Working with Children Checks – monitoring, efficiencies and compliance
Working with Children Checks (WWCC) play an important role in the protection of children in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector. The WWCC is not only a valuable pre-employment screening tool, it provides ECEC sites with assurance that people who hold a WWCC will be continuously monitored by the issuer against a comprehensive list of offences that would deem them unsuitable to be in contact with children.
All states and territories, with the exception of ACT, have an online status checker that allows ECEC leaders to review the current status of a person’s WWCC. This simple act of checking is a standard part of the recruitment process, but all ECEC settings have a non-delegable duty to ensure that children in their care are protected, and therefore have an ongoing need to ensure that WWCCs are current and valid (i.e. not expired, suspended or revoked).
Most states support the linking of an employee or volunteer to an organisation, and the general assumption is that once this link has been created, the organisation will be notified by the issuer if the WWCC is revoked. Alarmingly this is not always the case. In Victoria, the individual is responsible for creating the link, and can break the link without triggering a notification to the organisation.
Although statistics for revoked or suspended WWCCs are not publicly reported on by the state issuing bodies, the NSW Kids Guardian 2017-18 Annual Report shows 1,942 people were barred in New South Wales in FY2018. Furthermore, 41 per cent of those people did not have a verifying employer for the Kids Guardian to contact.
This means that up to 800 people from that one year alone, just in NSW, might continue to have contact with children in institutional settings despite having had their WWCC barred.
The management of WWCCs can be manual and onerous. Feedback gained by Dutyof.Care during a demonstration from a Melbourne-based childcare centre estimates that it takes up to 4 hours in any given day to check all 30 people employed by the centre, per quarter.
Rebecca Hine from Dutyof.Care explained that while this time allocation doesn’t initially sound like much, many childcare centres belong to a larger chain, so the combined effort quickly adds up. It also begs the question “is quarterly really enough?”
Whilst there is no legislative requirement on organisations to re-validate at specific intervals, she said, three months is still a reasonable period of time for someone with a revoked WWCC to continue having access to children.
Many recent high profile cases of those employed in the ECEC sector being involved in activities which may result in the suspension or revocation of a WWCC, have drawn this issue to the front of mind for many leaders and managers.
But if the answer is to check more frequently, let’s say even monthly, it adds a significant administrative burden to ECEC leaders who are already notoriously busy. In risk management terms, WWCCs are just one part of a much larger child safety and risk management framework that ECEC services are responsible for.
Given the low likelihood of a revoked card holder being on staff at an ECEC site, managing WWCCs should be a simple, housekeeping task and not take up valuable time of leaders in education and care settings. But conversely, given the high impact associated with something like this occurring at a childcare centre, it’s a risk that definitely needs addressing.
Aiming to provide a solution to the onerous yet important task, a passionate team of child safety advocates developed Dutyof.Care, a web-based platform that automates the validation of WWCCs. Through the platform, a staff member’s WWCC details are entered once, and everyone is automatically re-validated every week. If a card holder has an expiring, expired or revoked card, the relevant leader will receive an email notification, regardless of whether the individual is linked to the ECEC service or not.
In addition, Dutyof.Care keeps an auditable log of every check, providing ECEC services and leaders with easy access to evidence confirming that they are compliant. This advance in record keeping means that ECEC services can adhere to the guidelines stemming from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which recommends that child-related workplaces retain records for a minimum of 45 years.