Working with children checks are a key part of creating a protective environment for children. They will not, on their own, keep all children safe, but it is important that the checks are robust and efficient, and that compliance with the scheme is monitored and enforced. If not, the credibility of the checks and their effectiveness is undermined.
Around 300 000 people in WA now have a working with children check card. As the scheme has grown and matured, both those applying to have a check and the organisations that employ them have become better educated about how the scheme works. Overall, the framework for the checks is sound and generally delivers robust results. It also enables the regular monitoring of existing cardholders.
There are areas for improvement. In some cases, it can take a long time to make a decision on whether someone should be allowed to work with children. Because people can ‘work on application’, the longer a decision takes the greater the risk to children. I understand the practical considerations in this approach, but the Department needs to consider how it can better manage the risks it creates.
The Department also needs to do more and better targeted monitoring of employer compliance. Sufficient monitoring and enforcement of compliance is central to the credibility and effectiveness of the scheme. Some of the largest employers are government agencies, and I expect them to do everything they can to monitor and demonstrate their compliance with working with children checks.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse is, as part of its work, considering working with children checks nationally. This illustrates that the scheme needs to be seen as one element of broader efforts to protect children. In that context, my recommendations will, I hope, contribute to working with children checks being as effective as possible in helping to keep children safe.