- The commencement of the Children’s Guardian Act 2019 on 1 March 2020 is an historic step in bringing all the functions of the Children’s Guardian together under one Act and heralds a new era in building an integrated child safe scheme in NSW.
- Giving effect to the Royal Commission’s suggestions and recommendations, the Act expands the Guardian’s functions to include reportable conduct, the Official Community Visitor Scheme and residential carer workers register.
- While much of the reportable conduct scheme remains unchanged, legal advisors and agencies will need to be aware of a number of changes.
The Office of the Children’s Guardian (‘OCG’) is the lead agency for overseeing organisations that provide services to children to ensure children are safe in NSW. With more than 1.6 million children and young people in NSW, and a myriad of organisations that interact with them, there is a complex interplay of priorities for organisations, with the paramount consideration being the safety and wellbeing of children.
The commencement of the Children’s Guardian Act 2019 (NSW) (the ‘CG Act’) on 1 March 2020 is an historic step in bringing all the functions of the Children’s Guardian together under one Act and heralds a new era in building an integrated child safe scheme in NSW.
The role of the Children’s Guardian
The Children’s Guardian is an independent statutory authority and regulator responsible for ensuring that children’s safety is maintained by the organisations that interact with them. The Office of the Children’s Guardian is therefore not a typical front-line child protection agency, but rather one that supports the Children’s Guardian’s oversight, regulatory and administrative decision-making role and encourages organisations to ensure they have child safe strategies and policies in place.
Established under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (‘Care Act’), the OCG was a creation of the Wood Royal Commission to regulate statutory out of home care, adoption services and the employment of children under 15 years in specific industries. More recently, the OCG established the Carers Register as a common resource to share information about carers and prospective carers so the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children is not compromised. Until March 2020, these functions were in the Care Act, the Adoption Act 2000 and respective regulations.
In 2012, the Children’s Guardian’s functions were expanded to include responsibility for the Working with Children Check under separate legislation, the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012. For over a decade, the OCG has also been embedding child safe principles in organisations through education and training.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
As part of its deliberations, the Royal Commission suggested that a single oversight body should be responsible for implementing Child Safe Standards, the Working with Children Check and the reportable conduct scheme.
In its final report of December 2017, the Royal Commission also recommended that each jurisdiction should establish a register of residential care workers as a means of improving the safety of children and young people in out of home care. The purpose of the register is to facilitate information exchange to ensure that only suitable workers are engaged to provide residential care. The Royal Commission also recommended the reportable conduct scheme be extended to religious bodies and a number of others, and that definitions of reportable conduct be clarified.