In brief - From 1 September 2022, the NSW Office of the Children's Guardian (OCG) can access information relating to Working with Children Checks held on the National Reference System, established by the Australian Government and operated by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.
- The OCG (which oversees Working with Children Checks in NSW) can now see if an applicant, or holder of a NSW clearance, has been barred from working with children in other states and territories in Australia or has committed a relevant crime internationally.
- Now, all applicants and holders of a NSW Working with Children Check will be continuously screened at a national level through the National Reference System.
- Heads of organisations under the Child Safe Scheme must now have a Working With Children Check clearance.
- This is a step towards a more uniform, national approach to child safety and a good reminder to schools and other child-related organisations to make sure they are aware of their ongoing Working with Children Check obligations.
National Reference System for Working with Children Checks implemented in NSW
In July 2019, the Federal Department of Human Services and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission introduced a database known as the National Reference System for Working with Children Checks. The database is a centralised system established by the Commonwealth to record Working with Children Check decisions. All Australian jurisdictions are now in the process of implementing the development work required to integrate their respective systems with the National Reference System, in a positive move towards creating safer environments for children on a national scale.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended nationally consistent worker checking schemes, robust child-focussed information sharing and a national model for Working with Children Checks to prevent forum shopping by perpetrators that occurs under the current disparate schemes across Australia.
Under the new integrated system, the OCG can see if an applicant or holder of a NSW clearance, has been barred from working with children in any state or territory within Australia or has committed a relevant crime internationally and will receive continuous updates on any changes to a person's Working With Children status.
All heads of child-related organisations in NSW must hold a Working with Children Check
In NSW, all organisations under the Child Safe Scheme must implement the ten Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission to better prevent and respond to child abuse. This includes that from 1 September, heads of child-related organisations in NSW must hold a Working with Children Check as a demonstration of leaders modelling the actions they expect from their staff.
South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia have already embraced the National Reference System and successfully integrated their local Working With Children Check database with the National Reference System.
Western Australia went one step further earlier this year by implementing a new proactive compliance program for community outreach. The program involves compliance officers reviewing social media sites such as Gumtree and Facebook Market Place to identify individuals who are participating in child-related work and are therefore required to have a Working with Children Check.
How can schools and religious organisations comply with the changes to Working with Children Checks?
These new implementations are a positive reminder to schools and religious organisations to make sure they are aware of their ongoing obligations in relation to Working with Children Checks (including that the head of a child safe organisation, as defined in the Children's Guardian Act 2019, must now also have a Working With Children Check) and to be sure that an up to date Working with Children Check register is being kept. It is also important to be aware of any staff, volunteers or contractors whose Working with Children Checks are soon to expire.
As Australia moves towards a more unified national approach to Working with Children Checks, schools and religious organisations should remain up to date with developments in Working with Children Check legislation and involvement with the National Reference System for any future obligations this may create.
This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2023.