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Relying on WWCCs might carry a higher risk than first thought

What happens if your organisation’s risk management strategy is totally reliant on an external agency to function correctly 100% of the time and serious allegations are raised against that agency? In NSW, and other jurisdictions too, organisations have a non-delegable duty to ensure that children in their care are protected from harm. Is ‘assuming the Children’s Guardian functions correctly 100% of the time’ likely to fulfil that duty?

PCA strongly advocates that relying on Working with Children Checks (WWCCs) as an organisation’s main or only strategy to keep children safe from abuse and neglect leaves children and the organisation at considerable risk. A WWCC is only able to ‘weed out’ people that are already known to pose a risk to the safety and wellbeing of children because of a documented history, such as criminal convictions or professional conduct information. A WWCC will never identify a person who has not yet commenced offending against children or has not yet been detected for their offending behaviour. But what if a WWCC is not even preventing known offenders from getting a WWCC Clearance?

Serious allegations have been raised in New South Wales against the Children’s Guardian and the Director responsible for the WWCC scheme. In a Daily Telegraph report, whistleblowers from the Office of the Children’s Guardian have claimed that a known child sex offender has been issued with a WWCC Clearance as well as a woman still on parole for intentionally burning her own child.

Further information in a report, claims that staff within the Office of the Children’s Guardian have been ordered to clear applicants before the standard risk assessment process is completed, and to “regularly” re-write assessments where red flags about suitability have been raised.

The report alleges that the Children’s Guardian, Janet Schorer is “fully aware” that this is happening, including that child sex offenders and domestic violence perpetrators have received WWCC Clearances.

The report from details that allegations include:

·         Providing a Working with Children clearance in July for a woman who was still on supervision orders after being found guilty of deliberately burning her baby

·         Providing a Working with Children clearance for a sex offender found guilty of performing indecent acts in the presence of children

·         Providing a Working with Children clearance for a child sex offender who groomed children to engage in sexual acts

·         Providing a Working with Children clearance for a violent offender whose victims including children who suffered injuries.

A review has been ordered by Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, Gareth Ward. However, at the time of publishing this article, the Office of the Children’s Guardian has been tasked with reviewing itself. Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Penny Sharpe has called for a full independent inquiry.

Organisations that rely on a WWCC as their only suitability screening measure for working with children are already leaving the children they care for and the organisation itself at significant risk. These allegations against the Office of the Children’s Guardian demonstrate for those organisations that their risk level is probably even higher than first though. For organisations that are implementing the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations or the Child Safe Standards though, these allegations are cause for thought, but not cause for concern because they have robust child-safe screening and ongoing supervision strategies which would catch these people even when their WWCC system didn’t.

If you would like to find out how PCA can help your organisation meet its duty of care or need help to become a Child Safe Organisation, please use the contact page or email

Bradley Poynting