Pre-employment screening: Working With Children Checks and Police Checks

CFCA Resource Sheet – May 2016

Part B: State and territory requirements

All states and territories have introduced legislation providing for child-related employment pre-screening, and there are important differences across jurisdictions. This resource sheet is intended to provide an overview of the types of screening programs that are in place, what records are checked, and who is required to undergo screening.

Who must undergo pre-employment child safety screening?

As of June 2013, all jurisdictions in Australia have some form of child-related employment pre-screening legislation. These laws make it mandatory for certain individuals engaged in occupations such as education and childcare, child protection, child and family welfare, health, entertainment and recreation, and religious instruction to meet screening requirements. There are differences across the states and territories in who is required to undergo screening, and how different occupations are identified. If you are unsure whether you need to obtain a Working With Children Check, it is advisable that you check with the relevant body in your state or territory. State and territory contact details are provided in the following section, as is a summary of requirements for each jurisdiction.

For information about the differences between Police Checks and Working With Children Checks, refer to Part A:  Overview.

Is my pre-employment screening transferable between states?

It is important to note that the Working with Children Clearance Checks, Working with Vulnerable People Background Checks and Good Character Checks are not transferable between states and territories. Organisations or individuals that work or volunteer with children across state or territory boundaries need to ensure that the appropriate clearance checks and screenings are obtained for each separate jurisdiction. A nationally consistent approach is being progressed under the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2014. The National framework lists this approach as action under Outcome 2 "Children and families access adequate support to promote safety and intervene early". A Working with Children Checks Working Group has been formed to inform the national alignment, however, they have noted that a national approach to legislation will not necessarily protect all children and that such screening practices and processes must sit in a broader organisational environment determined to ensure the safety of children (Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, 2011).

Criminal history checks between Australia and New Zealand

In February 2015, Australia and New Zealand signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to give employers greater trans-Tasman access to individual criminal history checks for employment, training and registration purposes. Under the new MoU, eligible New Zealand agencies will have the ability to make requests through New Zealand Police for Australian criminal information from CrimTrac. Similarly, eligible Australian agencies may request criminal history information from New Zealand Police.

As with existing criminal record checking arrangements, approved agencies will only be able to check someone's criminal history if they have the informed consent of the individual involved.

Requirements in Australian states and territories

Australian Capital Territory

The Working with Vulnerable People (Background Checking) Act 2011 (ACT), enacted on 8 November 2012, requires people aged 16 years and over who have contact with vulnerable people while engaging in regulated activities and services to register with the Office of Regulatory Services. Phases 1-3 of the scheme required individuals working in the following services to be registered by November 2015: child protections services, justice facilities for children, childcare services, child education services, child accommodation services, counseling and support services for children, commercial services for children, religious organisations, community services, disability services, respite care services, services to homeless people, victims of crime, coaching and tuition, vocational and educational training, and activities or services provided by clubs, associations or movements (e.g., sports clubs), migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Phase 4 is underway until November 2016. During this time the Act will be reviewed. Individuals working or volunteering with other groups of vulnerable people will need to register between years 5 and 6 of the scheme's operation.

  • Phase 5 will be implemented between 8 November 2016 - 7 November 2017 with workers and employees providing public or private transport, housing and accommodation services, and emergency services.
  • Phase 6 will be implemented between 8 November 2017 - 7 November 2018 for the following services: mental health; justice facilities; and services for addictions.

Individuals are responsible for making their own applications through Access Canberra. A background check and risk assessment will be conducted prior to registration and requires applicants to provide information on their criminal history, all non-conviction information and any other relevant information. The type of registration issued will be the most general type of registration for which an applicant is eligible. Three types of registration are currently issued:

  • general registration - allows individuals to move between all regulated activities for up to 3 years without the need to reapply;
  • conditional registration - imposes specific conditions on an individual's registration, for example, not being able to transport vulnerable people due to a person's license being cancelled as a result of drink driving offences; and
  • role-based registration - restricts individuals to engaging in specified regulated activities with a stated employer and cannot be moved freely between regulated activities.

