On 29 November 2016 the Victorian Government passed legislation changing the provisions of the Working with Children Act 2005 (Vic). The amendments expand the range of roles and organisations which will require Working with Children Checks.
The amending legislation will make significant changes, including that:
- non-conviction charges will now be considered in an assessment of a person’s suitability to obtain an assessment notice (and a working with children check card);
- out of home care or ‘kinship care’ is now a category of child-related work requiring a valid assessment notice;
- the definition of ‘direct contact’ now includes oral, written and electronic communication, expanding the scope of ‘child-related work’ covered by the scheme;
- the element of supervision has been removed as a factor in determining whether an assessment notice is required;
- there is now a power to compel individuals to produce information where there is a suspicion that a person has committed an offence against the Act, or in the case of a registered sex offender, is engaging in child-related work;
- the Secretary to the Department of Justice and Regulation has an increased ability to refer suspected breaches to Victoria Police;
- there is clarity now that an assessment of a person’s criminal history is based on their age at the time the offence/alleged offence is committed; and
- the categorisation of interstate offences of a serious nature (eg rape, attempted rape, murder, attempted murder and child pornography) are prescribed as category A offences equivalent to the offence provisions under the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic).
The change to the definitions of ‘child-related work’ and ‘direct contact’ recognises changing modes of communication through which people are able to access and interact with children. The amendments also reflect the 36 recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in respect of the effectiveness of working with children checks.
As the meaning of direct contact has changed and the reference to a person requiring supervision has been removed, there is now scope for more organisations and roles to require assessment notices (in circumstances where there was initially considered to be no direct relationship or connection to children).
These amendments are designed to ensure that the legislation in Victoria remains at the forefront of child protection. The impact on organisations in adapting to these changes will be significant.
While the amendments have yet to be proclaimed, organisations should now be taking steps to ensure they can comply with the new regime (noting that it is an offence for both an individual and an organisation to engage in child-related work without a valid assessment notice).
If your organisation engages in child-related work, you should:
- familiarise yourself with the changes, and consider whether any internal policies or procedures for managing child-related work and working with children checks require updating;
- review and update your contracts to ensure they reflect the legislative changes;
- review all roles in your organisation in light of the new meaning of child-related work, to determine whether there are additional positions that now require working with children checks;
- be aware that staff with current working with children check cards may undergo re-assessment and lose their cards, in light of the broader range of charges that are now being considered.