Part A: Overview
This resource is intended to provide an overview of the types of screening schemes that operate in Australia for child-related work. State/territory legislative provisions and information about risk assessments are also discussed.
Thanks to Kathryn Goldsworthy, Research Officer with the Child Family Community Australia information exchange at the Australian Institute of Family Studies who updated this factsheet.
Police check and child safety screening programs
There are three types of screening programs operating in Australia.
The first, in South Australia, has an employer-driven system that makes it mandatory for employers in relevant fields to carry out background checks on prospective employees or volunteers.1 This system provides a “point-in-time” background check and individuals must undergo screening each time they enter into a child-related position.
The second and most common type of screening program in operation is individual based. It offers certification to engage in child-related work to individuals (Qld, NSW, Vic., WA and the NT). These certifications are valid for a period of time (e.g., 3 years in WA) and provide for ongoing monitoring of an individual’s suitability for child-related work. This means that if a relevant criminal offence is committed during the validity of the check, or if the individual is subject to relevant work-related disciplinary procedures, the administering authority may inform employers of the offence, and alter or withdraw an individual’s entitlement to work with children. Individuals can also carry their certification between positions and do not have to undergo repeated screening while their Working With Children Check is valid.
The third type of screening program is the Working with Vulnerable People Background Check operating in the ACT which is a mix of the two. It provides three types of certification based on the eligibility of individual applicants. The “general certification” provides for the same conditions to engage in child-related work as found in individual screening checks discussed above, including a 3-year certification period, ongoing monitoring, and mobility between role positions. The second type of certification is role-based. Similar to the point-in-time background check, this certification restricts individuals to engaging in specified regulated activities with a stated employer. The role-based certification cannot be moved freely between regulated activities. The third type of registration is conditional, imposing specific conditions on an individual’s registration.
Table 1 outlines the relevant legislation in each state and territory and explains the type of system in place in each.
|Jurisdiction||Act||Type of program|
|ACT||Working with Vulnerable People (Background Checking) Act 2011 (ACT)||The ACT Working with Vulnerable People Background Check requires that individuals engaging in regulated activities or services, including where these are provided to children, must be registered. A statutory Screening Unit within the Office of Regulatory Services, Justice and Community Safety Directorate is responsible for applications for registration. The registration is valid for 3 years and is subject to ongoing monitoring. There are three types of registration administered to individuals under the Working with Vulnerable People Background Check: general registration, which is transferable across all roles and organisations; role-based registration; and conditional registration.|
|NSW||Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012 (NSW)||The NSW Working With Children Check that came into effect 15 June 2013 has resulted in a move from an employer driven “point-in-time” system to a system where individuals, including volunteers, are responsible for their own application for certification. Employers operating within a child-related industry are required to register online with the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian and to subsequently conduct online verification of new paid employees clearance. Existing paid workers and all volunteers (new and current) also need to have clearance validated online as they are phased in to the new check system. The check is valid for 5 years and subject to ongoing monitoring.|
|NT||Care and Protection of Children Act 2007 (NT)||Individuals are required to apply for a Working With Children Check, known as an “Ochre Card” in the NT. The Ochre Card, which is also known as a Clearance Notice is valid for 2 years, and applies to employers and volunteers in child-related employment settings.|
|QLD||Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000(Qld)||Individuals are required to apply for a Working With Children Check, known as a “Blue Card” in Queensland. Valid for 3 years, Blue Cards entitle individuals to engage in child-related occupations/volunteering. Organisations providing child-related services must also have policies and procedures in place to identify and minimise risk of harm to children, which are monitored by the Public Safety Business Agency.|
|SA||Children’s Protection Act 1993 (SA)||The South Australian system is an employer driven point-in-time system requiring employers and responsible authorities to obtain National Police Checks and conduct wider screening assessment for those engaging in child-related occupations/volunteering.|
|TAS||Registration to Work with Vulnerable People Act 2013 (Tas.)||
The Registration to Work with Vulnerable People Act 2013 came into effect on 1 July 2014. The Act will be phased in over 3 years beginning July 2014, replacing the Good Character Check screening program. Child services will be the first sector required to make the transition to the new regulations.
Individuals who work or volunteer in the child care or other child-related sectors are required to apply for a Working with Children Check. Registrations are valid for 3 years or as determined by the Registrar.
|VIC||Working With Children Act 2005 (Vic.)||Individuals are required to apply for a Working With Children Check. Valid for 5 years, the check entitles individuals to engage in child-related occupations/volunteering and practical training.|
|WA||Working with Children (Criminal Record Checking) Act 2004 (WA)||Individuals are required to apply for a Working With Children Check. Valid for 3 years, the check entitles individuals to engage in child-related occupations/volunteering.|
For a more detailed description of the state/territory requirements for obtaining a Working with Children Check, see Part B: State and Territory Requirements .
