A leading child care expert is calling on the Victorian government to tighten its screening of Working with Children permits after it was revealed that more than 300 have been revoked in the past five years.
Experts fear more children could be put at risk because the system, introduced to screen out unsuitable applicants, fails to provide adequate information to a potential employer or volunteer groups.
“The system’s biggest flaw is that the register [used for screening applications] only records people convicted of s-xual abuse and few are convicted,” said Professor Freda Briggs, an emeritus professor in child development at the University of South Australia and former Australian of the Year. “If children are young or have disabilities that affect their communication skills, s-x offenders are unlikely to be charged.
The statistic of one permit a week being revoked since 2006 was revealed in the Department of Justice’s annual report, tabled in State Parliament.
Kathryn Duffy, a Department of Justice spokesperson, says cards have been revoked “for a variety of reasons”, including concerns about potential s-xual offenders.
Under the permit system, people wanting to work with children in a professional or voluntary capacity must apply to the government for a “working with children check”. If successful, applicants will receive a credit card-style laminated card that carries their photograph and acknowledges they have been checked.
Professor Briggs says the Family Court “should not be handling child abuse cases at all” as “some judges are forcing children to live with convicted s-x offenders and the fathers they have accused of abusing them”.
“In the US applicants have to be fingerprinted because of the risk that they will change their names,” she said, suggesting a similar process is needed for our system to work.
Freya Smith, a working with children card holder, says she “had more difficulty with Australia Post than with getting a card”. The 38-year-old has been working with children since 1999, and was one of the first people in Victoria to get a card.