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

CFCA Resource Sheet – May 2018

Part B: State and territory requirements


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

Limitations of pre-employment screening

Policy and legislation that provides for the pre-employment screening of adults who work or volunteer in child-related organisations is important for creating and maintaining child-safe organisations. However, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has found the schemes operating in Australia to be inconsistent and complex. The Royal Commission report highlights several issues including inadequate information sharing and monitoring of WWCCs across jurisdictions; the non-transferability of WWCCs across jurisdictions; and the inability of screening agencies to access WWCC decisions in other jurisdictions (Commonwealth of Australia, 2015).

In the 2016 South Australian Royal Commission report The Life They Deserve, Commissioner Nyland highlights that pre-employment screening is not intended to be a fail-safe measure in its own right: 'gaining clearance does not mean that a person has been deemed safe or suitable to work with children – it simply means there is no available history to suggest they pose a threat' (Child Protection Systems Royal Commission, 2016, p. 537). WWCCs and Police Checks should be implemented in conjunction with other measures to minimise the risk to children's safety. These additional measures may include pre-employment interviews, thorough reference checks, policy development for child-safe environments, and robust accountability frameworks for responding to allegations.

For other strategies to ensure organisations are child-safe see Child Maltreatment in Organisations: Risk Factors and Strategies for Prevention (Ireny, Bromfield, Beyer, & Higgins, 2006).

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 child care, 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 about who is required to undergo screening and how different occupations are identified. If you are unsure whether you need to obtain a WWCC, contact the relevant body in your state or territory. State and territory contact details are provided in the following section, with a summary of requirements for each jurisdiction.

For information about the differences between Police Checks and WWCCs, refer to 'Part A: Overview'.

Is my pre-employment screening transferable between states?

It is important to note that the WWCCs and WWVP 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 they have obtained appropriate clearance checks and screenings for each separate jurisdiction. A nationally consistent approach to pre-employment screenings was highlighted as a priority under the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009–2020. However, the 2015 Royal Commission report noted that progress in achieving greater consistency across jurisdictions has been 'slow and inadequate' due to disagreements over implementation and entrenched local practices and definitions (Commonwealth Government, 2015, p. 47).

A WWCC 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 [FaHCSIA], 2011).

Exemptions for visitors: In 2012, state and territory governments agreed on a standard exemption that allows people to work interstate for a brief period of time; namely, up to 30 days in a 12-month period, without obtaining a WWCC in the new location (Commonwealth Government, 2015).

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 MoU, eligible New Zealand agencies have the ability to make requests through New Zealand Police for Australian criminal information from the Australian Crime Commission. Similarly, eligible Australian agencies may request criminal history information from New Zealand Police.

As with existing criminal record checking arrangements, approved agencies are only 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 through Access Canberra. Phases 1–5 of the scheme required individuals working in the following services to be registered by November 2017: child protection; justice facilities for children; child care; child education; child accommodation; counselling and support for children; commercial services for children; religious organisations; community services; disability services; respite care; services to homeless people; services to victims of crime; coaching and tuition; vocational and educational training; activities or services provided by clubs, associations or movements (e.g. sports clubs); services to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers; housing and accommodation; prevention of crime; and emergency services personnel transport. Phase 6 will be implemented between 8 November 2017 – 7 November 2018 for: mental health services; justice facilities; and services for addictions.

Individuals are responsible for making their own applications through Access Canberra. A background check and risk assessment is 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 is the most broad-ranging 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 three 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
  • 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 for a WWVP check. In addition, the ACT Government’s Access Canberra website provides further information on how to apply for a WWVP check, including application forms and fees, and how to renew your registration.

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 (as detailed below).

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, with some recent updates made in the Child Protection (Working with Children) Amendment (Statutory Review) Act 2018. This legislation requires that all employees and volunteers over the age of 18 working in child-related roles hold a WWCC clearance. Employees and volunteers who were engaged in child-related work before 15 June 2013 were phased into a new WWCC program over a five-year period based on industry sectors. The phase-in schedule is available on the Office of the Children's Guardian website. All existing workers and volunteers in the final phase-in group must have applied for a WWCC by 31 March 2018. A worker with an existing WWCC that is due to expire must reapply for a new WWCC and provide the new number to their employer.

Self-employed people who held a Certificate for Self-Employed People (CSEP), as required under the previous legislation, must now hold a WWCC.

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. An amendment to the legislation in 2018 through the Child Protection (Working with Children) Amendment (Statutory Review) Act 2018 now requires all parents volunteering on overnights to have WWCCs.

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 legislative amendment in 2018 clarifies that child-related work is where contact with children is a usual part of the work, and not just incidental (although there are some exceptions, which can be confirmed on the OCG website).

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 outside NSW and findings of misconduct reported by a reporting body, or a notification by the Ombudsman) a risk assessment is also conducted. Information relevant to an assessment of risk that a person may pose to the safety of children is now required from non-government agencies if a request is made by the OCG, under the 2018 legislative amendment.

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 is given until the outcomes of existing proceedings are determined.

Successful applicants are given clearance to work with children for a five-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. With the 2018 legislative changes, applications must notify the OCG of changes in their personal details within three months of any change, or penalties may apply. Employers are responsible for checking the validity of a WWCC prior to engaging any new individual for child-related work, and it is an offence if employers fail to verify this without reasonable excuse. 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.

Other amendments made in the updated Child Protection (Working with Children) Amendment (Statutory Review) Act 2018 include:

  • WWCC Regulations amended to clarify that work in Children's Health Services is deemed as requiring WWCC.
  • The Children's Guardian will have the discretion to allow a person who turns 18 while residing with an authorised carer, and who has been refused a WWCC clearance, to continue residing with the authorised carer in that placement if they are satisfied that an appropriate risk mitigation plan is in place.
  • Definition of risk to the safety of children means a 'real and appreciable risk to the safety of children'.