Services contracted to government have a contractual obligation to employ "fit and proper" people. This has been interpreted as a requirement to obtain a National Police Check.

Residents of the ACT can take a simple online test to determine if they are required to register. In addition, the ACT Government Access Canberra website provides further information on how to apply for a background check, including application forms and fees.

Further information about obtaining a National Police Check, including forms and fees can be obtained from the Australian Federal Police.

For enquiries about working with children in the Australian Capital Territory, contact the relevant authority.

Australian Capital Territory authorities

Working with Vulnerable People Check

Access Canberra 

Ph: (02) 6207 3000
Email: wwvp@act.gov.au

National Police Check

Australian Federal Police

Ph: (02) 6140 6502

New South Wales

The Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012 (NSW) came into effect on 15 June 2013 and requires that all employees and volunteers over the age of 18 working in child-related roles hold a Working With Children Check (WWCC) clearance. Employees and volunteers who were engaged in child-related work before 15 June 2013 will be phased into the new WWCC program over a 5-year period based on industry sectors. The phase-in schedule is available on the Office of the Children's Guardian website. A worker with an existing WWC clearance that is due to expire must reapply for a new WWCC and provide the new number to their employer.

Self employed people who hold a Certificate for Self-Employed People (CSEP), as required under the previous legislation, may continue to use their CSEP until it expires. Once the CSEP expires, self-employed people must apply for the Working with Children Check.

Individuals who work face-to-face with children in one of the following child-related industry sectors need to obtain a check: child development and family welfare services, mentoring or counselling services; child protection; children's health services, including in wards of hospitals where children are treated; clubs, associations, movements or other bodies (including cultural, recreational or of a sporting nature) providing programs or services for children; respite care or other support services for children with a disability; early education and child care services, including nanny services; education services such as provided by schools and other education institutions, including private coaching or tuition of children; sporting, cultural or other entertainment venues used primarily by children and entertainment services for children; detention centres and juvenile correctional centres; any religious organisation; residential services including refuges used by children, long-term home stays, boarding houses and overnight camps; transport services for children, including school bus services and taxi services used for children with disabilities; supervision of school road crossings; school cleaners; and youth workers.

In addition the following child-related roles are defined as child-related work: an approved provider or manager of education and care services; a certified supervisor of education and care services; an authorised carer (foster carers and other authorised carers of children in statutory and supported out-of-home care); an assessment officer; the Principal Officer of a designated agency; and the Principal Officer of an accredited adoption service provider.

Prospective adoptive parents and adults who reside for longer than three weeks at the home of an authorised carer, family day care service provider or home-based education and care service provider also require a WWCC.

The NSW Commission for Children and Young People oversees the WWCC program. All applicants are subject to a National Police Check. If findings of misconduct involving children are identified (including offences occurring outside NSW and findings of misconduct reported by a reporting body; or a notification by the Ombudsman) a risk assessment will also be conducted

Applicants precluded from receiving a WWCC include persons convicted of an offence as listed comprehensively in Schedule 2 of the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012. This preclusion applies if the offence was committed as an adult. In addition, if proceedings for an offence listed in Schedule 2 have commenced against a person and the offence was committed as an adult, no WWCC approval will be given until the outcomes of existing proceedings are determined.

Successful applicants will be given clearance to work with children for a 5-year period and issued with a WWCC number. The worker must provide this number to their prospective employer, along with their surname and date of birth for online verification. Employers are responsible for checking the validity of a WWCC prior to engaging any new individual for child-related work. In order to verify the status of a WWCC, employers need to register with the current system. It is mandatory for the employer to conduct an online verification of the WWCC using the unique number provided by the prospective worker. Paper verification is not permitted under this new system; therefore employers cannot accept the worker's notification letter as proof of clearance.

