Academic lead:

Professor Geraldine Castleton
Graduate Certificate in Safeguarding Children and Young People


Breaking new ground is hard work, it takes tenacity and leadership. This case study explores the success and challenges involved in the development of the multi-disciplinary course, Graduate Certificate in Safeguarding Children and Young People. It also explores first-steps in disaggregating courses into professional learning modules.


  • Multi-disciplinary course collaboration
  • Pathways from professional learning modules (micro-credentials) to award courses

ACU postgraduate priority areas

This case study maps to the following objectives within ACU’s postgraduate strategy (2018-2020):

  • Objective 2: Real world capability – credentials linked to capabilities,multi-disciplinary
  • Objective 3: Leading with integrity – course that reflects and embeds ACU’s catholic mission and identity, catholic sector partnerships
  • Objective 4: Learning, teaching and service excellence – Faculty partnerships and flexibility in delivery

Market rationale

  • Social and political challenges in safeguarding children and young people
  • Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse
  • ACU’s catholic mission and identity (brand identity)

Professor Daryl Higgins
This work demonstrates ACU’s continuing commitment to taking a leadership role in the community to take action to keep children safe and protected from harm.

Professor Daryl Higgins - Director, ACU Institute of Child Protection Studies.

Solution and approach

While the development and implementation is still in progress, this case study captures the process and lessons learned so far, acknowledging that further multi-disciplinary collaboration will be required in the future.

Project stages

The project has been through several stages.

stage 1 safeguarding specialisation, stage 2 generic graduate certificate stage 3 capability framework and mapping stage 4 microcredentialing and professional learning

Select a project stage to explore: 

Stage 1: A safeguarding specialisation is added to the Graduate Certificate of Education

In 2016 there was a request by Catholic Education Melbourne for a swift response to the present social and political challenges in safeguarding children and young people. Victoria was facing pending legislation with the release of Child Safe Standards after the Betrayal of Trust Parliamentary Enquiry, and there was a subsequent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that was nearing completion.

A group was formed comprising:

  • Faculty of Education and Arts (FEA)
  • Faculty of Theology and Philosophy (FTP)
  • Institute of Child Protection Studies (ICPS)
  • Catholic Education Melbourne and other Catholic institutions
  • Other experts in the field

ACU had an imperative to be first responders in this area, and lead with a solution. The quickest method was to initially create a specialisation to an existing Graduate Certificate of Education. A tailored graduate certificate for educational leaders was born, Graduate Certificate of Education (Safeguarding Children and Young People) was implemented from Semester 2, 2016.

Stage 2: A Safeguarding Capability Framework is developed

ACU established the Safe Cultures/Safe Guarding Children,Young People and Vulnerable Adults (SCYPVA) Reference Committee, to ensure that

as a lead catholic university ACU delivers internationally recognised programs and research to support the Church, Catholic, Government and not for profit organisations in safeguarding children, young people and vulnerable adults and creating safe cultures and structures - Objectives from SCYPVA Implementation Framework

Early in the development of the committee's strategies the Institute of Child Protection Studies (ICPS) presented key messages from research and current good practice that needed to be covered.

The Committee decided that the evidence-based findings of the ICPA’s Safeguarding Theory of Change would form the principles underpinning the ACU safeguarding curriculum across Faculty award courses and professional learning programs.  This led to the development of the ACU Safeguarding Children and Young People (SCYP) Capability Framework.

The framework also functioned as a ‘Rosetta stone’ in that it enabled the mapping of existing postgraduate and undergraduate units across all faculties in terms of their alignment with the capabilities.

Stage 3: Multi-discipline 'Graduate Certificate in Safeguarding Children and Young People' is developed

In 2017, following interest in the Grad Cert in Ed (SCYP) from a range of stakeholders, the group could see that professions outside of education (such as social work, law and business) had a need for this knowledge base.

There was the potential for a university-wide approach, a Graduate Certificate in Safeguarding Children and Young People. An advisory group was formed to develop the standalone graduate certificate, this group was led by Professor Geraldine Castleton (pictured).

