Why schools must take child safety officer appointments seriously

Trish Riley
Trish Riley

Following on from a recommendation by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that all states and territories should implement and enforce mandatory child safe organisations standards, schools around Australia have been developing and implementing standards and regulatory schemes. These typically include the nomination of certain staff members to champion child safety and act as a point of contact for students and staff in relation to child safety issues. 

For example:

  • the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People’s Guide for Creating a Child Safe Organisation requires that senior leaders at an organisation are responsible for a number of specific child safety-related issues
  • Queensland’s Child and Youth Risk Management Strategy Toolkit recommends nominating a contact officer who can deal with child protection issues, such as inducting new staff and volunteers, offering assistance and support when someone makes or receives a disclosure of harm, and reviewing and managing child safety-related policies. Its Non-State Schools Accreditation criteria require the nomination of at least two staff members students can report to, regarding the inappropriate conduct of another staff member.

While the National Principles/state-based child safe standards require schools to ensure that child safety and wellbeing is embedded at all levels and that everyone at a school is responsible for child safety and wellbeing, nominating specific staff members as Child Safety Officers has benefits. These include:

  • staff, students, families and relevant community members have a clear understanding of who the school’s child safety experts are and their ability to provide advice and assistance about child safety and wellbeing issues
  • ensuring someone at the school is responsible for the school’s commitment to child safety and wellbeing and to following its child safety and wellbeing policies and procedures
  • ensuring that these policies and procedures are up to date, compliant, culturally safe and meet the needs of the school’s student cohort.

What does a child safety officer do?

The role of a Child Safety Officer may vary between schools — and may particularly depend on the school’s size, activities, and resources. Despite these school-specific variations, there are a number of key responsibilities that should be included in their position description, to help the school to meet its child safe standards and, in some jurisdictions, registration requirements.

- Advertisement -

These include:

  • having a good working knowledge of the school’s child safety and wellbeing policies and procedures, and being a point of contact for staff, volunteers and contractors who need advice about or assistance with following them
  • acting as “Child Safety Champions” and promoting child safety issues within the school community
  • being a point of contact for staff, volunteers, contractors, students, families and other members of the school community to raise child safety incidents or concerns within the school
  • managing, or assisting the principal to manage, the school’s response to a child safety incident or concern, and ensuring that the incident, allegation, disclosure or suspicion is taken seriously
  • providing assistance and support to students, families, staff, volunteers, and contractors who receive or make a disclosure of abuse or other harm
  • communicating the school’s child safety and wellbeing policies and procedures to all stakeholders including students, parents/carers, staff, volunteers and contractors
  • monitoring how the school’s child safety and wellbeing policies and procedures are being implemented, and reporting about this to the school’s leadership/executive team
  • reviewing the school’s child safety and wellbeing policies and procedures
  • ensuring that new staff members, and relevant volunteers and contractors, receive induction and ongoing child safety training so that they can identify signs of abuse and other harm, understand how to respond and know when to make a report  — both internally and to an external agency
  • providing new staff members, and relevant volunteers and contractors, with the child safety and wellbeing policy and the child safety codes of conduct
  • ensuring that visitors to the school are aware of key contact details for reporting child safety incidents and concerns — both internally to the school and to relevant external authorities.

Noe that is is not a Child Safety Officer’s role to replace any individual staff member’s legal obligations to make reports to external authorities. Reporting a child safety incident or concern to a Child Safety Officer does not absolve staff members of these obligations, nor can a staff member fail to make an external report if their own concerns still meet the required threshold for reporting, even if advice from a Child Safety Officer indicates that, in the Child Safety Officer’s view, the matter does not need to be reported.

Who should schools appoint as child safety officers?

To be able to fulfil the above responsibilities, a school’s Child Safety Officers will need a unique set of knowledge and skills. 

They should be staff members:

- Advertisement -
  • with experience working with complex student and family issues
  • whose personal attitudes, experiences and skills demonstrate a high degree of integrity, respect for confidentiality, resilience, and willingness and ability to respond to issues personally and sensitively
  • whose role within the school provides them with a sufficient degree of seniority and authority
  • who are approachable, trusted by students and staff, and who are readily accessible and available to all members of the school community.

Careful consideration and training is critical

A school should think very carefully about who it appoints to these roles. To ensure that the person in the role meets all the above requirements, a school should consider appointing particular people rather than designating certain roles at the school as Child Safety Officers. For example, while the role of Deputy Principal may have sufficient authority, the person in that role may not be considered approachable by students — particularly if they are responsible for, and have a reputation for meting out, student discipline.

A school should also consider appointing more than one Child Safety Officer, or at least one Child Safety Officer and at least one Senior Child Safety Officer. The above responsibilities are extensive and may not be able to be sufficiently managed by a single person, especially if they also have other teaching, counselling or administrative commitments. Appointing at least two Child Safety Officers, or one Child Safety Officer and one Senior Child Safety Officer, also ensures that someone fulfils the above responsibilities when a Child Safety Officer has a conflict of interest in a particular matter, is on leave or is otherwise unable to take on one or more of the required responsibilities.

To be able to fulfil their role, Child Safety Officers will also need funding, time and authority, and – if they are not the school’s principal – a direct line to the principal. They will also need additional training, above and beyond the standard child safety training given to all staff. 

This additional training may include external courses, conferences and workshops on relevant child safety-related topics, internal training provided by the school, and regular meetings of the Child Safety Officers to discuss current issues at the school.


Share This Article
Trish Riley is a Zimbabwean-born writer and communications specialist. With experience in journalism, and public relations, Trish has been developer and editor of several trade publications and regularly contributes articles for diverse sectors including aged care, animal care, construction and education.