26 September 2023

New laws force child abuse into the open

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The Department of Communities has announced that laws preventing Western Australian organisations from covering up child abuse have passed through the State Parliament.

The Parliamentary Commissioner Amendment (Reportable Conduct) Bill 2021 implements recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It compels the heads of organisations operating in the WA to report allegations of child abuse by their employees, volunteers and/or contractors.

It also ensures that an independent watchdog will have the oversight of how organisations handle complaints of child abuse by their staff and give them the power to investigate.

Welcomed by the Minister for Child Protection, Simone McGurk, the Reportable Conduct Scheme is expected to cover an estimated 4,000 Government and non-Government organisations where children are being cared for, or supervised by, someone other than their parent or guardian.

These include schools, religious institutions, childcare centres, hospitals, disability services, detention centres and residential care facilities.

Ms McGurk said the Ombudsman’s Office would take on the role of an independent examiner, ensuring organisations investigated allegations properly, and if not satisfied, conduct an investigation itself.

“If organisations do not do the right thing, penalties will apply,” Ms McGurk said.

“The changes aim to foster cultural change in organisations to prevent child abuse, encourage and support people to speak up about concerning behaviour, and improve systems for dealing with complaints and reports of abuse.”

She said anyone who spoke up in good faith would be protected from liability for giving information.

“In essence, children will be heard, believed and supported,” the Minister said.

“Reporters will be protected.”

She stressed the scheme would not replace an organisation’s existing complaints handling and disciplinary processes.

“Organisations will be able to build on their existing procedures to integrate reportable conduct requirements,” the Minister said.

A 3-page information sheet about the new arrangements can be accessed at this PS News link.

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