Creating safe places for children to learn, live and play

During National Child Protection Week this week, many institutions and professionals are focusing on what they can do to prevent child abuse and neglect.

There are many ways to prevent abuse, including statutory requirements such as pre-employment screening (Working with Children checks). These checks look at past behaviour (including a person’s criminal history) to identify where a person is unsuitable to work or engage with children. ACU is currently reviewing the pre-employment screening requirements. Academic and professional staff are not generally required to have a Working with Children check; however, there are some types of roles and positions at ACU which do require staff to obtain a check, as outlined in ACU’s Protecting Children, Young People and Adults at Risk Policy.

Mandatory reporting is another tool to keep children safe. Mandatory reporting laws require specified people to report suspected abuse and neglect to government child protection services in Australia.

We know that these statutory requirements are still only a small part of what is needed to protect children. Other measures require a whole-of-organisation approach. While that approach may be more difficult to implement, it provides a stronger foundation to preventing abuse and harm. These measures include improving the culture of child safety within organisations, building skills in professional practice, and including children and young people in participatory processes.

Another significant step in creating safe places for children to learn, live and play is to adopt strategies that support all families and their children. Professor Daryl Higgins, Director of the Institute of Child Protection Studies, is working with a range of stakeholders to raise awareness of systemic changes that can implement these strategies.

We know a lot about the risks of child abuse, such as exposure in the home to domestic and family violence, parental mental health, and drug and alcohol misuse, which expose children and young people to harmful environments. Preventing child maltreatment can be enhanced by a public health approach that draws on the trust – and accessibility – of services where children and families are already engaging, like early childhood centres, schools and health/allied health services.

ACU is well known for its pre-service training in all of these areas, and so we need to keep a priority focus on equipping students to identify and address risks and engage in safety conversations across these different areas of professional practice. ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies is working with researchers, policy makers and community leaders to further strengthen a public health policy approach to child protection.

Our university has an opportunity to reach professions who work with children and young people through our students, whose vocation will put them directly in touch with children. Our courses in education, psychology, behavioural sciences and nursing are excellent opportunities to raise awareness of how to improve child safety.

As a teaching institution, ACU can help students understand how to support conditions of safety for children and young people. ACU can play a big role in raising awareness among our students of the very tangible ways that they and the organisations they work for can keep children safe, such as:

  • taking children and young people’s concerns seriously
  • offering staff training about risks and appropriate responses
  • learning about how children think about safety issues, and deal with them
  • understanding how grooming behaviour occurs so that someone can step in to stop it
  • putting in place strategies to prevent or ‘interrupt’ predatory behaviour
  • modifying risky environments (including physical structures, policies and supervision practices) so that it is harder for perpetrators to groom children
  • ensuring that children can identify trusted adults (both within the family and outside) who they can talk to if they are worried, upset or don’t feel safe
  • engaging children and young people in participatory processes.

We also offer staff online modules that build skills in safeguarding children: the ACU Working with Children modules.

To find out how you and your team can implement best practice child safe standards, please contact National Safeguarding Officer Taleah Neowhouse.


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