People whose day-to-day work involves contact with children are required to have a working with children check. This will include teachers, commercial babysitters, nurses in a children’s ward, foster carers and a range of other workers. The working with children check aims to prevent people who have a criminal history that indicates they may pose a risk of harm to children from working with them. It also facilitates the regular checking of criminal records for people in child-related work.
The Department for Child Protection and Family Support (the Department) is responsible for administering the working with children check in Western Australia. The Working with Children Screening Unit (the Unit) of the Department carries out the checks under the Working with Children (Criminal Record Checking) Act 2004 and Working with Children (Criminal Record Checking) Regulations 2005. In 2012-13, the cost of undertaking working with children checks was $11.6 million.
Applicants are first screened by the Department to confirm that they require a card. If required, a national criminal record history check is conducted through the CrimTrac agency with additional information from the Western Australia Police (WA Police). The Department then assesses the relevance and seriousness of any adult and juvenile conviction charges, pending charges and non-conviction charges as well as any other relevant information. People are permitted to work with children whilst their application is being processed.
If an applicant has no relevant criminal record triggering consideration and they provide correct identity documentation, an assessment notice in the form of a working with children check card will be provided. The card is valid for three years unless there are further charges of relevance resulting in its cancellation. After three years people must re-apply for a new card. At present more than 300 000 people hold a card.
The Department will issue a negative notice prohibiting a person from engaging in child-related work where criminal records or other information indicate they may be a risk of causing harm to children. An interim negative notice may also be issued before a final decision is made. In such cases, the Department will notify the applicant or the card holder and their employer who must ensure they do not engage in child-related work.
Working with children checks will not eliminate risks to children but they are an important component of a protective environment. It is therefore important that the checks are robust, the results are reliable and that people working with children, and the organisations they work for, comply with the requirements of the legislation.
This audit assessed how well the Department through its Working with Children Screening Unit administered the working with children check to help increase the safety of children. As part of the audit, we reviewed complex cases of applicants and card holders who committed offences considered the highest risk to children.