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A trusted childcare worker was exposed as one of the nation’s most heinous paedophiles shocking parents across Australia. But what’s more shocking, is he could have been stopped in his tracks.
While there have been calls for better collaboration and data sharing between the states and territories to ensure such attacks on children never happens again – it only solves part of the problem.
It is one thing to adopt a national working with children check register, but such a measure is useless if it’s not monitored regularly by those who hire or use services from the holders of those accreditations.
Too often, schools, childcare centres, sport groups and other organisations working closely with children will complete a police check and collect a WWCC when an employee is onboarded, and at best request an update within a year or 18 months.
It’s akin to a set and forget approach.
This is the real dilemma for HR managers who are ultimately responsible for the WWWC database, whether in education, business, sporting groups or organisations that have constant need for volunteers.
Lapses in checking allows our worst child sex offenders to slip through the net, and like all criminals they know how to exploit loopholes between our states and territories and poor organisational risk controls.
OHO – a purpose-led social venture that uses a world-first technology platform to perform credential checks in real time enables all our care industries, childcare included, to monitor validity every week, of every month of every year – not just when an employee is hired, or volunteer recruited. Oho automates HR’s time-consuming requirement to constantly check employees, volunteers and contractors to ensure they are not “red flags”.
While some of Australia’s biggest businesses use Oho’s technology, there has been minimal engagement from state and federal governments. And every day a check is not made is potentially another day a predator is left free to roam in our communities.
It was pleasing to see NSW Premier Chris Minns announce this week that he would seek an immediate meeting of federal and state education ministers to improve information sharing.
My concern is such words will not translate to immediate action and protect children and parents from sex offenders. Operation Tenterfield took ten years intense investigation, which included multiple missteps, before the 45-year-old offender could be charged. In the meantime, it is alleged he preyed on 87 innocent children in multiple childcare centres in two states.
At Oho we have learnt constant monitoring is a parental expectation as parents believe their children are going into a safe environment and need to be reassured that no one disqualified enters the childcare centre, school, or community group.
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass identified serious flaws in the state’s working with children scheme, saying “some painful lessons have been learnt. For the safety of our children more needs to be done”.
So I have some ideas for some key discussion points at Minns’ meeting with state and federal education ministers.
Currently WWCC registers in many states only act when someone has been charged and harm has been irreversibly committed. What Glass says should be national best practice and be implemented nationwide, immediately.
Organisations that work closely with children must also be held accountable for ensuring their working with children and other professional credential checks are up to date. This falls to the HR department and clearly a “tick-a-box” mentality adopted by many organisations who merely collect right to work credential information without verifying, does not work.
Further, regulators and auditors are also not consistent in setting expectations of ongoing verification – in the education sector in Victoria for example, verification is only required annually on teachers, staff and volunteers. Somewhere between 1 and 8 cards are revoked almost every day in each state in Australia so 12 months is simply too long between checks.
Government needs to make organisations more accountable for ensuring their workers, contractors or volunteers’ working with children checks are current, scanning every registry regularly. This is best practice; anything less is clearly inferior and exposes our children and community to unnecessary harm.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for an individual organisation to monitor compliance and complete working with checks in real time. Such work is resource intensive and tedious.
Then there is the cost. A lot of not-for-profit groups are well aware of the risk but then face the problem of funding regular checks on the network of tens of thousands of volunteers and employees who are in close contact with children every day.
Oho can start the ball rolling today. We have the technology to ensure that teachers, volunteers, swimming coaches, scout leaders – whoever works closely with children – are who they say they are and help keep our community free from harm.
Every single case of abuse impacts not just the victim, but dozens of people around them, creating dramatic changes in their lives across a lifetime. Each individual protected represents a corresponding legacy down through generations.
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