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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8652

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (10:10 PM) —I would like to take some time tonight to discuss modern day scouting. After events revealed last week, parents will want to be assured that Scouts Australia have appropriate protocols to ensure child safety. I commend the response from Mr Alistair Horne, Executive Manager and General Secretary of Scouts Victoria, and note his offer of support. Mr Horne has also outlined to me Scouts Victoria’s practices to ensure children are not exposed to risk. Some of them I am familiar with with respect to my own children, but it is very important that this information be available to parents generally. Protecting children from risk is not just the responsibility of parents. It is also the responsibility of the community, governments and businesses. All children and young people have the right to protection from abuse and exploitation from people they come in contact with during their involvement in local community groups. Parents will want to be assured that voluntary organisations across Australia have taken all possible steps to ensure that programs are safe for children.

All parents are concerned about the wellbeing of their children, which is why Scouts Australia gives child safety the highest priority today. Scouts Australia must be satisfied that prospective leaders are suitable role models for young people and are not likely to expose them to any physical or emotional harm. Suitability is assessed through interviews, reference checks and background police checks. Approved adult leaders receive comprehensive and ongoing training in dealing with children and the various aspects of scouting. Scout masters are now subjected to police checks and justice department clearances before working with children.

In addition to Victoria’s legislative requirement that all staff and volunteers who are in contact with children need mandatory checking, Scouts Victoria also requires parents—who are exempt under state legislation in some circumstances—to also pass the same ‘working with children’ check. That is, Scouts Victoria applies a higher standard than that which is required by legislation. Adults in scouting must ensure that at least two adults are in attendance whilst supervising and/or accompanying youth members wherever possible. Also, one of the two adults must be a fully warranted leader—that is, one who has been fully trained through the processes. Leaders and other adults normally do not share tents or sleeping accommodation with youth members. Scouts Victoria has also adopted a zero tolerance for any notified allegations of a child safety matter. The adult in question is stood down and an investigation takes place with reference to the police if appropriate. These practices are in accordance with the organisation’s policy and rules.

Earlier this month, ACT Scouts introduced new guidelines on mandatory reporting of child abuse and police checks in a bid to reassure parents their children will be safe within the organisation. The ACT Scouts Chief Commissioner, Neville Tomkins, announced that all adult scouts would have to report actual or suspected child abuse, not just leaders as the previous guidelines had stated. In order to manage internal reporting and to support alleged victims, two new positions of male and female youth protection commissioners were created. Also, those people aged between 18 and 26 would require police checks and be issued with a working with children card confirming police clearance.

Parental education is an important aspect of ensuring child safety. To assist parents in understanding the duty of care and safe practices that organisations have responsibility for in relation to the protection of their child or children, I believe that there should be a best practice guide for all voluntary organisations. For example, we produce guides to assist parents to assess quality childcare centres and understand what appropriate guidelines are in that forum. Helping parents understand the types of practices that can help to manage the risk of child abuse within an organisation is a critical matter in the process of dealing with issues of this type.

A best practice guide would provide guidance on important child protection issues. The guide would provide information on best practice strategies and concepts, how these concepts could be implemented, the benefits to voluntary organisations in doing so and where to find out more information. Some of these concepts could involve promoting a safe environment for all children through employee and volunteer training, appropriate notification methods, a safety culture and strict recruitment and selection procedures. Further, the guidelines would emphasise the importance of ensuring that the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children be maintained at all times during their participation in activities while also supporting the rights and welfare of all staff and volunteers and encouraging their active participation in creating safe and respectful workplaces. I should note that a number of organisations do develop protocols in seeking to ensure child safety. Some examples of those organisations include Australian Volunteers International, Camp Quality, the Fred Hollows Foundation, St John Ambulance and, as I have already discussed, Scouts ACT. This should be encouraged and fostered amongst more community organisations that involve activities with children.

I would like to conclude these comments by looking at some of the broader areas that the federal government is currently working on to deal with issues associated with child abuse. The Australian government is providing $63.1 million over four years to help protect Australia’s vulnerable children from child abuse and neglect under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020. This is a key element of the government’s child centred approach to family policy, which promotes children’s best interests. Protecting children at risk demands national leadership and a coordinated national response—all children deserve a safe, healthy and happy childhood. On 30 April this year, the Council of Australian Governments endorsed the national framework, an ambitious, long-term, national approach to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Australian children. The national framework includes the development of ambitious national standards for out-of-home care to ensure that all children who cannot be cared for by their parents receive quality care to support their wellbeing now and into the future.

In addition, the Australian government measures include key national leadership projects, which involve $10.1 million over four years for improved information sharing and data consistency, a national research agenda and workforce development projects. For reporting, the nationally consistent data-sharing issue is absolutely critical in supporting those community organisations that do have in place appropriate protocols. Another measure is Communities for Children Plus, which involves $10 million over four years to establish up to eight innovative, integrated service-delivery sites across Australia to reduce child abuse and neglect in disadvantaged communities and provide intensive early intervention services to an additional 1,200 children and families over four years in their local communities. A third measure is enhanced access to quality child care for children at risk, which involves $37.7 million over four years to extend access to quality child care for Australia’s most vulnerable children through increased take-up of the special child care benefit. The special child care benefit covers the full cost of child care for children at serious risk of abuse or neglect. Finally, there is increased assistance for young people leaving care. From 1 July 2009, the government will increase the transition to independent living allowance for young people leaving care from $1,000 to $1,500 at a cost of $5.3 million over four years.

This investment builds on the significant focus on early intervention and prevention programs through the Family Support Program, which currently provides $1.2 billion over four years to support vulnerable and disadvantaged families, and separated and separating parents and their children. The national framework is a Rudd government election commitment and was developed in consultation with states and territories and the Coalition of Organisations Committed to the Safety and Wellbeing of Australia’s Children. The program is aimed at developing the strength and resilience of children and families to prevent child abuse and neglect and providing additional support to those children who have suffered abuse and neglect.

My concluding point today is that we can also do some more for children who have not been identified as at risk or who have not already suffered abuse. We can help educate families, parents and community organisations to develop appropriate protocols to help them avoid the risk that individuals may conduct themselves in a fashion which will lead to child abuse amongst their community. I highlight that this could be an important measure for us in our support of Australian children into the future.