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 WWCC program, including details of the phase-in periods for individual sectors and how to renew your registration.

For enquiries about working with children in NSW, contact the relevant authority (as detailed below).

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 WWCC 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 an Ochre Card. 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 two years.

Employees and volunteers aged 15 years and over working in the following areas are required to obtain a WWCC: 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). The WWCC 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. Individuals can also renew their cards, update their details and check the progress of an application through the Northern Territory Government website.

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 WWCC and to maintain records that show compliance with the WWCC scheme.

For enquiries about working with children in the Northern Territory, contact the relevant authority (as detailed below).

Northern Territory authority
Working With Children Check 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 in Queensland are required to obtain a Blue Card. A Blue Card is photo-ID proof that individuals have passed their WWCC. A Blue Card is a requirement for individuals working in the following settings: 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 WWCC program, known as 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 allow individuals to work or volunteer in child-related occupations or operate child-related businesses. Blue Cards are valid for three years and can be carried between positions by individuals.

Blue Card Services now has online access where you can apply for or renew a Blue Card, as well as update your details. See the Blue Card Services website for more information.

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

Queensland authority
Working With Children Check Blue Card Services
Freecall: 1800 113 611
Ph: (07) 3211 6999


South Australia

The Child Safety (Prohibited Persons) Act 2016 (SA) was passed by the SA Parliament in November 2016. Until the regulations are finalised and the act commences, the current screening practices apply.

Under the Children's Protection Act 1993 (SA) and the Children’s Protection Regulations 2010, employees and volunteers must meet mandatory employment screening requirements if they work for particular organisations in prescribed positions.

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 employment screening 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; roles supervising or managing persons in such positions; roles with access to records relating to children; or roles engaged in any other function prescribed by regulation.

The Children's Protection Act 1993 (SA) does not stipulate an age at which criminal history checks are to be obtained. The act also requires that organisations have a policy framework relating to child safety.

Under the Children's Protection Regulations 2010, child-related employment screening takes into consideration a National Criminal Record History provided by the Australian Crime Commission along with a wider range of information sourced from professional registration bodies and SA police, courts and prosecuting authorities. Employers must ensure that assessments are undertaken at least once every three years. Renewal applications must be sent when an applicant has six months or less on their current clearance.

The Department of Human Services’ Screening Process webpage provides further information about employers’ obligations. It also provides a screening and assessment process for employers who have obtained consent from prospective employees or volunteers.

In some cases, a national police certificate may meet an organisation’s screening requirements. Police Check application forms can be obtained from the SA Police.

For enquiries about working with children in SA, contact the relevant authority (as detailed below).

South Australian authorities
Working With Children Check Department of Human Services
Ph: 1300 32 15 92
National Police Check South Australia Police
Ph: (08) 7322 3347


Tasmania

The Registration to Work with Vulnerable People Act 2013 came into effect on 1 July 2014. This legislation requires all employees and volunteers aged 16 and over working in child care services or other child-related services to apply for a WWVP check. As of mid 2017, registration requirements for all employees and volunteers in child-related roles in Tasmania have been phased in.

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

The status of clearances needs 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. Registrations are valid for three years.

Further information about the application process, renewals, who needs to register and exemptions are available on the Tasmanian Government's Consumer, Building and Occupational Services web page of the Department of Justice. Information regarding the WWVP check and how to apply is also available on the Consumer, Building and Occupational Services web page.

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

For enquiries about working with children in Tasmania, contact the relevant authority (as detailed below).

Tasmanian authorities
Working with Vulnerable People Registration Consumer, Building and Occupational Services (Division of the Department of Justice)
Ph: 1300 65 44 99
National Police Check Tasmania Police
Ph: (03) 6173 2928


Victoria

The Working With Children Act 2005 (Vic.) sets out the legislative requirements for child safety screening in Victoria.

Amendments to the act came into effect on 1 August 2017 in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The amendments: expand the definition of direct contact to include oral, written or electronic communication, in addition to face-to-face and physical contact; remove references to supervision in the act, so that individuals whose work with children is supervised now also need to have a WWCC; expand the definition of child-related work to include kinship care; allow for non-conviction charges for serious sexual, violent or drug offences to be considered as part of WWCC assessments and re-assessments; and enable the Secretary to the Department of Justice and Regulation to compel the provision of information for compliance monitoring. More information about the amendments is available online.

In Victoria, all individuals aged 18 or over who work or volunteer with children (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 as child-related is work where the usual duties involve, or are likely to involve, contact with a child (this now includes oral, written or electronic communication, in addition to face-to-face and physical contact). Child-related services include: religious services; commercial services for children; coaching and tuition; clubs, associations and movements; child protection services; kinship care; 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; child care services; 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 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 and renewal 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 (five 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 (as detailed below).

Victorian authorities
Working for Children Check Department of Justice and Regulation
Ph: 1300 652 879
Email: workingwithchildren@justice.vic.gov.au
National Police Check 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. Further information is available on the Department of Communities Who needs a WWC Check? web page.

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

The Working With Children Check includes a compulsory criminal check. Successful applicants will be authorised to engage in child-related activities for three 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 Certificate (including the Volunteer National Police Certificates) can be found on the Western Australia Police Force website.

For enquiries about working with children in Western Australia, contact the relevant authority (as detailed below).

Western Australia
Working With Children Check Department of Communities
Freecall: 1800 883 979
Ph: (08) 6217 8100
Email: checkquery@cpfs.wa.gov.au
National Police Check Western Australia Police Force