Information Sharing and Child Abuse - A Continuing Issue

- Wednesday, March 23, 2016

 

This month the NSW Ombudsman hosted a forum reflecting on the past 16 years of Reportable Conduct legislation in NSW.

With over 800 attendees, the gathering represented an exceptional group of people with a wealth of expertise in this sensitive and tricky area.

Key messages from the group included the need for:

  • Improvements in information sharing between agencies
  • Widening the legislation to include sporting groups and religious orders
  • A national Working With Children check system, rather than state based
  • A national register for the suitability of employment with children
  • Greater protection for the disabled

The resounding need to make the system work better and provide comprehensive protection for all Australian children was

a national system of information sharing and

actual practical information sharing between agencies

WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM IDENTIFIEd?
Privacy legislation requires that organisations do not share personnel records. Whilst steps have been taken to enable information sharing between agencies in NSW these only apply where a current risk exists to children, and they remain inadequate and slow.

Name changes, spelling errors, data entry, human error and overwhelming fear of breaching the privacy act seem to be the main causes of a lack of information sharing particularly by the larger agencies such as the Police and Family and Community Services.

providing information to policE

Currently organisations are expected to make reports to police of any suspected child abuse or Reportable Conduct.  The police, however, are not so good at returning the favour when agencies are trying to investigate non-criminal reportable conduct of their own.

What do the police do with your information?

  •  Police will receive information about a crime but they won’t give it out (Privacy restrictions)
  •  Police won’t necessarily act on the information provided
  • With no formal complaint from the victim, police won’t act
  •  With no likelihood of a conviction police won’t necessarily investigate
So if your victim is non-verbal, young, disadvantaged, unsupported, suffering from metal illness, has behavioural difficulties or has low self-esteem, their complaint may not be investigated.

In fact, if your victim has all the characteristics of a child likely to become the target of a paedophile, they are less likely to be successful in a criminal prosecution.  This is no coincidence.

This is why the legislation on reportable conduct is so important. By extending the definitions of acceptable behaviour of people who work with children and lowering the standard of proof - early patterns of behaviour known to be linked to serious sexual offending such as grooming and breaching professional boundaries  can be identified and individuals can be permanently barred from working with children – in NSW.

This legislation ensures  the protection of many times more children than the criminal justice system and actually prevents offenders having access to children.

 

In many ways it is far superior to the criminal justice system

in providing actual protection and preventing abuse.

 

Under the criminal justice system, child abuse remains difficult to prosecute and difficult to convict.  It is unnecessarily burdensome on the victims of abuse putting them through protracted and distressing criminal trials and appeal processes.

The NSW forum presented compelling arguments for the need for improved information sharing between all agencies in addition to not just a state based criminal records check but a national one and a national register of suitability to work with children.

There are high expectations that the Royal Commission into Institutional response to Child Sexual Abuse will recommend Australia wide legislation similar to that in NSW.  Let’s hope it is a seamless system that stops people slipping through the cracks!

If you have a workplace complaint and you're not sure how you should respond to it, or you would like to discuss how we can help build capacity within your organisation to respond to complaints  - WISE Workplace provides high quality specialist investigators to conduct workplace related investigations into abuse of children, people with a disability and the elderly. We have been working with Reportable Conduct legislation since it’s inception in 2001. Call us to discuss how our services may be able to help your organisation develop a response and systems that protect your clients.  Give us a call on 1300 580 685.

For more guidance on your obligations to report and respond to incidents of child abuse, The Institute of Community Directors Australia produced this excellent Child Protection Toolkit in January 2016 to assist not for profit agencies.

 

Link to toolkit.


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