Working with Children Checks – Follow-Up

Audit finding – WWC Checks are an important part of a system to keep children safe

The number of people with a WWC Card in WA continues to grow. At June 2019, there were 377,199 cardholders. This represents approximately 1 in 5 adults in WA and is a 23% increase since 2014.

There has also been significant growth, approximately 19%, in the number of WWC Check applications and renewals processed annually between 2013-14 and 2018-19.

Of the 130,297 applications and renewals processed in 2018-19, 83% (108,169) of the applicants had no criminal record and 128 resulted in a negative notice prohibiting them from working with children.

The WWC Check is one in a range of strategies to make organisations child-safe. It will make a more effective contribution to keeping children safe if used in the context of broader child-safe strategies. Such strategies include appropriate leadership, governance and culture; quality recruitment, selection and screening; training; effective child protection policies and procedures; and child friendly practices.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Working With Children Checks Report was released in August 2015. The Royal Commission found that:

  • each State and Territory had their own independent scheme but these were inconsistent, complex and had inadequate information sharing and monitoring of cardholders
  • once a person has a WWC Card, ongoing monitoring does not include national criminal history checking
  • screening agencies do not report WWC Check decisions and card status from other card jurisdictions
  • organisations working across card jurisdictions found it difficult to comply with the different schemes.

The Royal Commission’s report highlights opportunities for better alignment across the States and Territories, and easier exchange of information that can improve the protection afforded to children. It made 36 recommendations to strengthen WWC Checks in Australia, 34 were applicable to state governments. In June 2018, the Western Australian Government accepted, or accepted in principle, 30 of the 34 recommendations with the remaining 4 requiring further consideration. The first tranche of proposed legislative changes are pending State Government approval.

Across Australia, people working with children are subject to some level of screening and assessment to determine their suitability. In WA, the Act requires employees, self-employed people and volunteers working in certain categories of child-related work to have a WWC Card. A Card is valid for 3 years after which the individual can make a new application.

The WWC Check includes a national criminal record check and assessment of other relevant information to determine whether an individual should be permitted to work with children.

In most cases, the Act allows people to commence or continue child-related work while their application is assessed. If a person’s application is successful, a WWC Card is issued and they may continue to engage in paid or unpaid child-related work.

If a person’s application is unsuccessful, the Screening Unit will issue a negative notice prohibiting them from engaging in child-related work. Prior to the Screening Unit making a negative notice decision, the Act requires pending applicants and cardholders to be notified and given 28 days to provide a submission.

The Screening Unit may also issue an interim negative notice, temporarily prohibiting a person from engaging in child-related work while their application is assessed (or reassessed). The Screening Unit is required by the Act to issue interim negative notices to applicants with an adult conviction of any Class 1 offence (generally offences relating to the sexual abuse of children). Interim negative notices may also be issued if the person’s criminal record indicates they are likely to be issued a negative notice, and where children may be exposed to immediate risk of harm while a final assessment is made.

Individuals may appeal a negative notice decision in the State Administrative Tribunal but not an interim negative notice decision. Once the Screening Unit notifies the employer or voluntary organisation of these decisions, they must ensure the person is not engaged in any child-related work in their organisation.

Cardholders are also subject to ongoing monitoring. The Screening Unit reassesses eligibility when it receives new information relevant to the safety of children. For example, notification of a new charge or conviction for a relevant offence.

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