At the Ordinary Council Meeting held Tuesday 30 August 2022, Council unanimously voted to adopt the Blue Mountains City Council Child Safe Statement of Commitment as the first step to meeting the legislative requirement of becoming a Child Safe Organisation.

Adopting this statement affirms that Council is committed to keeping children safe and takes child protection seriously.

In handing down its findings in 2017, The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that in some cases organisational culture, systems and processes had resulted in children being exposed to harm and that organisations had failed to respond appropriately when that occurred. To protect children in the future, the Royal Commission recommended that organisations be required to implement ten Child Safe Standards, which were developed drawing on evidence presented to the Commission, its findings and other research.

The ten Child Safe Standards are:

  1. Child safety is embedded in organisational leadership, governance and culture.
  2. Children participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously.
  3. Families and communities are informed and involved.
  4. Equity is upheld and diverse needs are taken into account.
  5. People working with children are suitable and supported.
  6. Processes to respond to complaints of child abuse are child focused.
  7. Staff are equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to keep children safe through continual education and training.
  8. Physical and online environments minimise the opportunity for abuse to occur.
  9. Implementation of the Child Safe Standards is continuously reviewed and improved.
  10. Policies and procedures document how the organisation is child safe.

The Standards provide a framework for organisations to create a culture of safety and inclusion, and develop strategies to keep children safe from harm.

The Children’s Guardian Amendment (Child Safe Scheme) 2021 came into force in November 2021 to “embed the Child Safe Standards, as the primary framework that guides child safe practice in organisations in NSW.” The legislation enables the Office of Children’s Guardian (OCG) to proactively address identified gaps in an organisation’s systems and processes to implement the Child Safe Standards.

Local councils are considered a child safe organisation given their role in providing local community services and as the representative for the community, including children. Council provides direct services to children through libraries and aquatic centres, as well as indirectly through activities such as events and community engagement, and through leasing facilities to community organisations that work directly with children.

Under the Children’s Guardian Amendment (Child Safe Scheme) 2021 the head of a child safe organisation (in the case of Blue Mountains City Council that is the CEO) must ensure that the organisation implements the Child Safe Standards through systems, policies and processes, including:

  • a statement of the organisation’s commitment to child safety
  • a child safe policy
  • a code of conduct applying to employees, management, contractors, and volunteers
  • a complaint management policy and procedure
  • a human resources policy
  • a risk management plan
  • a training plan for relevant staff

Whilst the OCG has not set a timeframe for councils to undertake this work and put these policies and procedures in place, councils must be able to show that they are taking action to become child safe. The Act gives the OCG strong powers to compel councils to comply if they cannot demonstrate consistent progress.

Council proposes to implement the Child Safe Standards using a staged approach with existing resources and via existing projects. A cross-service working party was formed in 2022 comprising representatives from Strategy & Performance, Communications & Marketing, Human Resources, Community Development, Risk & Internal Audit, and Governance & Civic Services, and is working together to progress the implementation of the Standards across the organisation over the next four years. This will entail writing or re-writing policies to reflect the Standards, assessing and amending processes, considering how we engage with children as part of service delivery, and training for staff, councillors, contractors, students and volunteers.

Our Child Safe Statement of Commitment applies to all employees, volunteers, work experience students, contractors, contract employees and councillors. Everyone will be provided with appropriate training and support to comply with the Child Safe Standards and understand their responsibilities regarding keeping children safe from harm. We will also work towards integrating the perspectives of children and young people in Council’s decision making and delivery of services.

Council has zero tolerance of violence and abuse towards children and young people and supports measures that reduce opportunities for harm. All children have the right to grow up feeling loved, nurtured and protected and with opportunities to reach their full potential.

Council is committed to providing a child safe environment where children and young people are safe and feel safe, and their voices are heard about decisions that affect their lives. We value and support inclusion, diversity and equality. We support the empowerment and participation of children and young people. We take them seriously when they raise concerns regarding their wellbeing, or when we see that they are being harmed in any way.

Particular attention will be paid to the cultural safety of First Nations children and children from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds, those who identify with the LGBTQI community, as well as the safety of children with a disability or long-term illness and those who are caring for others. Whilst recognising that some of these children will have additional vulnerabilities or challenges, we also acknowledge their resilience, strength and resourcefulness.

Child protection is everyone’s responsibility in the community, and not just the families and carers of children and young people. It includes the broader community that children grow up in, their neighbours and friends but also the institutions like schools, churches and community organisations, as well as Council. Everyone has a role to play in keeping children safe. In the coming months and years we will look to strengthen our policies and procedures in all areas in our journey to becoming a child safe organisation.

The Statement of Commitment will be followed by the development of a Child Safe Policy. This Policy will further outline how Council will embed child safety in its culture, policies and practices including the Code of Conduct, employment practices, governance and risk management, and complaints handling procedures. The Policy will be developed over the coming months and be presented to Council for endorsement in 2023.