The Office of the Children's Guardian website provides comprehensive information and guidelines for individual applicants, employers and self-employed people, in relation to the Working With Children Check program, including details of the phase-in periods for individual sectors.

For enquiries about working with children in New South Wales, contact the relevant authority.

New South Wales authority
Working with Children Check Office of the Children's Guardian

Ph: (02) 9286 7219
Email: check@kidsguardian.nsw.gov.au

Northern Territory

The Care and Protection of Children Act 2007 (NT) came into force in 2008. The Act legislates for screening of employees and volunteers in child-related employment and broadly identifies occupations and activities for which an Ochre Card is required. An Ochre Card is photo ID proof that individuals have passed the Working With Children clearance screening process and received a Clearance Notice. It is the responsibility of the person who wants to work or volunteer with children to apply for the Working With Children Check. As of July 2011, anyone employed or volunteering in child-related work is required by law to hold an Ochre Card. Clearance notices and Ochre Cards are valid for 2 years.

Employees and volunteers aged 15 years and over working in the following areas are required to obtain Working With Children Checks: child protection services; education or care services; education facilities for children; juvenile detention centres; accommodation services for children in private residential premises; refuges or other residential facilities used by children; wards of hospitals or any other facilities for health services in which children are ordinarily patients; clubs, associations or movements (including those that are of a cultural, recreational or sporting nature) with significant child membership or involvement; religious organisations; babysitting or child-minding services; fostering of children; transportation services for children; private tuition services for children; counselling or support services for children; overnight camps for children; road crossing services for school children; sports coaching or sport lessons for children; gym or play facilities, photographic services, talent or beauty competitions and entertainment or party services provided for or arranged for children. The Working With Children Check also applies to members of boards, management committees and partners in businesses that perform work with children (e.g., members of school councils or basketball associations) and anyone performing child-related work as a minister of religion or religious vocation; or a student conducting practical training for an education or training course.

Individuals can download an application form for an Ochre Card through the Northern Territory Government website. Forms are also available from any Northern Territory Police station or from Territory Business Centres located in Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek or Alice Springs.

Employers or volunteer coordinators of people who work or volunteer with children are responsible for making sure that the people working or volunteering for them have a valid Working With Children Clearance and to maintain records that show compliance with the Working with Children Check scheme.

For enquiries about working with children in the Northern Territory, contact the relevant authority.

Northern Territory authority
Working with Children Clearance Northern Territory Government

Ph: 1800 72 33 68
Email: safent.police@pfes.nt.gov.au

Queensland

The Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000 (Qld) provides minimum standards for those who work or volunteer with children in broadly identified occupations or activities to undergo screening for criminal offences.

Employees and volunteers including business operators working in the following settings are required to obtain a Blue Card: residential facilities; child accommodation services funded by the Commonwealth or under the Education (General Provisions) Act 2006; school boarding facilities; schools; child care; education and care services; churches, clubs and associations involving children; health counselling and support services that come into contact with children; private teaching, coaching or tutoring; education programs conducted outside of school; child accommodation services including home stays; religious representatives; sport and active recreation activities directed towards or mainly involving children; emergency services cadet program; school crossing supervisors; and the care of children under the Child Protection Act 1999 (Qld). Note that volunteers who are under 18 years of age do not require a Blue Card, however, employees under 18 years of age do require a Blue Card.

The Public Safety Business Agency is responsible for administering the Working With Children Check program, which is known as the Blue Card System. The Blue Card System entails a National Police Check, a review of disciplinary information held by certain professional organisations, and consideration of relevant police investigations. The Blue Card System also provides for ongoing monitoring and notification of changes in Blue Card holders' criminal histories. Blue Cards entitle individuals to work or volunteer in child-related occupations or operate child-related businesses. Blue Cards are valid for 3 years and can be carried between positions by individuals. See Blue Card System website for more information.

