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Working With Children Checks: a tale of two states

It is the best of times and the worst of times for Working With Children Checks (WWCCs).

South Australia is leading the other states and territories by example. A plan to revamp SA’s WWCCs by establishing portable checks valid for five years and a centralised assessment unit is expected to go before state Parliament in September.

These changes were triggered by an inquiry into abuse of children in state care. Nesha O’Neil, treasurer of the Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) and president of ACA NSW, applauded the move, and explained how portability operates in practice: “Previously, [a prospective employee] would just say, ‘Here’s my certificate.’ We [as the employer would] do our check, and that was it. If anything changed, no one would notify us. In NSW, now that we’re linked to that person, should something change, we are notified.”

Although NSW is ahead of SA in that its WWCC is already portable, there is concern over the scope of the check itself, which allows those convicted of certain crimes to remain authorised to care for children. For example, Hussain Dandachi’s check is in place, despite childcare fraud charges and a court sentence for assaulting police and being armed with intent to carry out an attack after he threatened someone with a sword in Campbelltown shopping centre.

Under current NSW childcare regulations, a WWCC is revoked only if a person is convicted of certain offences, such as murder.

O’Neil said: “This is a working with children check, it’s not a criminal record check, and we don’t have the ability to do criminal record checks on our staff.”

In SA, however, Dandachi’s credentials may have been revoked, because authorities there, according to federal government research organisation Child Family Community Australia, consider “alleged offences, regardless of outcome, including spent convictions, pending charges and non-conviction charges and circumstantial information around charges and convictions” in deciding whether to cancel a WWCC.

Still, the SA system wouldn’t cover instances of unauthorised employees crossing state or territory boundaries, say, from NSW to SA, and becoming authorised. That’s why O’Neil said WWCCs should be both portable and national. “I think the important part of an effective WWCC would be that for employers and employees who are doing the right thing, it [should be] easy and smooth, yet it’s something that can effectively pinpoint and continue to pinpoint those who aren’t necessarily safe for children to be around,” she concluded.

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