Pre-employment screening: Working With Children Checks and Police Checks
Part A: Overview
This resource is intended to provide an overview of the types of screening schemes that operate in Australia for child-related work. State/territory legislative provisions and information about risk assessments are also discussed.
Police checks carried out in each state and territory provide a nationwide screening of criminal history information. Throughout this resource, the terminology reflects the language used in each jurisdiction.
Police check and child safety screening programs
There are three types of screening programs operating in Australia. In each type of screening program, approved agencies are only able to check someone's criminal history or any reports on their professional conduct if they have the informed consent of the individual involved.
The first and most common type of screening program in operation is individual-based. It offers certification to engage in child-related work to individuals (NSW, NT, Qld, Tas., Vic. and WA). These certifications are valid for a period of time (e.g. three years in WA) and provide for ongoing monitoring of an individual's suitability for child-related work. This means that if a relevant criminal offence is committed during the validity of the check, or if the individual is subject to relevant work-related disciplinary procedures, the administering authority may inform employers of the offence and alter or withdraw an individual's entitlement to work with children. Individuals can carry their certification between positions (but not between jurisdictions – for more detail on this see Is my pre-employment screening transferable between states?) and do not have to undergo repeated screening while their WWCC is valid.
The second is the employer-driven system, operating in South Australia, which mandates employers in relevant fields carry out background checks on prospective employees or volunteers. As of 1 July 2017, these background checks are valid for three years and are subject to ongoing monitoring, in line with recommendations made in the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2015) Working With Children Checks (2015) report.
The third type of screening program operates in the ACT, where three types of screening clearance are offered; the 'general certification' provides for the same conditions to engage in child-related work as found in the employer-driven and individual screening checks discussed above, including a three-year certification period, ongoing monitoring and mobility between role positions. The second type of certification is role-based, which restricts individuals to specified regulated activities with a stated employer. The role-based certification cannot be moved freely between regulated activities. The third type of registration is conditional, imposing specific conditions on an individual's registration.
Table 1 outlines the relevant legislation in each state and territory and explains the type of system in place in each.
For a more detailed description of the state/territory requirements for obtaining a Working with Children Check, see Part B: State and Territory Requirements.
Professional registration and child safety policy development
In addition to child-related employment legislation, all states and territories have legislation that requires people who wish to register in certain occupations (e.g. teachers, doctors or child care workers) to be screened for criminal offences. This means that even if child-related employment legislation did not exist, there are still requirements for adults working in certain occupations to undergo screening (e.g. the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic.); the Medical Practitioners Registration Act 2001 (Qld); the Child Care Act 2001 (Tas.)). Where professional registration requirements require screening, certain persons are exempt from the WWCC (e.g. in Victoria, persons registered under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006).
Organisations may also have developed their own policies that require employees and volunteers to undergo National Police Checks. State and territory police provide criminal history checks to individuals and organisations wishing to obtain Police Checks for employment, voluntary work and occupation-related licensing or registration purposes.
The difference between a Police Check and a Working With Children Check
Police Checks identify and release relevant criminal history information relating to convictions, findings of guilt or pending court proceedings. However, due to spent conviction/non-disclosure legislation and information release policies, there are limitations on the information a Police Check can provide (e.g. the Spent Convictions Scheme stipulates that prior convictions are not to be disclosed where 10 years have passed from the date of the conviction).
Working With Children Checks are more extensive, but also more targeted than Police Checks, as the purpose of a WWCC is to make an assessment of the level of risk an individual poses to children's safety. For example, WWCCs draw together information from various sources but may include a primary focus on certain types of offences (e.g. sexual offences, offences related to the harm or mistreatment of a child). In general, WWCCs give consideration to:
- convictions – whether or not they are considered spent or were committed by a juvenile
- apprehended violence orders and other orders, prohibitions or reporting obligations
- charges (i.e. where a conviction has not been recorded because, for example, a proceeding has not been heard or finalised by a court, or where charges have been dismissed or withdrawn)
- relevant allegations or police investigations involving the individual
- relevant employment proceedings and disciplinary information from professional organisations (e.g. organisations associated with teachers, child care service providers, foster carers and health practitioners).
Across the five jurisdictions that currently carry out WWCCs (NSW, NT, Qld, Vic., and WA) and the two that carry out a Working With Vulnerable People (WWVP) check (ACT, Tas.), there are differences in what information is considered and what sources of information are used. Table 2 compares the information considered in WWCCs and the WWVP check across these jurisdictions.
|ACT||The WWVP check comprises:
|NSW||The WWCC comprises:
A 'reasonable person test' has been introduced in NSW. This means that a WWCC or enabling order cannot be granted unless the Children’s Guardian or NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal respectively is satisfied that a reasonable person would allow his or her child to have direct contact with the affected person who was not directly supervised.
|NT||The Working with Children (Ochre Card) Clearance Screening comprises:
|QLD||The Working with Children (Blue Card) screening system comprises:
|SA||Under the Children's Protection Regulations 2010, the Department of Human Services provides a wider child-related employment screening that includes:
|Tas.||The WWVP check obtains applicants' national criminal histories from sources in Australia. This includes information about:
|Vic.||The WWCC comprises
In addition, the following individuals are ineligible to apply for a WWCC:
|WA||The WWCC comprises:
Information may also be obtained from authorised bodies in WA and similar authorities in other jurisdictions such as: the Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Department of Corrective Services, the Department of the Attorney General and the courts.
*Class 1 and 2 offences include various sexual offences against a child as well as offences such as murder, manslaughter, grievous bodily harm, indecent assault, making/viewing child pornography and involvement in child prostitution and other offences.
Screening helps to prevent people with a known history of violent and abusive behaviour from gaining access to children through organisations, employment or volunteering. 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.
1 Prior to 1 July 2017, background checks in South Australia only provided a 'point-in-time' screening, with no ongoing monitoring. The new screening system has been introduced to help reduce harm to children and vulnerable people.