The Department does little monitoring of employers to verify that their staff have a working with children check card
Employers are required under the working with children check scheme to employ only those people who have a working with children check card in child-related work. Although the Department runs regular education workshops with employers it has done almost no monitoring of, and has almost no assurance about, employer compliance. Some limited audits of smaller sized employers have been undertaken, but these have been reactive and piecemeal. Monitoring and enforcing compliance is essential to making the scheme credible and effective, and undetected non-compliance can put the safety of children at risk.
The Unit has had limited compliance capacity and much of its work has been focused on investigations. In 2012-13, 188 compliance investigations were carried out. These were investigations of individuals and organisations as a result of information received. However, far fewer proactive audits of employer compliance have been undertaken.
Since 2011, only 11 audits have been completed of which eight were conducted in April 2013. The audits resulted in four organisations being given cautions for non-compliance. Most of the audits were of smaller organisations like schools, childcare centres, churches, recreation centres and sports clubs. Most of the audits were initiated from information received from external sources.
Although the Unit has done only minimal monitoring of compliance, it has run workshops with employers and other groups about complying with their working with children check responsibilities. Between 2010 and 2013, 1 150 people representing a wide range of employers and community organisations attended 19 community presentations in Perth and regional areas. During the same period, 1 200 people attended 40 other customised working with children check presentations. Feedback from the community presentations has been positive. The high quality of the community engagement activities was also recognised in the 2012 review of the Act.
There will always be practical reasons for some people in child-related work to not have a valid card or application in process. This could include employees whose card has expired while on maternity leave and those who are within the legally allowable five day period of not needing a card or proof of an application in process. The Unit has provided valuable advice and assistance to employers of large numbers of employees who work with children, on how they can structure their systems and processes for ensuring compliance. For example, the information systems between the Unit and the Department of Education interface with each other to enable the Department of Education to monitor compliance. Also, the Department of Health submits regular reports for confirmation of their compliance.
On the next page is further detail about how these agencies and the Unit’s own Department are seeking to improve their compliance (Figure 5).
The Department is not ensuring all foster carers have a validworking with children check card or application in process
In April 2014, 115 out of 2 577 Departmental foster carers (or four and a half percent) did not have a valid card or application in process. Most of them (111) had previously held a card, but it had lapsed and not been renewed. The Department has procedures in place, separate to the working with children check, to monitor the safety of children in care. Nonetheless, it will remove children if a carer receives a negative notice. Given the nature of the role of carers, non-compliance with the check weakens the protection provided to some of the most vulnerable children in the community. The Department needs to ensure all foster carers have a valid working with children check card or application in process and provide regular compliance reporting to the Unit.
The Director General of the Department is responsible for all children in care. Many of these children are placed in the care of relatives. All foster carers including relatives looking after a child in care are required to have a working with children check. This is in addition to undergoing a detailed assessment to meet carer competencies which are reviewed annually, as set out in the Children and Community Services Regulations 2006.
Arguably, the need for foster carers to have a working with children check card is greater than other categories because foster carers can have children in their care 24 hours a day. For this reason, we can foresee no ongoing circumstances where a foster carer should not have a valid card or application in process.
The Department informed us that 111 of the 115 carers without a valid card or application in process were previous card holders that had not yet renewed their card. These carers had at least one child in their care at the time. The remaining four carers had never had a card because they were caring for children in another state and therefore were not required to have one in Western Australia. The cards of 79 carers had been expired for three months or less, another 26 (or 23 per cent) for between three and six months and six carers’ cards (five per cent) had been expired for between six and 12 months.
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 categories. Eighteen of the 186 card holders we reviewed who received interim negative notices or negative notices were foster carers. These carers committed serious Class 1, 2 and 3 offences.
The expiry of a person’s card in any other child-related work would mean that they could not continue to work with children, and their employer would be required to ensure that they did not do so until they had applied for a new card. Allowing a category of card holder employed by the Department to continue working with children without a card reduces the credibility of the working with children check and the Department.
The Department has been aware of these issues with its foster carers for some time:
- In August 2011, the Unit examined the issue in some detail and found a higher proportion of foster carers had a criminal record (35 per cent) compared with all other applicants (14 per cent). Of the 31 cases examined, the majority of the carers were relatives (65 per cent) and 20 received a negative notice. Two of these carers had children placed with them at the time the negative notice was issued, and it took up to 14 days for these children to be placed elsewhere. The remaining children had been moved by the time the negative notice was issued. The study also found that in four placements, the compulsory Departmental criminal record check required at the time may not have occurred
- In December 2011, the Unit undertook a matching exercise of 411 foster carers. It found 268of these carers (or 65 per cent) had expired cards with no record of renewal applications and 18 (or four per cent) had no record of applying for a card. However, the Department considered these figures as unreliable due to systems reporting errors at that time.
- In January 2012, the Department reported 293 foster carers did not have a valid card. It developed new reporting to provide more accurate and up to date information to identify carers without cards.