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Child-safe community groups are crucial

Published Sydney Morning Herald 24 October 2018

NSW Children's Guardian, Janet SchorerThe importance of community organisations being child safe will become as commonly understood as why we wear seatbelts in cars.

That’s the aim of NSW Children’s Guardian Janet Schorer, who heads one of the key groups responsible for helping to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Office of the Children’s Guardian (OCG) is an independent government agency that works to protect young people by promoting and regulating quality, childsafe organisations and services.

Across the next year, the agency will work with organisations such as sporting clubs and creative arts groups, and with sole traders such as music teachers, to determine the best way they can ensure they meet child safe standards.

Schorer says being child safe means having a code of conduct, employing the right people, managing any potential risks and, if something does happen, ensuring children can speak up and be heard. ‘‘What the royal commission tells us is sometimes kids might speak up and they’re not believed or organisations don’t know what to do,’’ Schorer says.

‘‘So what we have done and will continue to do is to give organisations the resources they need to make that really easy.’’

The OCG runs Working with Children checks, however that is just one part of an organisation being child safe, Schorer says.

‘‘You need all of these other things in place – a code of conduct [and] what sort of behaviour you expect – so if parents don’t feel right and they feel someone is just not a right fit for them, that they’ve got a way to speak up about it before something happens that then means you are in a whole different world and you’ve got kids who are really traumatised.’’

Schorer says when parents sign up their children to play a season at a local sports club, parents should be given clear information about the club’s child-safe policies and practices.

This could include a code of conduct, behavioural expectations for coaches and volunteers working with kids, the club’s risk management strategies for keeping kids safe and whom parents need to contact if they have concerns.

Clubs with Facebook pages should not publish photos of children without permission and coaches, even if volunteers, need to understand the right thing to do, around communicating with children via text message or through social media.

There are 28,000 child-related organisations registered with the OCG, ranging from the NSW Department of Education to private tutors.

The OCG has received a state government funding boost of more than $5 million to help it support more organisations to change their cultures around child safety.

‘‘This is about a change in understanding of the importance of child safety and this idea of child safety and protective factors for our kids being as important as seatbelts,’’ Schorer says.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered a national apology earlier this week from the federal parliament to victims of institutional child sex abuse.

Schorer says the experiences of child sex abuse victims aired during the royal commission would never be forgotten and urgently shape what the OCG does next.