Get to know your AOs: Nicole McGarity

Authorised Officer, Nicole McGarity, talks to us about mandatory reporting, child protection obligations and the resources available to support and guide services.

What is your position and where are you based?

I am a Senior Field Officer based in the Parramatta office.

In your view, what are the most common myths and fears that exist around mandatory reporting? How have you seen services overcome these?

Some services are worried that if they make a report that they may be seen to have not provided adequate protection for the child/ren involved. Some providers are worried about the pressure and repercussions an impending investigation may have on the parties involved, including the child, the family, the educators and the provider themselves.

Some providers state that they found it difficult to believe something had, or might have, occurred, such as “I just never thought…” or “I would’ve never expected it from…” It can sometimes be difficult to make the decision to report a concern, particularly if the person making the mandatory report is unsure of the facts and/or is questioning if they are doing the right thing.

In my experience once a person has a thorough understanding on the process of mandatory reporting, they are more confident to look for signs that a child may be at risk of abuse or neglect and when making decisions regarding reporting.

Some providers have mentioned that the decision tree, accessible through the NSW Mandatory Reporter Guide on the ChildStory website, has been a highly useful tool, not only for real-life reporting purposes, but also as a practical training opportunity for educators.

Based on your experience, what are some of the biggest challenges that services face when trying to meet their child protection and mandatory reporting responsibilities?

  • Keeping up to date with changes in legislation, such as the Children’s Guardian Act 2019 and the most current requirements under the NSW Reportable Conduct Scheme, which came into effect on 1 March 2020.
    • Early Childhood Education and Care services are considered to be a ‘relevant entity’ under the NSW Reportable Conduct Scheme, and as such, are required to report any reportable allegations or convictions to the Office of the Children’s Guardian. Previously these reports would have been made to the NSW Ombudsman.
  • Changes in Government agencies who deal with child protection matters.

Did you know: On 1 July 2019, the Department of Family and Community Services and the Department of Justice were brought together to form the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ). DCJ is the NSW agency with statutory responsibility for protecting children and young people from risk of significant harm.

  • Ensuring educators are aware of and understand their obligations under the legislation is also a challenging aspect for providers. Although many providers require their educators to complete regular child protection training, some providers report that it is difficult to ascertain whether each individual educator has a sound understanding of what is required by the law, as well as the service’s policies and procedures in relation to child protection matters.
  • Providing support to families and educators who may be involved in child protection, given the sensitive and confidential nature of child protection as well as the service’s responsibilities to the child, the family and the educator/s involved.

Can you give any examples of how you’ve helped services understand and meet their child protection obligations?

I often speak with the approved provider about the importance of having strong and clear guidelines within their child protection policies and procedures. In addition to having a strong policy, it is also important to ensure that the educators are able to transfer their training and knowledge into practice. Sharing case studies, holding mini ‘testing’ scenarios, and exploring the decision tree on the Mandatory Reporter Guide are good ways to check educator understanding.

If I visit a service with a number of educators and families who speak English as a second language, I recommend to providers that all policies, resources and information guides are made available in the relevant languages. This helps to bridge the gap between any cultural and or language differences, and ensures that all parties have access to the correct legislative information in their home language.

Other proactive actions that can be taken include teaching children protective behaviours, educating families, and keeping a log of incidents, conversations and concerns. This may highlight any patterns of behaviours and/or incidents.

Some valuable and informative resources available to early childhood education and care services include:

  • Child Protection Helpline – 132 111
  • ChildStory – Provides a holistic view for informed decision-making to help ensure a child or young person has the best life outcomes. ChildStory Reporter is an online tool that supports mandatory reporters to decide how to respond to events and access the Mandatory Reporter Guide.
  • NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian – Offers resources and information such as ‘A Guide to the Child Safe Standards’, and ‘SAFE Series’ resources which promote protective behaviours for young children.
  • Bravehearts – Offering online child protection training, personal safety education programs, counselling and support services.
  • National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect – Provide workshops and training, information and resources in the prevention of child abuse.
  • Australian Childhood Foundation – The Foundation produces a range of resources to support your work with vulnerable children, young people, families and communities.

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