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Victorian Government Introduces New Legislation for Reporting Child Abuse

| Published by Michael Gorton AM

The Victorian Government recently introduced proposed legislation to Parliament for reporting child abuse to the Commission for Children and Young People.

This is the Children Legislation Amendment (Reportable Conduct) Bill 2016 ("the Bill").

Purpose of the Bill

The main purpose of the Bill is to establish a compulsory reportable conduct scheme for organisations and businesses in Victoria. This scheme will require compulsory reporting of any allegations of “reportable conduct” or employee misconduct involving a child to be reported to the Commission for Children and Young People who will be an independent body in charge of administering the new reporting scheme. This information of allegations will then be shared with regulators, Victoria Police, the Secretary to the Department of Justice and Regulation and any other prescribed person or body. 

Powers of the Commission for Children and Young People

As an independent statutory body, the Commission for Children and Young People will oversee the scheme and have the power to:

  • monitor investigations into abuse and report on trends
  • share information with key organisations to improve child safety
  • inquire into the safety systems of organisations engaged in child-related work

Definition of “reportable conduct”

Under the scheme, reportable conduct will include allegations against workers or volunteers of child abuse and misconduct involving children. For example, reportable conduct would include sexual misconduct or offences, grooming, ‘sexting’, inappropriate physical contact with a child or other conduct that crosses professional boundaries concerning children. Any significant neglect of the child or any behaviour that is likely to cause any significant emotional or psychological harm to a child.

Sexual misconduct under the new reporting scheme is intended to capture conduct that falls below a criminal threshold but still poses a significant risk to children. The new reporting scheme does not interfere or take precedent over any existing reporting obligations to Victoria Police, and any allegations of criminal conduct should be reported to the Police as a first priority.

Definition of “employee”

The definition of employee in the new scheme is deliberately broad so as to include as many people as possible. This ensures the reportable conduct of any person who is over the age of 18 years regardless of the legal status of the person who is alleged to have committed the reportable conduct. For an organisation that is bound by the new reporting scheme, relevant employees are any employee of that organisation regardless if their job involves working with children. The definition captures volunteers, contractors, and any other person engaged by the entities.

For any religious organisations an employee defines anyone who is a minister of religion, a religious leader, an officer of the entity or a standard employee. 

Which organisations will the scheme apply to?

The scheme will be introduced in three phases from July 2017;

  1. Phase 1: From 1 July 2017, the scheme will apply to child protection and family services, out-of-home care services, youth justice services, residential services for children with a disability, certain education providers, government and non-government schools and government departments.
  2. Phase 2: From 1 January 2018 the scheme will apply to hospitals, other disability services for children, providers of overnight camps, religious bodies and the residential facilities of boarding schools.
  3. Phase 3: From 1 January 2019, the scheme will apply to early childhood services and statutory bodies that have responsibility for children, such as public museums and galleries.

The scheme only applies to organisations that work with children, as either their primary function or otherwise. There will be a 5 year review which will then consider expanding the scheme to further organisations. 

What will organisations need to do?

The scheme mandates that relevant organisations must have in place a process for reporting allegations against workers and volunteers of child abuse or misconduct. These processes must ensure that the person in a relevant position of authority is made aware of the allegation. This allegation must then be report certain information to the Commission and ensure an appropriate internal investigation into the allegation takes place. Once the investigation is concluded, they must notify the Commission of the result.

It is likely that many organisations may already have in place sufficient reporting schemes in place and they simply need to be amended to include reporting to the Commission for Children and Young People if and when an incident occurs. 

For more information, please contact Michael Gorton AM.

This article has been written by Michael Gorton AM and Stephen Dooley.