Report 15

Working with Children Checks

Key Findings

Screening applicants

  • A large number of applications are received, particularly during peak periods of the year like February and March. At the end of March 2014, 9 102 applications were in process of which 7 450 had not been screened to determine whether they needed a card. Applications are not submitted for a criminal record check until they are screened. The longer it takes to screen an application, the longer the period during which an applicant can work with children without their criminal record information being checked or monitored.
  • The Department does not use information on how long applications take to be screened as a basis for setting targets and for prioritising assessments. The Department introduced a new computer system in November 2013 to improve processing and management reporting. However, the system does not currently report how long applications have been waiting to be screened or assessed, or the applicants’ potential risk in terms of harm to children.

Read more: The Department is not effectively prioritising applications for assessment

Assessing applicants and card holders

  • From 2005-06 to 2012-13, almost 85 per cent of applicants for the check had no criminal record. Less than one percent of all applicants (409 people) were issued with a negative notice prohibiting them from child-related work.

Read more: Over 300 000 people have a working with children check card and very few applicants are refused a card

  • The Department has suitable assessment criteria and new draft guidelines for assessing criminal record information to determine if it indicates a risk of harm to children. Between July 2012 and June 2013, the Department made decisions for over half of the applicants with criminal records within a month. However, it has not decided how long assessments should take to complete or the extent of information needed to make an assessment decision. In some cases the Department has spent months searching for more information to complete its assessments. This reflects the Department’s desire to make robust decisions in situations where it has discretion but the delays can undermine the effectiveness of the check.

Read more: The Department’s assessment of applications is generally robust
but the length of time it takes puts children at risk

  • Delays in assessments put children at risk because applicants and card holders can work with children until they receive a negative notice:
    • half of the assessments for applicants we reviewed with a conviction for a Class 1 offence took four months or more to complete. These are sexual offences against children under 13 years old
    • in a quarter of the cases we reviewed where monitoring had identified new criminal record information about card holders, it took longer than four months to issue an interim or negative notice. In one case it took 14 months to consider whether an interim negative notice should be issued because neither WA Police nor the Unit adequately resolved follow-up actions in response to the arrest of a card holder. The automated monitoring process also failed to detect the new criminal charge and report this to the Unit.
  • The Department uses  national  criminal  record  information  to  assess  the suitability of applicants and card holders to work with children. But this information is not always complete, particularly for older criminal records. In nine out of 214 cases we reviewed, people were able to work with children because the initial criminal record information was either incomplete or inaccurate. The Department acted once complete information was provided.

Read more: The Department’s assessment of applications is generally robust
but the length of time it takes puts children at risk

Ensuring compliance

  • The Department regularly runs community engagement workshops and presentations that are useful in ensuring employers and other groups are aware of their responsibilities. Between 2010 and 2013, 1 150 employers and community organisations attended 19 community presentations in Perth and regional areas. During the same period, 1 200 people attended 40 other working with children check presentations.
  • In 2012-13, the Department carried out 188 investigations of individuals and organisations as a result of information received. However, it has undertaken only 11 proactive compliance audits of small sized employers since 2011 to assess employer compliance with their responsibilities to only have card holders in child-related work. This limits the information and assurance the Department has about levels of compliance.
  • In April 2014, 115 out of 2 577 Departmental foster carers (or four and a half per cent) did not have a valid card or application in process but had children in their care. Most of these carers (111) were previous card holders who had not renewed their card. The other four carers were located outside of the State and did not require a card. Although they make up a small part of the total number of card holders, foster carers have been issued negative notices more frequently than those in other child-related work. A working with children check card is only one of a number of ways that the Department monitors the safety of children in foster care. However, allowing foster carers to not have a card weakens the protection provided to children in care given that the Department will remove children if a foster carer is issued with a negative notice.

Read more: The Department does not effectively monitor whether people
in child-related work have a working with children check card

Page last updated: July 1, 2014

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