as written, but rather policies and procedures must reflect the standards and principles of good practice developed by DFC. This may vary according to the size, nature and resources of each organisation.
Councils will need to consider structures for providing support to mandated notifiers and how they will manage records relating to the child abuse mandatory reporting. Whilst the duty under Section 11 lies with the individual and not the organisation, Councils also have a duty of care to both the child and employee and a requirement to observe confidentiality and privacy principles. (Refer the Checklist : “Establish a procedure for dealing with enquiries and to support staff with mandatory notification obligations”)
Councils may wish to consider nominating a Safe Environment Contact Officer as an advisor to staff and volunteers, and a contact person for children, carers and parents in relation to safe environment issues.
The Chief Executive of DFC is responsible for monitoring progress towards child safe environments and reporting to the Minister on that subject. Organisations that do not meet the legislative obligations may face a fine of up to $10,000.
5.1 Risk Management Review The LGA Mutual Liability Scheme undertakes an annual Risk Management Review. The Review covers most areas of Council operations and specifically targets areas that have a high level of civil liability exposures or areas that require a formal risk management approach to prevent potential civil liability claims. The Review has financial implications for Councils, as Risk Management is a component of the Scheme’s bonus allocation process.
As part of the Safe Environment Project, it is proposed that as of the next annual Review, a check list of questions covering the development and implementation of a Safe Environment policy be included and that progress within the sector be assessed..
It is also to be noted that indicators for measuring a safe environment organisation are included on page 10 of the DFC Guidelines.
6. SAFE ENVIRONMENT CHECKLIST The checklist below reflects the standards and principles of good practice developed by DFC. The checklist is based on a risk management approach which aims to promote the wellbeing of children, young people and other vulnerable people in contact with the organisation, and protect them from harm. DFC Guidelines recognise that risk management strategies will vary in scope and detail depending on the complexity and size of the organisation, the type of activities or services provided, and the age and maturity of the children and young people involved.
Convene a Reference Group. Representation could include Council Member/s, relevant staff, volunteer co-ordinator/representative, and program participant/s. This approach will foster greater understanding of the policy principles.
Developing and Implementing a Risk Management Strategy
Work through the steps in the Procedure Checklist to
review existing child protection policies
develop strategies to minimise and prevent risk of harm to children, young people, and other vulnerable people
ensuring protective work practices are in place to guide those providing services to children and other vulnerable people.
PART 2 Attachment 4: Managing the Risk of Abuse
DFC Guidelines pages 11-13, and
DFC Guidelines: Indicators of Compliance as follows
Safety review identifies Council’s strengths and weaknesses relating to the safety and protection of children and vulnerable people
Key services provided to children are identified and the risks posed to children are assessed.
For example, personnel, physical environment, activities, training, organisational culture and/or practices.
Risks are minimised in high-risk situations.
These risks may be referred to in the Code of Conduct, which may also explicitly outline situations best avoided or how to minimise risks.
The Risk Management Strategy is regularly reviewed.
Develop a Safe Environment Policy
(Refer Model Safe Environment Policy at Attachment 1)
Scan existing documents to identify relevance to ensuring a safe environment, for example:
Safe Environment Policy
Council Member and Staff Codes of Conduct.
Equal Opportunity Policies - provision of goods and services and sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation
Customer Service Standards
Determine if a separate/new policy is required or whether existing policies could be reviewed and updated
Define roles and responsibilities – Refer PART 2, Attachment 3: Roles and Responsibilities – Examples
DFC Guidelines: Indicators of Compliance require the policy to:
indicate Council’s commitment to a child safe organisation
be clear and easy to understand, identify legislative requirements
be endorsed by Council
specify responsibilities and have supporting procedures and standards
be communicated to relevant audiences.
Encourages employees and volunteers to sign a statement acknowledging awareness and responsibilities which is kept on the personnel file.
Ensure parents, caregivers and children (where appropriate) are made aware of the policy and are able to access a copy.
Be current and ensure that it is reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis.
SAFE ENVIRONMENT – CHECKLIST
ISSUES TO CONSIDER AND DFC GUIDELINES: INDICATORS OF COMPLIANCE
Develop a Code of Conduct which specifies standards of conduct and care when dealing and interacting with children, young people and other vulnerable people.
Safe work practice guidelines could also be included in codes of conduct or other documentation to assist and support those working with children, young people, and other vulnerable people.
