The Implications of Not Monitoring Your Working With Children Check

Some workforce management requirements can seem perfunctory, simply a regulation you must meet to operate your business—but Working with Children Checks are not one of them. Regulations that protect the safety of children are easily fulfilled without complaint; most trust that compliance equates to safety. But the Working with Children Checks in Australia have been under regular scrutiny, with inquiry recommendations consistently overlooked. So, how can businesses ensure that the children under their care are protected?

What Are Working With Children Checks and Who Needs Them?

Working with Children Checks are compulsory screenings for people engaging in child-related work. These regulations were put in place across Australia by 2013, but they are not the same for every state and territory, and the Working with Children Cards are not transferrable between states.

In general, if someone works in fields such as education, childcare, child protection, and child and family welfare, then they need to meet screening requirements. However, some occupations within health, entertainment, recreation, and even religious roles can also require screenings. A full guide of the requirements for each state can be found on their respective government websites. (Australian Government: Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2021)

Changes to Check Regulations in 2023

Working with Children Checks are paramount to the safety of children across Australia, and so these screenings should be strict and thorough. But unfortunately, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which submitted its final report in 2017, found they are inconsistent and complex. As each state has differing rules concerning the checks, this creates issues around sharing information and transferring the checks across jurisdictions. Also, screening agencies aren’t able to access information about decisions made in other states. (Australian Government: Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2021)

After the results of the investigation, some reforms to the regulations came into action in July 2023. The main changes were:

  • Increasing the number of offences that stop a person getting a Working with Children Check
  • Stopping exemptions for people who have been denied a Working with Children Card
  • Better sharing of information between government agencies
  • The Working with Children Screening Unit can review findings or outcomes from the Teacher Registration Board of WA and the Ombudsman WA, triggering a re-assessment of someone’s Working with Children Card
  • Increasing compliance powers for the Working with Children Screening Unit
  • Cardholders and applicants must now notify the Working with Children Screening Unit if they change name, residential address, contact details, or child-related work status (Government of Western Australia, 2023)

Reforms Still Fail to Address Fundamental Gaps

On the 1st of August 2023, police announced that a childcare worker had been charged with assaulting and abusing almost 100 children over a 15-year period while they worked at a dozen early learning centres across Sydney, Brisbane, and overseas. (Beazley, 2023)

In the wake of this horrific case, the Queensland and NSW child safety ministers joined forces to call for further reforms. According to them, a 2015 inquiry by the productivity commission into childcare and early childhood learning had requested the government harmonise background checks and create a national approach—and eight years on, it had still not been actioned. (Messenger, Rose & Beazley, 2023)

The ministers were asking for improved data sharing across jurisdictions, agencies, and state borders, and they wanted to arrange a meeting of federal and state ministers. Australian Childhood Foundation Chief Executive, Joe Tucci, said, “There is no agreement between states yet about what constitutes a good risk assessment. What we need is someone at the commonwealth level driving this but we’re yet to see that.” (Messenger, Rose & Beazley, 2023)

Gemma McKibbin, a University of Melbourne expert in responding to child sexual abuse, said that since the 2017 royal commission there have been a number of improvements, but “[if] we’re not equipping workers with the skills to recognise this behaviour, then they won’t lead to the outcomes we want to see”. (Messenger, Rose & Beazley, 2023)

Businesses Have a Responsibility to Monitor Checks

While the July changes begin to take effect and ministers continue to campaign for a strong national approach to child protection, the responsibility for monitoring employee screenings falls to the organisations themselves. If your business is operating in a child-related field, then it’s essential to go above and beyond the legal requirements to minimise the risk as much as possible.

The uncomfortable truth is that Working with Children Checks were never intended to be a fail-safe measure. As Commissioner Nyland highlighted in a 2016 South Australian Royal Commission report, ‘gaining clearance does not mean that a person has been deemed safe or suitable to work with children—it simply means there is no available history to suggest they pose a threat.’ (Australian Government: Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2021)

HR departments should be pairing the required Working with Children Checks with additional measures that protect children’s safety. This can include pre-employment interviews, intensive reference checks, developing policies for child-safe environments, and strict accountability frameworks that ensure swift responses to allegations. (Australian Government: Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2021)

For more insights into additional measures that will ensure your workplace is safe and thoroughly monitored, speak to our experts.


Beazley, J. (2023, August 2). Calls for stronger child protection training after Queensland man charged with more than 1,600 child abuse offences. The Guardian. 

Messenger, A, Rose, T & Beazley, J. (2023, August 2). Queensland, NSW call for urgent safety review after childcare worker’s sex abuse charges. The Guardian. 

“Pre-employment screening: Working With Children Checks and Police Checks”. Australian Government: Australian Institute of Family Studies. (2021, June). 

“Reforms to strengthen Working with Children Checks have come into effect”. Government of Western Australia. (2023, July 1). 

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