The Safeguarding Children and Young People (SCYP) Curriculum Design Working Group was formed comprising:

  • All faculties
  • Office of the provost
  • Project manager
  • Institute of Child Protection Studies (ICPS)
  • Executive education
  • Student administration
  • Learning and teaching centre
  • Human resources

The Graduate Certificate in Education (Safeguarding Children and Young People) course provided a foundation and starting point for the ACU-wide approach.

The all-faculty mapping exercise had identified existing curriculum content for a multidisciplinary Graduate Certificate course in Safeguarding Children and Young People. All Faculties either revised existing units or developed new units to ensure the course overall, and its units, aligned with the capability framework.

The course was designed to enable pathways for professionals from many disciplines through the course – from lawyers to social workers, board members to youth workers and HR professionals to principals.

Strong evidence base

An essential goal was for the course to have a strong evidence base, this was achieved by drawing on the work of the Institute of Child Protection Studies (ICPS), who had also been commissioned to participate in the work of the Royal Commission.

The course was also mapped against the Catholic Professional Standards and the Victorian Child Safe Standards.

Unique course, unique codes

The course was given its own unique course code, to reflect it’s truly multi-discipline nature, each unit has a course code, followed by a faculty code e.g. SGHS = safeguarding health sciences.

 See the Graduate Certificate in Safeguarding Children and Young People information page.

Stage 4: Micro-credentialing and professional learning development begins

The ACU Safeguarding Capability Framework also supported the team’s aim to modularise units of the course. The aim is to be able to offer short, professional learning modules aka “micro-credentials” in key topics. These topics would be offered at different levels, both leadership level and at a lower ‘awareness level’ that would be aimed at a broad community audience. These levels would comply with Levels 5-7 of the AQF.

This aspect is still under development, with faculties modularising their units so that the university is able to offer a suite of professional learning modules.

The modules align with the ACU SCYP Capabilities Framework and the learning outcomes of the cross-faculty Graduate Certificate in Safeguarding Children and Young People.

It is proposed for the future that each module is designed within the following framework:

  • Content equivalent to approx. 50% of a 10 cp unit
  • Two assessment items offered – one at undergraduate level and one at postgraduate level
  • Assessment equivalent to 50% of a 10 cp unit.
  • Participants who complete and pass the assessment (marked by ACU for a fee) can apply for credit into ACU course/s (at UG or PG level) upon enrolment.
  • Prepared for online delivery anytime, anywhere with access by email and/or online forum to ACU tutor/lecturer (asynchronous learning).
  • Modules can also be delivered face to face to cohorts
  • Fees generated by each module will be directed to the faculty that “owns” the module.

Balance between pathways and enrolments

The goal was to create pathways through the unit for professionals from different disciplines.

Creating multiple units, with multiple pathways - a ‘mix and match’ approach, does meet postgraduate students’ need for choice and flexibility. However this approach does raise administrative and delivery challenges. For example, it can mean low enrolments per unit, as enrolments are diffused across a range of offerings. Initially, there was a pre-requisite unit, but it was removed as a pre-requisite otherwise it would need to be offered every semester or it would delay students starting the course. Faculties could also consider the potential of offering units as electives in existing courses.

Results and feedback

It is too early for indicative feedback about the course itself, as units and professional learning modules are still in development, and the course is yet to be marketed.


The team won the 2017 vice-chancellor’s postgraduate teaching excellence award for this initiative.

Lessons learned

In terms of administration, universities are built around faculties, which makes creating multi-discipline courses particularly challenging. As with any approach that pushes against established structures and processes, there are aspects that can be planned for, and other challenges that don’t emerge until the journey is well underway.

The following recommendations and lessons learned will be very helpful for future teams planning on creating multi-discipline courses.