DFC Guidelines (pages 16 to 20, and page 41) include further information about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and establishing professional boundaries.
An Example of a Code of Conduct is included on page 17
Additional references are listed on page 38.
Tips for maintaining professional boundaries included on page 41
Refer also PART 2, Attachment 4: Managing the Risks of Abuse
DFC Guidelines: Indicators of Compliance suggest codes of conduct
include statements about the responsibility of adults and children to treat one another with dignity, respect, sensitivity and fairness
set out acceptable and unacceptable behaviour for all those working with children, and children. This includes discriminatory, offensive and violent behaviour is unacceptable
are developed collaboratively including input from children where practicable
require signed acknowledgement by all employees and volunteers where practicable
Services/programs for people with a disability and/or the frail aged.
A list of the services and programs will form the basis for a review of roles and responsibilities of staff and volunteers and enable mandated notifiers to be identified, as well as “prescribed positions” requiring criminal history screening (see next page).
The compiled list could be an attachment to Council’s Safe Environment Policy.
SAFE ENVIRONMENT – CHECKLIST
ISSUES TO CONSIDER AND DFC GUIDELINES: INDICATORS OF COMPLIANCE
Identify mandated notifiers with specific legal obligations under the Children’s Protection Act 1993 (SA)
Mandatory reporting obligations extend to
all employees, contractors, consultants, and volunteers who provide health, welfare, education, sporting or recreational services wholly or partly for children; and
supervisors and managers who have direct responsibility for the supervision of the provision of these services.
Review duty statements to ensure they reflect mandatory reporting requirements
Develop a mandatory reporting training program and schedule for all relevant existing employees, volunteers, managers, and supervisors
Include training/overview in induction/orientation program for relevant new employees and volunteers.
DFC Guidelines: Indicators of Compliance require
relevant employees and volunteers are aware of their responsibilities, and have adequate information and training to assist them to identify children at risk of harm, and to report suspicion on reasonable grounds to the Child Abuse Report Line
procedures to guide action if there are concerns about a child’s safety or welfare
a process in place for recording incidents, concerns and referrals, storing records securely, and maintaining confidentiality appropriately
procedures for dealing with concerns of abuse or neglect of a child perpetrated by an employee or volunteer of the organisation.
Identify “prescribed positions” for criminal history screening
The Children’s Protection Act 1993 (SA) defines prescribed positions as
where there is regular contact or working in close proximity to children on a regular basis (this could be extended to include other vulnerable people, such as recipients of aged care services)
supervisors and/or managers of those positions
relevant contractors, agents, and consultants
staff and volunteers with access to records relating to children
DFC Guidelines state “regular contact” includes contact that may facilitate instances where people deliberately use their position and status to access and exploit children. For example,
multiple instances of contact of limited duration (weekly group gathering) or
fewer extended and intense periods of contact possibly away from children’s usual environment (day trip, overnight camp)
“Close proximity” means in reasonable unaided visual sight if physical structures were not present – that is, within eyeshot
Note: Local Government Councils are not regulated at the current time to undertake criminal history checks. However, this practice is recommended as part of an overall risk management approach. If Councils choose to do so, they must comply with DFC standards for dealing with criminal history information.
DFC Guidelines: Indicators of Compliance require
Procedures to identify “prescribed positions” (staff and volunteers), and duty statements state requirement for criminal history screening prior to appointment
Identify current staff/volunteers in prescribed positions and undertake criminal history screening
Screening procedures (applies to over 18 years)are to be transparent and available to all relevant audiences
Assessment panel to document rationale/decision for excluding applicants for positions based on their criminal history information.
Where there is an adverse report relevant to the job criminal history report applicants have an opportunity to make a response for further consideration and have access to an independent review (e.g. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission)
Criminal history information is to be dealt with in accordance with DFC standards – See Attachment 5.
SAFE ENVIRONMENT CHECKLIST
ISSUES TO CONSIDER AND DFC GUIDELINES: INDICATORS OF COMPLIANCE
Child Safe Environment – Mandatory Reporting Training
DFC Guidelines require relevant staff and volunteers to undertake training to enable them to meet this obligation. Appropriate training is also central to an overall risk management approach to ensuring a Safe Environment.
A one day training session is recommended for staff and volunteers, and their managers and supervisors, who are primarily engaged in providing services to children, including all those in prescribed positions.
