Minimising risk when working with children

There’s no argument that vetting people who will be working with children is good practice. That’s why it’s mandatory.

However, many employers don’t realise the standard Working With Children Check (WWCC) (sometimes referred to as a Blue Card) does not provide a complete background check.

What is a Working With Children Check?

It’s a legal requirement for any employer, organisation or education provider in Australia to get a Working With Children Check for potential employees or volunteers in child-related work.

The candidate applies for a WWCC through their state or territory authority. The authority then reviews the candidate’s history for prior convictions for crimes against children or violent offences, such as grievous bodily harm, anywhere in Australia.

If successful, candidates are given clearance to work with children for a set length of time, usually between three to five years depending on the state in which the WWCC is issued.

There are a high number of WWCC applications made every year. In 2014/15, more than 800,000 applications were made for a WWCC across New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Over the past seven years, more than two million WWCCs have been issued in New South Wales alone.

The drawbacks of a WWCC

A big drawback of a WWCC is that it only covers convictions for crimes against children and convictions for violent crimes such as murder or manslaughter. Someone may have an extensive criminal record for offences like fraud or stealing and it would not be disclosed in the WWCC.

The information provided to an employer by a WWCC is also limited. Due to the privacy laws that a WWCC sits under, the employer will only learn if the application has been granted or not granted – the reasons why are not provided.

“That means a candidate who has a criminal history of theft or fraud could pass a WWCC without any red flags being raised,” says Colin Boyan, CIO at verification company CVCheck.

“An employer could have a false level of trust in a candidate who has been granted a WWCC. They wouldn’t know the candidate has a background of questionable behaviour that would be a valid reason not to hire them.”

A 2014 audit of all people issued with a WWCC card in Western Australia found that nearly 50,000 people issued with a card between 2005 and 2013 had a criminal record of some description. In these cases, a WWCC on these employees would not raise red flags, but a National Police Check would have.

The risk is real. In 2015, a 27-year-old Albury woman was charged with fraudulently claiming $3 million through her family day care business. Later that year, a ring of six people in Melbourne were charged with making false attendance on behalf of childcare centres to defraud the system of more than $15 million.

National Police Checks

The frequency of these non-child-related crimes suggests that the best practice for minimising risk is for employers to combine a WWCC with a National Police Check (NPC).

A National Police Check is broader than a Working With Children Check, so it includes offences like theft and fraud. As the candidate gives approval to run the National Police Check, the employer is also given details about the candidate’s background, such as what type of offence the person was convicted of, which gives the employer more information to make a judgement call on someone’s suitability.

“Getting a National Police Check along with a Working With Children Check is the best way for employers to cover all their bases,” says Boyan. “Employers can have an earlier indication of the suitability of the candidate to work with children, and also be trusted with finances.

“We’ve found that currently, only around half of employers are doing both checks. We strongly urge all employers to take the extra step. It’s a really simple step to improve your due diligence process and minimise your risk. It could save you in the long run.”

Help to protect your business and the people in it by asking your employees to get a National Police Check to compliment their Working With Children Check.

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