Setting the standard for preventing child abuse
Guidance from the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian about reflecting on your child safe journey and embedding the Child Safe Standards in service practice.
14 December 2023
Many sectors in child-related work, including early childhood education and care (ECEC), fall within the NSW Child Safe Scheme. Under the scheme, all ECEC services in NSW are required to implement the Child Safe Standards, which support child-related organisations to develop and maintain cultures that keep children safe.
There is some alignment between the National Quality Standard (NQS) and the Child Safe Standards, although there are also important differences. The NQS sets a benchmark for the quality of ECEC services across Australia, whereas the Child Safe Standards ask organisations to look at everything they do through a child-safe lens.
Laws that came into effect earlier this year give the NSW Children’s Guardian power to regulate the NSW ECEC sector’s implementation of the Child Safe Standards.
Understanding the Child Safe Standards
The Child Safe Standards came out of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
As explained on the royal commission’s Making institutions child safe page:
The Child Safe Standards are a benchmark against which institutions can assess their child safe capacity and set performance targets. The standards work together to articulate what makes a child safe institution. All the standards are of equal importance and are interrelated.
The standards are based on extensive research and consultation by the royal commission. They provide clear guidance for organisations to create cultures, adopt strategies and act to put the interests of children first to keep them safe from harm.
All organisations that work with children can implement the Child Safe Standards and continually work to improve their child safe practices.
Each of the 10 standards comes with a set of core components that also need to be implemented.
Reflecting on your child safe journey
If you want to find out how your service is progressing on its child safe journey, a good place to start is the Child Safe Self-Assessment offered by the Office of the Children’s Guardian.
This is a free, online tool that will help you identify areas of strength and opportunities for improvement in how you’re implementing the Child Safe Standards.
It takes about 30 minutes to complete and your responses generate a personalised Assessment and Action Report, which includes useful resources to help your organisation improve its current level of child safety.
More than 1,000 ECEC services have completed the self-assessment since its launch in January 2023.
Responses indicate a strong level of awareness of the Standards, and respondents were mostly confident that their cultures are child-safe, though there is room for improvement.
Only about a quarter of respondents said their policies were available in a child-friendly format. This is a key factor in empowering children to speak up if they feel uncomfortable.
More than half of respondents said they involve parents and communities in developing their policies. Training of staff was an identified area of improvement, particularly training around engaging with children using online technology.
When leaders are seen to respond to even small breaches of a service's Child Safe Code of Conduct, staff, parents and children know that reporting is a priority, and the child safe culture of the service is strengthened.
We also encourage organisations to consult with children in an annual safety survey to find out how safe they feel in the organisation or service.
Organisations should assess the risks within the environment through a child safe lens. For example, windows or glass dividers that are obscured by paintings and notices can reduce opportunities to supervise children.
Enforcement powers of the Children’s Guardian
The NSW Children’s Guardian can take action if child-related organisations fail to implement the Standards, following commencement on 1 February 2023 of Part 9A of the Children’s Guardian Act 2019.
Our approach at the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian is to first educate people and employers about their responsibilities under the Child Safe Scheme. However, we can also issue penalties and must refer some matters to NSW Police or the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
ECEC organisations may be asked to participate in a monitoring assessment. This assessment can include reviewing an organisation’s systems and processes. Our compliance officers might also inspect an organisation’s premises with permission from the head of the organisation.
The NSW Children’s Guardian can issue a monitoring assessment report to help an organisation improve its compliance with the Child Safe Standards. The organisation must respond to the recommendations made in that report.
To make sure our monitoring and assessment approach is useful and rigorous, the Office of the Children’s Guardian ran a pilot across a range of sectors, including ECEC.
This included visiting a sample of organisations in family day care and centre-based settings, including OSHC services.
The pilot included a review of the organisation’s systems, policies and processes. Interviews were also conducted with service directors to find out more about their child safe practices.
The Office of the Children’s Guardian has produced a suite of free and practical online resources for NSW organisations to help you understand and put the Child Safe Standards into practice.
Questions or training requests related to the Child Safe Standards can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about implementing the Child Safe Standards please reach out to the Office of the Children’s Guardian or visit their website.