Since January 2007, employers and businesses that require employees to have a Blue Card must also have a written risk management strategy in place (Chapter 8, Part 3, Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000 (Qld)).

The Public Safety Business Agency provides information about what an organisation's risk management strategy should contain, as well as training about organisational risk management.

For enquiries about working with children in Queensland, contact the relevant authority.

Queensland authority
Working with Children Check Blue Card Services

Freecall: 1800 113 611
Ph: (07) 3211 6999

South Australia

Under the Children's Protection Act 1993 (SA), it is the responsibility of government and non-government employers that provide health, welfare, education, sporting or recreation, religious or spiritual, child care or residential services wholly or partly for children to obtain Police Record Checks for employees, volunteers, agents, contractors and sub-contractors in prescribed positions. Prescribed positions are defined as involving regular contact with children or work in close proximity with children on a regular basis, unless the contact or work is directly supervised at all times; people supervising or managing persons in such positions; persons with access to records relating to children; or persons engaged in any other function prescribed by regulation.

The Children's Protection Act 1993 does not stipulate an age at which criminal history checks are to be obtained. Practice guidelines recommend that all persons (including young people under 18 years of age) be checked. The Act also requires that organisations have a policy framework relating to child safety.

The Department for Communities and Social Inclusion provides a screening and assessment process for employers who have obtained consent from prospective employees or volunteers. Under the Children's Protection Regulations 2010 child-related employment screening takes into consideration a National Criminal Record History provided CrimTrac along with a wider range of information sourced from professional registration bodies and South Australian police, courts and prosecuting authorities. Employers must ensure that assessments are undertaken at least once every 3 years. Further information is available at the department's Screening and Background Checks website.

Police Check application forms can be obtained from the South Australian Police.

For enquiries about working with children in South Australia, contact the relevant authority.

South Australian authorities
Child-related employment screening Department for Communities and Social Inclusion

Ph: 1300 32 15 92
Email: screening@dcsi.sa.gov.au

National Police Check South Australia Police

Ph: (08) 7322 3347

Tasmania

Between 1 July 2014 and the end of 2016, if a person wants to work or volunteer with children, they might need to apply for a Working with Children Check. The Registration to Work with Vulnerable People Act 2013 came into effect on 1 July 2014. According to this new legislation, employees and volunteers aged 16 and over working in child care services or other child-related services are required to apply for a Working with Children Check.

Registration requirements have been phased in:

  • In 2015 - the first year of operation - child care services, religious activities, child related commercial services, coaching or tuitions services; and club or association activities had to register.
  • In the second year of operation registration requirements apply to employees and volunteers working in services related to youth justice; child disability; child education (non government); adoption; guardianship; child protection; child accommodations; health, counseling and support for children; transport; and youth workers.
  • In the third year of operation registration requirements apply to employees and volunteers working in child education (government); state library; vocational education and training; and emergency services not engaged in emergency management activities.

Any person who wishes to continue to be employed as a teacher must be registered by 1 January 2017.

Risk assessments will be conducted prior to registration to determine the risk of harm. Applicants who receive a positive assessment will receive a general, conditional, or role-based registration. Applicants considered to pose a risk of harm to children will receive a negative assessment and will not be registered.

The status of clearances need to be verified online by employers before a new employee can start work. For existing workers (and volunteers) it is good practice for employers to periodically review workers registration status to ensure they are meeting their obligations under the Act.

Further information on when workers in the child care services and child-related services sectors will be required to be registered for a Working with Children Check can be found on the Tasmanian Government's Department of Justice website. Information regarding Working with Children Checks and how to apply is also available on the Department of Justice website.

Additionally, government and non-government organisations may have developed their own requirements and procedures for screening. Police Checks can be obtained from the Tasmanian Police Department.

For enquiries about working with children in Tasmania, contact the relevant authority.

