Sue Ellery

Sue Ellery

Minister for Child Protection; Communities; Women's Interests; Seniors and Volunteering

    State steps up its protection of WA children

    13/01/2008 8:48 PM
     
    13/1/08

    The State Government has toughened its approach to child protection with the appointment of a former police officer to ensure people working with children have passed one of the country’s most rigorous criminal record checks.

    Child Protection Minister Sue Ellery said the Government’s Working with Children Checks scheme had seen more than 85,000 people in child-related occupations screened for charges or convictions that could make them a risk to children.

    “It is a terrible reality that people who want to harm children sexually or physically will often seek areas of work that provide opportunities for sustained contact with them,” Ms Ellery said.

    “Under the Government’s Working with Children Checks law, volunteers, employed and self-employed people who are in contact with children are required to undergo a comprehensive criminal record check.

    “The new compliance officer will be working closely with police by seeking proof from relevant organisations that their employees and volunteers have been checked and are authorised under the scheme to work with children.”

    The Minister said the law, introduced in 2006, involved one of Australia’s most stringent screening processes for people who had professional associations with children.

    The collection and monitoring of an applicant’s criminal record data was being conducted by the Department for Child Protection in close collaboration with WA Police.

    “The scheme has been very successful, with more than 90,800 check applications received so far,” Ms Ellery said.

    “Evidence that the scheme is working is demonstrated by the fact that 30 people who have applied for checks have been banned from working with children.

    “The department can prohibit a person from working with children because of charges or convictions that indicate they are unsafe to be in positions of trust with children.”

    Detective Inspector Darren Seivwright from WA Police’s Sex Crimes Division said the screening process involved national criminal record checks for child-related convictions, as well as checks for any pending or non-conviction child-related charges in Western Australia.

    “Most people want to do the right thing and have or will apply for a Working with Children Check, however people who do not comply with the law could face up to five years in prison and a $60,000 fine,” Det. Insp. Seivwright said.

    Perth Zoo chief executive officer Susan Hunt said the Working with Children Checks provided peace of mind to parents who brought their children to the zoo’s school holiday programs.

    “With nearly 250,000 children visiting the zoo every year, it is good to know that our hired entertainers and holiday activity leaders go through this process,” Ms Hunt said.

    The Working with Children Checks are being phased-in over a five-year period, after which only people who are new to child-related work will need to apply.

    Ms Ellery said fast-tracking of the scheme this year would require many people who were due to be screened next year and in 2010 to apply for their Working with Children Check this year instead.

    “The changes will require paid employees working with children in many areas, including sport and recreation, counselling and support services, children’s entertainment, accommodation, and community child health fields to apply for their check earlier,” she said.

    Information about who needs to apply in 2008 is available by logging on to http://www.checkwwc.wa.gov.au or by phoning 6217 8100 or 1800 883 979.

    “These checks are one way of keeping our children safe,” the Minister said.

    “However, employers, parents and the wider community also need to play a part by ensuring that people who work with children have a valid Working with Children Check card or have applied for one.

    “Parents have the right to ask to see a card and many occupations should already have one, including commercial babysitters, self-employed sports coaches and children’s entertainers, and volunteers working with children up to the age of 12 years.

    “The checks are an excellent way of weeding out people with criminal histories who are likely to harm children. However, the checks cannot exclude people who have no criminal record.

    “Therefore, responsible employers and parents should also verify references thoroughly and, most importantly, listen to and act on the concerns of children.”

    Minister's Office - 9213 7150