Shorter sessions, or printed information, may be appropriate for other employees and volunteers with less frequent or occasional contact with children. This can be developed from the one day training course material.
Include Child Safe - Mandatory Reporting as a topic on induction and orientation program check list for newly appointed staff and volunteers
Identify relevant staff and volunteers who will be required to undertake training, either through
Identify relevant staff and volunteers who could be advised of the new requirements through printed information and provision of DFC publication: “Child-Safe Environments Reporting Child Abuse & Neglect – Guidelines for Mandated Notifiers”
Refer PART 2, Attachment 6: Child Safe – Mandatory Reporting Training Options
Establish a procedure for dealing with enquiries and to support staff with mandatory notification obligations.
Note: Under S11, the duty to report suspected abuse lies with the individual mandated notifier based on their suspicion on reasonable grounds. However, whilst not compelled to do so, there are likely to be occasions where the mandated notifier would like to discuss the concern confidentially with their supervisor/manager or other nominated person within the organisation before doing so. For example, this may be relevant where the child/family access services in several Council program areas.
DFC consider this arrangement is unlikely to breach confidentiality as
the organisation has a duty of care responsibility to both recipients of services and its employees and volunteers, and
when disclosure of information is in the best interest of the child.
Consider nominating a Safe Environment Contact Officer to provide advice and to support staff dealing with mandatory notification responsibilities. Otherwise, supervisors and managers will need to undertake this role. The Safe Environment Contact Officer, and/or relevant supervisors and managers should
be suitably trained to deal with issues raised in a sensitive, confidential and in a timely manner;
have undertaken Child Safe Mandatory Notification one day training session, thereby being informed about what constitutes inappropriate behaviour and relevant mandatory reporting obligations;
be aware of and observing arrangements for keeping appropriate records in a private and secure place, in accordance with Council’s record keeping policies;
have direct reporting responsibility to the Chief Executive Officer in relation to matters arising from the Safe Environment Policy.
Note: There may circumstances where action is required in accordance with Council’s duty of care responsibilities, in addition to reporting to the Child Abuse Report Line.
Councils will need to develop a procedure for maintaining records securely so that confidentiality is observed.
SAFE ENVIRONMENT CHECKLIST
ISSUES TO CONSIDER AND DFC GUIDELINES: INDICATORS OF COMPLIANCE
Review of Urban Design in Public Places
Give consideration to maximising safety through appropriate design features of public places, Council buildings and facilities, parks and reserves, playgrounds and areas where young people gather, access services and participate in programs.
Refer PART 2, Attachment 4: Managing the Risks of Abuse
Compliance with Council’s Safe Environment Policy
Contractors and Consultants
Grant Funding Agreements
Include a clause in contractor and consultant contracts, and grant funding agreements regarding compliance with the Safe Environment Policy
Consider requiring contractors and consultants to nominate key personnel involved in providing services prior to engagement.
Include a clause in contractors/consultants contracts, and grant funding agreements where relevant about compliance with Council’s Safe Environment Policy. Refer PART 2, Attachment 3: Roles and Responsibilities - Examples Seek legal advice about any specific circumstance where risk exposure is unclear, or in relation to applying the policy and procedure, in particular in relation to the extent of control that Council is able to exercise over persons who are not employees.
Review Council licensing and facility lease/hire arrangements and consider associated risk exposure
Identify licensing arrangements where contact with children or other vulnerable people may occur and there is a risk of harm
Identify leases where the facility is used for providing services or activities for children and other vulnerable people
Review hire of facility agreements/conditions of hire and include a clause relevant to the Safe Environment Policy where relevant.
Include a clause in license/lease/hire agreements where relevant about compliance with Council’s Safe Environment Policy. Refer PART 2, Attachment 3: Roles and Responsibilities - Examples Seek legal advice about any specific circumstance where risk exposure is unclear, or in relation to applying the policy and procedure
Let everyone know about the Safe Environment Policy
When endorsed by Council, provide a copy and brief all staff and volunteers and ensure relevant staff and volunteers are aware of
mandatory reporting obligations
requirement for criminal history screening in prescribed positions
procedures for dealing with suspicions of child abuse or neglect
Promote the new Safe Environment Policy through Council and Community Information networks, such as newsletters, Council’s website and through other established forums.
Ensure parents and children are aware of the Safe Environment Policy and procedures for making enquiries about child safety issues, and/or what to do if they have a complaint or concern.