Tasmanian authorities
Working with Children Registration

Department of Justice

Ph: 1300 13 55 13

National Police Check

Tasmanian Police Department

Ph: (03) 6173 2928
Email: workingwithchildren@justice.tas.gov.au

Victoria

The Working With Children Act 2005 (Vic.) sets out the legislative requirements for child safety screening in Victoria. All individuals aged 18 or over who work or volunteer (with the exception of children under the age of 18 who are supervising children under the age of 15 in employment), and those involved with practical training with children are required to undergo a screening process known as a Working With Children Check.

Work that is classified child related is work where the usual duties involve, or are likely to involve, contact with a child. Child-related services other than those classified child care services include: religious services; commercial services for children; coaching and tuition; clubs, associations and movements; child protection services; justice facilities for children; child education services (non-government); services to children with a disability; child accommodation services; counselling and support services for children; transport services for children; youth workers; child education services (government); teaching; vocational and training; and emergency services personnel not engaged in emergency management activities (e.g., delivering educational sessions in schools).

Exemptions apply to individuals in some circumstances, check the Department of Justice and Regulation website for more information.

All applicants will undergo a national criminal history check, and disciplinary information involving children is checked for applicants seeking to engage in child-related work in some professions. Information, guidelines and application forms for the Working With Children Check are available from the Department of Justice and Regulation.

The Working With Children Check is different from a Police Check as it provides ongoing monitoring for criminal offences for the duration of the validity of the check (5 years) and can be carried across employment/volunteer positions. Police Checks can also be obtained through Victoria Police.

For enquiries about working with children in Victoria, contact the relevant authority.

Victorian authorities
Working for Children Check

Department of Justice and Regulation

Ph: 1300 652 879
Email: workingwithchildren@justice.vic.gov.au

National Police Certificate

Victoria Police

Ph: 1300 88 15 96

Western Australia

The Working With Children (Criminal Record Checking) Act 2004 (WA) legislates for child-safety screening and identifies broad categories of employment that require safety screening.

Employees and volunteers in the following settings are required to obtain a Working With Children Check: child care services; community kindergartens; educational institutions for children; coaching or private tuition services; arrangements for the accommodation or care of children, whether in a residential facility or private residence; placement arrangements made under the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (WA); child protection services; detention centres; community child health services; counselling or other support services; religious organisations; a club, association or movement (including of a sporting nature and whether incorporated or not) with a significant membership or involvement of children); wards of public or private hospitals in which children are ordinarily patients; babysitting or child minding services; overnight camps, transport services specifically for children; school crossing services; children's entertainment or party services.

Note that volunteers who are under 18 years of age do not require a Working With Children Check, however, employees under 18 years of age do require a Working With Children Check.

The program is administered by the Working With Children Screening Unit, Department for Child Protection. Information, guidelines and application forms are available from the Working With Children Check website.

The Working With Children Check is a compulsory criminal check. Successful applicants will be authorised to engage in child-related activities for 3 years. Working With Children Checks are different from Police Checks as they offer ongoing monitoring and may be updated if a person's criminal record changes while the check is valid. They can also be carried across employment/volunteer positions. Additionally, Working With Children Checks are only concerned with child-related offences. Therefore, employers may require that employees or volunteers obtain both a Working With Children Check and a National Police Check.

Information on obtaining a National Police Check (including the National Police Check for Volunteers Program) can be obtained from the WA Police.

For enquiries about working with children in Western Australia, contact the relevant authority.

Western Australia
Working With Children Check

Department of Child Protection

Freecall: 1800 883 979
Ph: (08) 6217 8100
Email: checkquery@cpfs.wa.gov.au

National Police Certificate Western Australia Police

Conclusion

Screening helps to prevent people with a known history of violent and abusive behaviour gaining access to children through organisations. However, screening alone is not sufficient (e.g., it is limited to identifying known perpetrators) and needs to be coupled with interviews, thorough reference checks, policy development for child-safe environments, and robust accountability frameworks for responding to allegations.