The findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) and the introduction of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (Principles) has highlighted the need for a shift not just in practices and processes, but in the underlying behaviours within organisations that work with children and young people. The extent of behavioural shift necessary will depend on various factors such as the type of organisation, maturity of child safe practices already in place, and existing, underlying organisational behaviours.
It is no longer acceptable to simply conduct new employee checks or display a few child safety awareness posters around the office. You need to be much more proactive and engaged to ensure you are working within today’s legislative and policy requirements and doing your part to make sure children are safe in your organisation.
Is your organisation #childwise?
The first step is to better understand where your organisation is at currently. There are four stages of maturity as outlined in the graph below. Where do you see your organisation on this spectrum?
The purpose of the Principles is for all organisations where children and young people spend time to reach the PREVENT stage. This won't happen overnight and requires a robust process to get there. During this process you also need to recognise that the underpinning behaviours within your organisation will help or hinder your progress.
It is no longer enough that organisations simply ask for a Working with Children Check and Police Check for new employees. You must adopt a child-safe mindset when planning and delivering activities involving children.
Key obstacles you may face
It is important to be aware that you may face obstacles with changes to cultural behaviour. Four common obstacles to be aware of when trying to introduce child safeguarding capabilities are:
- Staff uneasiness
- Engrained habits
- Losing momentum
Ensure your team understands the context behind the required changes and the journey they will be taking to get to the ideal state. Communication is the key here as well as building a team of engaged staff who can be role models and influencers within the organisation. By getting buy-in from people who may not be in a traditional leadership role, but whom other team members hold in high esteem, there is a sense of reassurance and understanding.
It is important that leaders provide the necessary training and support to staff to ensure everyone is working the same way. The training and support helps reinforce the context behind the change and where the organisation is heading. Arming your staff with the required knowledge is critical to a successful outcome. Providing support after the training is paramount, as this is where the work begins to deliver the changes required.
Ensure your team members know the WHY behind the changes required. You must make communication a priority, setting clear expectations of the behaviour expected by all team members and how they contribute to the direction the organisation is heading. Having a go to person such as a ‘child safe champion’ and ensuring the change is well resourced will support the success you are looking for as an organisation in ensuring the required cultural change is achieved.
The challenge with change is keeping the momentum going; staff move on, business priorities change, yet the underlying behaviours need to be maintained and reinforced, engrained into the way the organisation operates. Continue to identify and reward expected behaviours, provide a clear behaviour framework to avoid confusion and incorporate the child safeguarding behaviours into the organisation strategy and KPIs. This way, it is not left to the individual who may leave the organisation, instead it is ingrained in how the organisation conducts business and the ongoing organisational culture.
All these obstacles can be overcome with clear communication, leading by example, setting clear behaviour frameworks, supporting and reinforcing your employees and adequate resourcing.
Knowing that child safeguarding is your organisation’s responsibility and that there are serious ramifications when you get it wrong should make you alert and eager to get this right. The law expects this and so does the community, your customers and your shareholders.
What can you do?
- Evaluate where you are at in relation to the four stages of organisational maturity
- Understand the behavioural attitudes and organisational behaviours and how they might impact on your child safety journey
- Embed the child safeguarding behaviours into the organisation strategy and KPIs
- Develop or review your child safe policy or statement of commitment
- Develop or review your code of conduct
- Ensure you provide support, training and supervision for staff and volunteers
- Ensure you employ suitable and appropriate staff
- Ensure appropriate reporting practices and processes are in place, including method of response
- Identify and analyse risks of abuse by ensuring you have an appropriate Risk Management Strategy, Plan and Policy
- Empower and promote the participation of children in decision making (where applicable)
- Adopt a continuous review process
- Incorporate a suitable child safe champion or champions within the organisation that can help drive and promote the behavioural changes required^.
^whilst at number 12 this is a critical step to your success, you need to remember they cannot do this on their own everyone in the organisation needs to be moving together in the right direction.