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Making institutions child safe (Volume 6)

The Victorian Government is working to embed long-term changes in both institutions and the community that safeguard the rights of children, to ensure the promotion of their safety and support their participation in decisions that affect their lives.

National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse 2021-2030

The Victorian Government has worked closely with the Australian Government and other state and territory governments to develop the National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse 2021-2030 (National Strategy). The National Strategy was launched by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on 27 October 2021

The National Strategy provides a whole-of-nation strategic framework to establish a coordinated and consistent approach to preventing and responding to child sexual abuse in all settings, including in families, online and in institutions. The National Strategy will do this by:

  • increasing community awareness and understanding of child sexual abuse
  • improving therapeutic responses and support for victim survivors of child sexual abuse and their non-offending family members
  • improving the understanding of, and responses to, children with harmful sexual behaviours
  • enhancing law enforcement activities and responses to perpetrators, and
  • developing a research and evaluation agenda to inform future prevention and response initiatives.

The National Strategy will be implemented via three National Action Plans (2021-2024, 2025-2027, and 2028-2030).

Reforms to Victoria’s Child Safe Standards

The Victorian Government has been a national leader in developing minimum standards for organisations that work with children to create child-safe environments. Victorian organisations that provide services or facilities to, or employ or engage, children and young people must comply with Victoria’s Child Safe Standards (Standards). Victoria’s seven Standards were phased in between 1 January 2016 and 1 January 2017 – before the Royal Commission recommended its 10 Child Safe Standards. The Royal Commission’s Child Safe Standards have since been shaped into the 10 National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (National Principles). 

In response to the Royal Commission, Victoria committed to review its Standards. The Review of the Victorian Child Safe Standards Final Report (2019) recommended aligning Victoria’s Standards with the National Principles, while retaining a focus on child empowerment and Aboriginal cultural safety. As a result, 11 new Child Safe Standards were published on 1 July 2021, and will come into effect on 1 July 2022. The new Standards closely align to the 10 National Principles but also include an additional Standard on Aboriginal cultural safety (Standard 1, Table 1).

Table 1. Victoria's New Child Safe Standard 1

Organisations establish a culturally safe environment in which the diverse and unique identities and experiences of Aboriginal children and young people are respected and valued

In complying with Child Safe Standard 1, an organisation must, at a minimum, ensure:

1.1 A child’s ability to express their culture and enjoy their cultural rights is encouraged and actively supported.
1.2 Strategies are embedded within the organisation which equip all members to acknowledge and appreciate the strengths of Aboriginal culture and understand its importance to the wellbeing and safety of Aboriginal children and young people.
1.3 Measures are adopted by the organisation to ensure racism within the organisation is identified, confronted and not tolerated. Any instances of racism are addressed with appropriate consequences.
1.4 The organisation actively supports and facilitates participation and inclusion within it by Aboriginal children, young people and their families.
1.5 All of the organisation’s policies, procedures, systems and processes together create a culturally safe and inclusive environment and meet the needs of Aboriginal children, young people and their families.

Changes to how Victoria’s Child Safe Standards are regulated

In June 2021, the Victorian Parliament passed new laws to strengthen the regulatory framework for the Standards. The new laws come into effect on 1 January 2023. Important changes include:

  • providing regulators of the Standards with a suite of contemporary monitoring and enforcement powers to enable regulators to take a proportionate and risk-based approach to regulation 
  • the introduction of a mechanism to clearly identify the regulator for each sector that is subject to the Standards, providing clarity for organisations about who regulates them, and removing the confusion associated with the current co-regulatory model
  • providing the Commission for Children and Young People with a state-wide leadership and capacity building role to ensure consistent child safety outcomes across sectors, and
  • facilitating improved information sharing between regulators so non-compliance with the Standards can be more effectively and efficiently identified, making organisations safer for children. 

Safe and Supported: The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2021-2031

The Royal Commission recommended governments across Australia implement long-term safety initiatives that address not just sexual abuse, but a broad range of safety issues for children. 

‘Safe and Supported: The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2021-2031’ (Safe and Supported) was created in collaboration with multiple relevant stakeholders. This included all Australian governments, SNAICC (the national non-government peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children), the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership Group and non-government organisations across Australia. 

Safe and Supported, which was launched on 8 December 2021, sets out governments’ 10-year strategy to improve the lives of children, young people and families experiencing disadvantage or who are vulnerable to abuse and neglect. It includes an agreed vision and goal, priority groups, focus areas and underpinning principles.

Online safety

The Royal Commission recommended governments introduce measures to improve online safety for children to prevent and mitigate the risk of online sexual abuse. Since 2018, the Victorian Government has implemented a School Incident Management System (SIMS) policy which provides a robust approach to the reporting, notification and management of school incidents. The SIMS facilitates a consistent approach to reporting that allows for a timely response to incidents and can prevent further harm. The policy enables major incidents to be escalated for coordinated response, supported by multiple stakeholders including emergency management, legal, media/communications, IT teams and Student Support Services Officers. 

Standard Operating Procedures for the Department of Education and Training are to advise principals to notify the eSafety Commissioner and the Department’s Cyber Security Team for any cyber safety related matters.

Nationally coordinated law enforcement responses to online child sexual abuse 

Operation Griffin

Operation Griffin brings together Australian and New Zealand heads of law enforcement and child abuse investigation units, to better coordinate responses to child protection. The Australian Federal Police (AFP), state and territory police, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, Australian Border Force and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission are continuing to work together through Operation Griffin.  

Operation Griffin has a number of sub-working groups, all of which have Victoria Police representation.   

ThinkUKnow online child safety program 

The ThinkUKnow online child safety program, led by the AFP, engages influencers in a young person’s life, including parents, carers, educators and police to raise awareness and deliver education about preventing online child sexual exploitation.

A component of the program includes in-school presentations which are delivered by state and territory police to build positive engagement between children, young people and police, while equipping students with the knowledge and skills to be able to take actionable steps to maintain their safety at all times. 

ThinkUKnow continues to receive requests from schools for student presentations. This demand and need for online child safety education is highlighted through the increased numbers of presentations delivered. The AFP and state and territory police delivered 2,226 presentations to an estimated 198,680 students across Australia. 

During 2018—2019, Victoria Police was involved in over 500 presentations. 

Schools Engagement Model 

Victoria Police launched its new Schools Engagement Model (Model) on 9 December 2021, in partnership with the Victorian Department of Education and Training. The Model provides structured, principles based guidance for how police engage with schools. The Model features a range of engagement, from generalised community engagement activities aimed at strengthening relationships and preventing crime, through to activities targeted to behaviours affecting community safety. The Model recognises the unique role that Victoria Police plays within the community. It also acknowledges the many other agencies and community organisations supporting the healthy development of young people. For this reason, the Model encourages partnerships with local organisations and service providers to promote more effective and purposeful engagement between police and schools. This will help avoid relying on police to deliver programs or initiatives more suited to other service providers. 

Nationally consistent categorisation of child abuse material

In February 2021, Victoria Police transitioned from the Australian National Victim Image Library 9 classification model to the Australian Child Abuse Categorisation Schema. Both of these models deal exclusively with child abuse material, being images and video files. All Australian states and territories will be working towards adopting this classification model. The Australian Child Abuse Categorisation Schema streamlines the process of categorisation for investigators and provides greater opportunity to focus on victim identification, allowing investigators to better identify and rescue children who are the victims of sexual abuse. More information on the Schema can be found in the Australian Government’s Annual Progress Report 2021.