Religious groups FAQ
The Office of the Children’s Guardian works with organisations to help keep children safe in NSW and an important part of the child safe framework is the Reportable Conduct Scheme.
The scheme monitors how an organisation responds to an allegation of child abuse or sexual misconduct that has been made against a relevant worker (employees or volunteers) and contractors where a Working With Children Check is required for the role.
Following a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse the NSW Government expanded the Reportable Conduct Scheme to the religious and faith-based sector, which will be in effect from 1 March 2020.
Under the Children’s Guardian Act 2019 relevant entities (organisations in the scheme), including religious bodies, are required to have systems in place for identifying and responding to ‘reportable conduct’ from 1 March 2020.
What do religious institutions need to do under the Reportable Conduct Scheme?
Your organisation will need to update or develop child protection and reporting frameworks, policies and procedures, staff education or training so they can meet their compliance obligations under the scheme.
Religious bodies need to make sure they have systems in place that include:
- a code of conduct
- policies, including
- child protection policies that cover identification, prevention and reporting of reportable allegations, conduct and convictions (including by other employees)
- processes for dealing with reportable allegations (including procedural fairness and protections for making reportable conduct complaints/notifications/reports)
- recordkeeping and information management handling policies and procedures
- training on those codes and policies.
The systems developed by entities for the prevention and identification of reportable conduct may be audited by the Office of the Children's Guardian.
There are also new obligations on employees of relevant entities, including religious bodies. Specifically, once an employee is aware of a reportable allegation or reportable conviction of another employee (including contractors and volunteers) they must report the allegation or conviction to the head of the entity (or to the Children's Guardian if it relates to the head of the entity).
The head of entity must, within 7 business days of becoming aware of a reportable allegation or a reportable conviction, give a written notice about it to the Children’s Guardian. However, penalties will not apply for three months to assist entities to prepare for the Scheme. The head of the entity is also required to investigate or arrange for an investigator to investigate the reportable allegation or determine whether the conviction considered to be a reportable conviction is a reportable conviction.
After an investigation or determination is completed, the Head of Entity must prepare a report for the Children’s Guardian within 30 days of receiving the report of the reportable allegation or conviction. If it is not possible to provide a final report within this time frame, the head of entity must prepare an interim report within 30 days of receiving the report of the reportable allegation or conviction with the reason for not providing the final report within 30days and an estimated time frame for completing the final report.
Further information on how to comply with the requirements of the Reportable Conduct Scheme is available at www.kidsguardian.nsw.gov.au/reportableconduct
What are the mandatory reporting changes for religious organisations?
From 1 March 2020, the definition of a ‘mandatory reporter’ in NSW will expand to include persons in religious ministry or persons providing religion-based activities to children.
This includes both clergy (such as minister of religion, priest, deacon, pastor, rabbi, Salvation Army officer) and appointed (voluntary) leadership roles (such as church elder, religious brother or sister).
A mandatory reporter must make a report to the Department of Communities and Justice when they have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is at risk of significant harm (and those grounds arise in the course of, or from their work or role).
Mandatory reporters can call the NSW Child Protection Helpline on 132 111. The Child Protection Helpline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Mandatory reporters are protected from liability for defamation and civil and criminal liability. A mandatory report does not constitute a breach of professional etiquette or ethics, or amount to unprofessional conduct. All mandatory reporters are legally protected against retribution for making or proposing to make a report.
The mandatory reporting requirement is in addition to obligations under the reportable conduct scheme. For more information about mandatory reporting in NSW go to https://www.facs.nsw.gov.au/families/Protecting-kids/mandatory-reporters
Can religious bodies obtain information under Chapter 16A of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection Act) 1998?
Chapter 16A of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (Care and Protection Act) allows ‘prescribed bodies’ to exchange information despite other laws that prohibit or restrict the disclosure of personal and private information. ‘Prescribed bodies’ are defined in the Care and Protection Act and associated Regulations and include any ‘organisation the duties of which include direct responsibility for, or direct supervision of, the provision of health care, welfare, education, children’s services, residential services, or law enforcement, wholly or partly to children’ (clause 8(j) of the Regulations). To the extent that religious bodies provide the services listed in clause 8(j), they may be entitled to disclose and obtain information under Chapter 16A.
In the context of fulfilling their obligations under the Reportable Conduct Scheme, religious bodies may obtain information from other prescribed bodies under Chapter 16A if the religious body:
- is making a decision, assessment or plan for a child or class of children in response to concerns about an employee or volunteer who works with children within the religious body, which are or may be reportable allegations
- is investigating a reportable allegation against an employee or volunteer who works with children within the religious body, or
- is otherwise managing risk to a child or class of children arising in the religious body’s capacity as an employer of a person (including engagement of a volunteer) to work with children, and
- reasonably believes that the information requested can assist to fulfill these obligations.
To request relevant information from another prescribed body under Chapter 16A, religious bodies will need to identify a child or class of children whose safety, welfare or wellbeing is in issue; demonstrate that the threshold outlined above is met; and outline the nature of the information sought, including the name and date of birth of the relevant employee or volunteer. It is important to note that there are circumstances in which prescribed bodies are not required to provide information requested under Chapter 16A. These circumstances are outlined in sections 245(D)(4) and 245I.
If, in the course of fulfilling your obligations under the Reportable Conduct Scheme, you experience difficulties obtaining information that you consider falls within the parameters of Chapter 16A from a prescribed body, the reportable conduct team may be able to assist. You can contact the reportable conduct team on (02) 8219 3800 or at email@example.com.