The Victorian Government is working to ensure child sexual abuse is reported and complaints are handled appropriately by both government and non-government institutions. The government is committed to ensuring independent oversight of reporting and complaint handling by institutions.
Reporting child abuse
Child Protection is specifically targeted to those children and young people in need of protection, if they have experienced or are at risk of significant harm, and their parents have not protected, or are unlikely to protect them from that harm. Mandatory reporters in Victoria are required to make a report to Child Protection authorities when, in the course of practicing their profession or carrying out duties of their office, position or employment, they have formed a belief on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of protection from physical injury or sexual abuse. Victoria’s mandatory reporter groups were expanded to meet those recommended by the Royal Commission and aligned fully with Royal Commission recommendations when school counsellors and people in religious ministry were included as mandatory reporters in early 2020.
The Royal Commission found that fear of reprisal can prevent the reporting of child abuse. The Victorian Government has responded to the relevant Royal Commission recommendation by introducing the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Child Protection) Bill 2021 into Parliament. The Bill will, amongst other matters, amend the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 to include reprisal protections for reporters to Child Protection. This addresses situations in which a reporter may not make a report to Child Protection due to a fear of reprisal from their workplace or family members or others connected to the child and family, despite the existence of confidentiality provisions. This will also protect referrers where they might direct their concerns to The Orange Door or Child and Family Information, Referral and Support Teams (Child FIRST).
The Victorian Government also provides avenues of support where significant concerns for the wellbeing of children or unborn children are identified. Early support to these children and their families can prevent escalation of risk necessitating Child Protection intervention. The Orange Door and Child FIRST have locations across the state and provide a central point from which children and families can be referred to relevant services based on an individual child’s or family’s needs.
Institutional reporting and complaint handling
The Royal Commission found that child safe institutions are ones that ‘create cultures, adopt strategies and take action to prevent harm to children [and do] not obstruct or prevent the reporting of child sexual abuse’ (Final Report, page 134).
The Royal Commission recommended child safety be embedded at all levels of an organisation, and that complaints processes should be accessible and child-focused. As explained in Volume 6, Victoria’s 11 new Child Safe Standards (Standards) will come into effect on 1 July 2022 and include Standards that implement recommendations of the Royal Commission regarding institutional responses to complaints (Table 2 and Table 3). The new Standards apply to Victorian organisations that provide services or facilities to, or employ or engage, children and young people.
Table 2. Victoria's New Child Safe Standard 2
Child safety and wellbeing is embedded in organisational leadership, governance and culture
In complying with Child Safe Standard 2, an organisation must, at a minimum, ensure:
2.1 The organisation makes a public commitment to child safety.
|2.2 A child safe culture is championed and modelled at all levels of the organisation from the top down and bottom up.
|2.3 Governance arrangements facilitate implementation of the child safety and wellbeing policy at all levels.
|2.4 A Code of Conduct provides guidelines for staff and volunteers on expected behavioural standards and responsibilities.
|2.5 Risk management strategies focus on preventing, identifying and mitigating risks to children and young people.
|2.6 Staff and volunteers understand their obligations on information sharing and recordkeeping.
Table 3. Victoria's New Child Safe Standard 7
Processes for complaints and concerns are child-focused
In complying with Child Safe Standard 7, an organisation must, at a minimum, ensure:
7.1 The organisation has an accessible, child-focused complaint-handling policy which clearly outlines the roles and responsibilities of leadership, staff and volunteers, approaches to dealing with different types of complaints, breaches of relevant policies or the Code of Conduct and obligations to act and report.
|7.2 Effective complaint handling processes are understood by children and young people, families, staff and volunteers, and are culturally safe.
|7.3 Complaints are taken seriously and responded to promptly and thoroughly.
|7.4 The organisation has policies and procedures in place that address reporting of complaints and concerns to relevant authorities, whether or not the law requires reporting, and co-operates with law enforcement.
|7.5 Reporting, privacy and employment law obligations are met.