The Working With Children Check (WWCC) has always been an important guard in the child protection game, but widespread short-sightedness about its preventative power means key organisations routinely overlook the opportunity to implement these checks.
It is important to acknowledge that while WWCCs are an important tool in the prevention toolkit, they are not fail-proof. As one government review noted, they can’t predict whether people will offend in the future and over-reliance on them can create risks for children if parents and carers make assumptions about their children’s safety all because someone they know holds a WWCC. There are cases in which offenders ‘fall through the net’.
But none of this changes the fact that these checks are an essential part of ensuring the ongoing safety of children. They allow government services nationally, and at times internationally, to check and share information related to the WWCC holder, including relevant criminal offences that relate to harm or abuse of children. They act as both a deterrent for people to work in certain industries such as childcare and as a monitoring system to ensure ongoing compliance.
In some industries the use of WWCC is without debate – schools, childcare, sporting organisations and so on. If you work in these industries, you are no doubt used to the forms, the paperwork, and the need to be up to date.
But what about other industries that have a high number of children as either clients or employees? Fast food outlets, supermarkets and retailers employ the vast majority of Australia’s child workforce, but have minimal safeguarding policies to shield them.
In these industries children are often their main frontline workforce. They work in sales, at the cash register or waiting tables at your local café or restaurant. All over the country, children are working as shelf-fillers, kitchen hands and cooks, frequently alongside adults.
For example, up to 60% of employees in fast food chains can be young people, aged as young as 15 years. If more than half of your staff are not yet adults, how can you justify not requiring Working with Children Checks?
Many parents would be surprised, maybe even shocked, to know that WWCCs are not mandated at the place where their children earn their pocket money. Your child’s supervisor at work may have a criminal history of offences against children, yet they are able to work closely with children. Why do these retailers not have WWCC requirements? Why aren’t major retailers voluntarily doing WWCCs to protect their youth workforce?
No one could argue that the WWCC process in any state is perfect, but requiring these checks and implementing a robust checking system is essential to protect children from abuse.
Anyone who interacts or employs children should demand one, even if it is not the law. The absence of Working With Children Checks should signal to all of us that an organisation doesn’t prioritise the serious matter that is child protection for their staff and customers alike.
Organisations in these industries are slowly opening their eyes to their obligations and significant potential liability, but we see it everyday the ‘system’ they have in place is inadequate, cumbersome and would fail any test of being tamper proof and enduring. Australian organisations across the board just aren’t stepping up to the plate on Child Safety and simple measures to ensure children are protected, and this is before we get to industries that desperately need Child Safety measures introduced.
It’s not just in this context that parents are shocked, Parents assume every day and have a right to assume that the organisations taking care of their children be it at work or otherwise are performing all appropriate checks diligently and frequently. The sad reality is that parents need to ask this question of organisations as in the majority of cases it’s not happening and they won’t have a satisfactory answer.
Tomas Lopata is director – global industry and strategy of Child Wise.
Claire Rogers is CEO and child safety advocate at Oho.