The 2013 Betrayal of Trust report by a Victorian Parliamentary committee is regarded as a landmark moment, shining a light on the criminal abuse of children by adults charged with their care.
From 1 August 2016, one of the most significant changes recommended by the inquiry came into force in all Victorian schools: new Child Safe Standards.
The Victorian Government, after a wide consultation that included Independent Schools Victoria (ISV), developed the new standards that will be enforced in all Victorian schools through the school registration framework.
The regulator, the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA), is charged with enforcing and monitoring these minimum requirements:
strategies to embed an organisational culture of child safety, including through effective leadership arrangements
a child safe policy or statement of commitment to child safety
a code of conduct that establishes clear expectations for appropriate behaviour with children
screening, supervision, training and other human resources practices that reduce the risk of child abuse by new and existing personnel
processes for responding to and reporting suspected child abuse
strategies to identify and reduce or remove risks of child abuse
strategies to promote the participation and empowerment of children.
Schools must also follow inclusion principles as part of each standard, promoting the cultural safety of Indigenous children, children from different cultural backgrounds, and children with a disability.
The VRQA has extensive material and information on the new standards on its website, which includes a video message from the Minister for Education, James Merlino.
ISV supports the new standards and has worked cooperatively with the government and other school sectors as they have been developed.
We believe the safety and welfare of children has to be the first priority of all schools and all teachers and principals.
We know the shocking abuse that has been inflicted on children in the past, including in schools in all sectors. That’s why we support the new Child Safe Standards in all Victorian schools. We recognise that more needs to be done to prevent child abuse – and to respond to it properly when it occurs.
Peter Roberts, Director, School Services at ISV, and his team have been working with Independent schools to help them prepare for the new requirements.
Mr Roberts says that there is strong support from schools for the new standards.
‘The schools and the VRQA acknowledge that in the main, schools are very safe places for children,’ he says. ‘However, over the years, there have been enough instances of child abuse occurring in schools that we need to be ever vigilant.’
For parent volunteers, the new standards may mean additional commitments beyond a Working with Children Check, such as signing up to the school’s code of conduct.
‘If I am a parent volunteer, I need to ensure I behave in an appropriate way with children and report concerns I might have at the school if I see something,’ says Mr Roberts. ‘I should embrace the new Child Safe Standards, because we’re talking about the culture across the entire school.’