Multi-discpline course project list

Multi-discipline project teams need to involve all stakeholders in the process, including representatives from the following areas:

  • executive/governance
  • process/administrative
  • coal-face/implementation/delivery

Essential roles for multi-discipline project development:

  • Driver/project sponsor: a person to drive the project
  • Project manager: a team member to act as project manager - to manage project administration, communication flow between all stakeholders, meetings, minutes etc
  • Executive: support from executive
  • Cross-faculty directorates and institutes: support from areas of the university that work from a cross-faculty, university-wide perspective (e.g. Institute of Child Protection Studies, Learning and Teaching Centre etc).
  • Course coordinator (to be involved in development)
  • Writing team (identify early)
  • Teaching team (identify early)

Lesson learned - Course coordinator and teaching team

  • The team agree that in hindsight what was missing from the original planning group was a Course Coordinator. It would have been beneficial to have had this role determined from the beginning so that the person could have participated from the beginning of a multi-discipline project.
  • It would be helpful for a person that is involved in the project development, to have their role transition into being course coordinator, to support continuity of knowledge after the development phase ends.
  • Identification of the teaching team should be a very early priority also.

When ownership of a course is shared, the administrative processes a course needs to go through will need to be specifically assigned and considered.

  • Who will do project administration (e.g. who completes paperwork for the course approvals process, for a multi-discipline course?)
  • The course will need to go to the faculty board for each faculty that is involved for sign-off. Plan for this.

Lesson learned - “when everyone owns it, nobody owns it”

The challenge with having no individual faculty own the course, and instead having shared ownership, makes course development and implementation administratively challenging.

Once marketing material is created for a multi-disciplinary course, it then needs to be embedded in each faculty’s unit guide and relevant materials. Without faculty champions there is no one to drive marketing the course.

  • Assign faculty champions

Lesson learned – who drive the marketing of the course?

Some faculties struggled to assign a faculty representative to ‘own’ their faculty’s participation in the project. The team involved in this project suggest that it’s important to not just have faculty representatives, but also for them to understand the course as a whole.

With the development of a multi-discipline course, it is important that all involved faculties are kept informed of progress and requirements.

  • Heads of Schools need to be communicated with so relevant administrative and staffing needs can be planned.
  • Regularity of meetings is important to maintain project momentum
  • Communication with all stakeholders and
  • A shared responsibility across team members.

Lesson learned – the ‘unknown’ course

The project highlighted that when a course is developed as a team, outside of a faculty, that communication through conventional channels needs to be more explicit. There was a sense by some team members that the project/course was not known about by some Heads of Schools.

There were varying perceptions on communication, some team members feeling that there wasn’t enough communication between development and implementation levels.

Future multi-discipline projects will need resource planning from the beginning.

In terms of unit income (EFTSL), money flow was easy to divide by unit. That is, the faculty that deliver the unit, are the ones that collect that unit’s EFTSL.

But what about a course coordinator? What faculty do they sit under, how are they funded? How do you divide up workload for a cross-faculty course coordinator across faculties? This has not yet been resolved.

Lessons learned – Funding was an enabler

As the project had strategic significance as part of ACU’s response to its Safe Cultures/Safeguarding strategy, the project received ‘Postgraduate Strategy High Impact Proposal sponsorship’ from the Office of the Provost. The project team did see funding as essential to the success of this particular project, it enabled the faculties to work without worrying about cost/time, and made getting agreement much easier.

The Capability Framework was retro-fitted after the units already had course and unit outcomes. This involved cross-mapping and re-working of units. Ideally it would be good for a research-based Capability Framework to be developed at the beginning, in consultation with relevant research centres and Institutes, and for course and units outcomes to be aligned to it from the beginning.

Looking ahead

Support for future cross-discipline projects:

  • The team have suggested having models and frameworks for future cross-discipline courses would be helpful.

The course still has aspects to complete:

  • a course coordinator and teaching team needs to be assigned
  • some units of the course need building
  • the professional learning modules need development
  • the course needs marketing

Useful references


Jacob W J (2015) Interdisciplinary trends in higher education. Palgrave Communications 1:15001 doi: 10.1057/palcomms.2015.1.

Nancarrow S A, Booth A, Ariss S, Smith T, Enderby P and Roots A (2013) Ten principles of good interdisciplinary team work. Human Resources for Health; 11 (1): 19.

Samantha Adams Becker, Malcolm Brown, Eden Dahlstrom, Annie Davis, Kristi DePaul, Veronica Diaz, and Jeffrey Pomerantz. NMC Horizon Report: 2018 Higher Education Edition. Louisville, CO: EDUCAUSE, 2018

Page last updated on 28/02/2020

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