Are You Protecting the Children In Your Care?

If you have volunteers working for your organisation, the responsibility lies with you to find out if their Working With Children Check has been suspended or revoked. 

Without a process in place for verifying and monitoring your volunteers’ Working With Children Check, you may not have up-to-date information on their clearance status. A volunteer may have had their check clearance denied, yet this could go unnoticed.

You must verify the status of a new volunteer before taking them on to reduce the risk to your organisation, says Head of Client Solutions, Armin Ahmadian.

“If you took on that volunteer and then it came to light that they are guilty of misconduct or a sexual offence. Then, there could be serious fallout and reputational damage.”

Indeed, all states and territories have legislation mandating some form of child-related employment pre-screening. These laws make it mandatory for individuals, whether paid or unpaid, to meet screening requirements. 

Employers are also obligated to meet their Duty of Care. In Victoria, for example, there is a fine of up to $198,264 if an organisation knowingly engages a person in child-related work who does not hold a valid Working With Children Check.

A gap in the monitoring of checks

There is no single framework across Australia outlining the requirements for obtaining and verifying Working With Children Checks. Although it’s standard practice for child-related volunteers to complete a check, the methods for ongoing monitoring vary. Not all states and territories treat volunteers the same way as employees.

Ahmadian explains that in some jurisdictions, the responsibility lies with the volunteer to link their Working With Children Check to their employer organisation. This link can be broken without the employer even knowing unless they’ve kept on top of status changes.

“Employers sometimes look at the Working with Children Check card as a drivers’ license. When a volunteer presents their card, the employer takes it at face value. They think because it hasn’t expired, it’s good to go. But if they were to verify the Children Check number online, they might find the volunteer’s clearance has been cancelled,” he says.

Ahmadian gives the example of a parent who has passed their Working With Children Check and volunteers at their child’s school. But then the family moves suburbs. The parent presents their Working With Children Check card and gets permission to volunteer at the new school. This school never gets around to verifying the Children Check number online, so the previous school remains listed as the verifying employer. If over time the check clearance is revoked, this change of status might not ever make it through to the new school because their contact details are not listed. 

In this scenario, the school is failing in their duty of care and potentially putting children at risk, says Ahmadian. 

A striking example of this disconnect can be found in the NSW Kids Guardian 2017-18 Annual Report*. During the 2017 calendar year, the Office of the Children’s Guardian, who manages Working With Children Checks in NSW, barred 1,942 people from child-related work. Of these, 41% had no verifying employer that could be contacted. Alarmingly, that left 810 people with a barred status on their Working With Children Check who may have continued having contact with children. 

The laws around Working With Children Checks in NSW have now changed. From June 2018, anyone holding a check has a legal obligation to update their contact details, including any name or address changes, within three months. Employers risk a fine if they don’t verify that their workers or volunteers who work with kids have a check. Records confirming this compliance are expected.

Assurance of continuous monitoring

With limited time and resources at their disposal, many schools and community organisations find the management of Working With Children Checks to be a significant administrative burden. But the process doesn’t have to be manual and onerous. Ahmadian describes fit2work’s online platform as a quick and easy solution for recording and verifying checks.

“The volunteer provides the employer with their name and email address. The employer enters this into the fit2work system, and an automatic email generates that invites the volunteer to complete their Working With Children Check verification. The volunteer provides their details, including a copy of their Working With Children card, their ID documents and their consent for fit2work to verify their card,” he says.

A significant advantage of the fit2work platform is the ongoing monitoring it provides. Rather than just checking that the Working With Children card is valid with no offences, it offers the ability for the employer to be alerted to any status changes over time. 

The checks are verified automatically at specific intervals over 12 months, Ahmadian explains. This auto-generation eliminates the strain on resources of checking volunteers on an event by event basis. Employers can run reports to suit organisational needs and maintain auditable electronic records confirming compliance.

 Ahmadian suggests that like any background check, the Working With Children Check should be integrated with an organisation’s employment screening and volunteer management process. “A reliable screening program helps mitigate and manage risk. It demonstrates that you’re paying more than lip service to the important issue of child safety,” he says.

“Given the high impact associated with not staying informed, it’s vital to have accurate information at your fingertips at all times.”

Transform your background screening using fit2work’s secure online platform that streamlines all your risk management processes into a single dashboard.  Contact us for more information or visit fit2work.

 

*Office of the Children’s Guardian Annual Report 2017-18, Working with Children Check Compliance, page 21, ‘Continuous Monitoring.’

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