Report 15

Working with Children Checks

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

All people in child-related work in Western Australia are required to have a working with children check card

In all Australian states and territories people working with children are subject to some level of screening and assessment to determine their suitability. In Western Australia, the Working with Children (Criminal Record Checking) Act 2004 (the Act) and Working with Children (Criminal Record Checking) Regulations 2005 require employed and self-employed people, volunteers and students on placement working in certain categories of ‘child-related work’ to have a working with children check card.

The Act defines child-related work as including ‘work where the usual duties involve, or are likely to involve, contact with children in connection with categories of work’. Examples of the key categories of child-related work are outlined in Appendix 1 of this report. The working with children check was phased in for different categories from 2005-06 to 2010-11.

Some people are exempt from needing a working with children check card. These include:

  • child volunteers – where work is carried out on a voluntary basis by a child
  • unpaid students under 18 years old on placement – where work is carried out on an unpaid basis by a student under 18 years old as part of their educational or vocational course of study with an education provider
  • short-term visitors to Western Australia – where the person is not ordinarily resident in Western Australia. It applies to the two week period after the person arrives in the State and cannot exceed two weeks in any 12 month period
  • parents – working voluntarily who have a child where the work is being carried out or at a school where their child is enrolled.
  • Although the working with children check is mandatory for those in child-related work it is only one of many strategies employers and volunteer organisations can put in place to safeguard children. Others include having child protection policies, understanding child abuse, developing and maintaining an open and aware culture, having clear codes of conduct and robust recruitment, screening and reference checking processes.

The  Department  is  responsible  for  screening  and  assessing applications for the working with children check card

The Working with Children Screening Unit of the Department is responsible for screening and assessing applications for a working with children check card. In 2012-13, the cost of undertaking working with children checks was $11.6 million. The Unit works with Australia Post, CrimTrac (the national information-sharing service for police, law enforcement and national security agencies) and the WA Police in screening and assessing applications (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Working with Children Check process

Screening applicants

Most people submit an application for a working with children check card at an Australia Post outlet. There are alternative processes for people in remote areas where there is no authorised Australia Post outlet, or who cannot provide standard proof of identification. Most applicants can start child-related work as soon as Australia Post accepts their completed application, confirms their identity documentation, and receives the application fee. Completed applications are generally scanned and sent by Australia Post to the Unit in two to five days.

The Unit validates the information, ensuring the applicant is in child-related work and is not exempt from needing a card. They also check whether the applicant matches any existing card holders or has previously been issued with a negative notice. Where further information is required, the Unit will contact the applicant and/or their employer. When the application is validated, the applicant’s details are submitted to CrimTrac for a criminal record check.

Assessing applicants

CrimTrac obtains criminal history information held in all Australian police jurisdictions based on the applicant’s details. This information includes all juvenile and adult spent and unspent convictions and pending charges. It also includes charges that have not resulted in a conviction, including acquittals and discontinued charges (except from Victoria). Where there is a match with an applicant, CrimTrac provide this information to the Unit generally within a day.

Where CrimTrac finds a criminal record for an applicant, it provides the Unit with details about the date, description and where the offence occurred and any court details and outcomes. For offences in Western Australia, a statement of material facts about the offence is also provided automatically through the Unit’s information systems link to the WA Police system. For offences in other states, the Unit can seek further information from the relevant authorities. Police charge details are not always the same as the offences prosecuted and these may emerge through court proceedings. As a result further information about prosecution details or court transcripts may need to be sourced to determine the class of the offence.

The Unit’s assessment of an applicant’s criminal record and behaviour is guided by the Act. Convictions for Class 1 offences committed as an adult result in an automatic bar on child-related work. These are serious sexual offences against a child under 13 years old. Refer to Appendix 2 for details of Class 1, 2 and 3 offences. Other than adult convictions for Class 1 offences, having a criminal record will not necessarily prohibit a person from child-related work.

The assessment must consider a range of factors including:

  • the best interests of children
  • when the offence was committed or is alleged to have been committed
  • the age of the applicant and victim at the time of the offence or alleged offence the nature, circumstances and pattern of charges or convictions
  • their relevance to child-related work
  • the impact of harm to a child should the type of behaviour be repeated any information provided by the applicant
  • any other relevant information.

After assessment, applicants are either issued an assessment notice in the form of a working with children check card or a negative notice. A card allows a person to carry out child-related work for three years in WA subject to any relevant new charges. Any changes to their criminal record are regularly monitored and there are also reporting requirements for card holders and employers. After three years a card holder must re-apply for a card to continue in child-related work.

A negative notice prohibits a person from child-related work. An interim negative notice may also be issued, which immediately prohibits a person from child-related work. These are required to be issued for those with an adult conviction for any Class 1 offence. Before a negative notice decision is made, pending applicants and card holders are required by legislation to be notified and are invited to provide a submission within 28 days. Interim negative notices will also be issued if the person’s criminal record indicates they are likely to be issued a negative notice and where children are exposed to immediate risk of harm while a final assessment decision is being made.

Negative notice decisions may be appealed to the State Administrative Tribunal. Interim negative notice decisions may not be appealed. Once employers or volunteer organisations are notified of a negative notice or an interim negative notice, they must ensure the employee or volunteer is not engaged in any child-related work in their organisation.

The number of people with a working with children check card has increased and most applicants do not have a criminal record

At 31 March 2014, there were 305 563 people who held a working with children check card. This represents about one in every six adults across the State. The significant growth in the number of card holders since 2005-06 reflects the phasing-in of all child-related work categories (Table 1). Large increases between 2006-07 and 2007-08 resulted from the education and health work categories being phased into the scheme at that time. The increase between 2007-08 and 2008-09 shows the first round of card renewals.Table 1 Number of people with a working with children check card

People in education account for about 35 percent of all applicants. People in hospitals represented about 17 per cent of applicants, religious organisations about eight per cent, and child care and coaching or a private tuition service at about seven per cent each were the other highest work categories.

Almost 85 per cent of applicants between 2005-06 and 2012-13, had no criminal record (Table 2) and only 409 people or less than one per cent were found unsuitable and issued a negative notice. Another 47 card holders had their cards cancelled as a result of amendments to the Act in 2010, which allowed for those notified as having a new criminal record and not in child-related work to have their cards cancelled.

Table 2 Number of working with children check applications

The largest individual child-related work category of people issued with a negative notice is education (27 per cent). This is somewhat lower than the overall proportion of applicants from education (about 35 per cent). However, some other work categories are over represented. For example, 11 per cent of people issued negative notices were foster carers, but this group only represents less than two per cent of all applicants. Also, 10 per cent of negative notice recipients worked in transport services for children but they made up only two per cent of all applicants.

 

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