Professional registration and child safety policy development
In addition to child-related employment legislation, all states and territories have legislation that requires people who wish to register in certain occupations (e.g., teachers, doctors or childcare workers) to be screened for criminal offences. This means that even if child-related employment legislation did not exist there are still requirements for adults working in certain occupations to undergo screening (e.g., the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 [Vic.]; the Medical Practitioners Registration Act 2001 [Qld]; the Child Care Act 2001 [Tas.]). Where registration requirements require screening, certain persons are exempt from Working With Children Check requirements (e.g., in Victoria, persons registered under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006).
Organisations may also have developed their own policies that require employees and volunteers to undergo criminal record checks. State and territory police provide criminal history checks to individuals and organisations wishing to obtain Police Checks for employment, voluntary work and occupation-related licensing or registration purposes.
The difference between a Police Check and a Working With Children Check
Police Checks identify and release relevant criminal history information relating to convictions, findings of guilt or pending court proceedings. However, due to spent conviction/non-disclosure legislation and information release policies, there are limitations on the information a Police Check can provide (e.g., the Spent Convictions Scheme stipulates that prior convictions are not to be disclosed where 10 years have passed from the date of the conviction).
As the object of a Working With Children Check is to make an assessment of the level of risk an individual poses to children’s safety, Working With Children Checks are more extensive, but also more targeted than Police Checks. For example, Working With Children Checks draw together information from various sources, but may include a primary focus on certain types of offences (e.g., sexual offences, offences related to the harm or mistreatment of a child). In general, Working With Children Checks give consideration to:
- convictions – whether or not they are considered spent or were committed by a juvenile;
- apprehended violence orders and other orders, prohibitions or reporting obligations;
- charges (i.e., where a conviction has not been recorded because, for example, a proceeding has not been heard or finalised by a court, or where charges have been dismissed or withdrawn);
- any relevant allegations or police investigations involving the individual; and
- relevant employment proceedings and disciplinary information from professional organisations (e.g., organisations associated with teachers, childcare service providers, foster carers, and health practitioners).
Across the five jurisdictions that currently carry out Working With Children Checks (NSW, NT, Qld, Vic., and WA) and the ACT and Tas., which carry out a Working with Vulnerable People Background Check, there are differences in what information is considered and what sources of information are drawn upon. Table 2 provides a comparison of the information considered in Working With Children Checks and the Working with Vulnerable People Background Check across these jurisdictions.
|ACT||The Vulnerable People Background Check is comprised of:
|NSW||The Working With Children Check is comprised of:
Consideration of relevant employment proceedings, reportable conduct, any sexual offences or sexual misconduct, committed against, with or in the presence of a child, including a child pornography offence; any child-related personal violence offence; any assault, ill treatment or neglect of a child; any behaviour that causes psychological harm to a child; or an act of violence committed by an employee in the course of employment and in the presence of a child. As part of an additional risk assessment, the Children’s Guardian may give consideration to a range of different factors regarding previous matters that triggered the risk assessment. The Children’s Guardian may also consider any other matters deemed necessary for an assessment to be made.
A “reasonable person test” has recently been introduced. This means that a Working With Children clearance or enabling order cannot be granted unless the Guardian or Tribunal respectively is satisfied that a reasonable person would allow his or her child to have direct contact with the affected person who was not directly supervised.
|NT||The Working with Children (Ochre Card) Clearance Screening is comprised of:
|QLD||The Blue Card screening system is comprised of:
|SA||Under the Children’s Protection Regulations 2010, the Department of Communities and Social Inclusion provides a wider screening assessment which includes:
|TAS||The Working with Children Check obtains applicants’ national criminal histories from sources in Australia. This includes information about:
|VIC||The Working With Children Check is comprised of:
In addition, the following individuals are ineligible to apply for a Working with Children Check:
|WA||The Working With Children Check considers:
* Class 1 and 2 offences include various sexual offences against a child as well as offences such as murder, manslaughter, grievous bodily harm, indecent assault, making/viewing child pornography and involvement in child prostitution and other offences.
Screening helps to prevent people with a known history of violent and abusive behaviour gaining access to children through organisations. However, screening alone is not sufficient (e.g., it is limited to identifying known perpetrators) and needs to be coupled with interviews, thorough reference checks, policy development for child-safe environments, and robust accountability frameworks for responding to allegations.
1 SA’s screening relates only to Police Checks, rather than a Working with Children Chec