The Department of the Prime Minster and Cabinet has published a guide for handling complaints involving children and “creating child safe cultures”.
Prompted by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the guide outlines how to develop, implement and maintain a complaint-handling system that prioritises child safety and promotes young voices in decisions that affect them.
Kathryn Mandla, head of the National Office for Child Safety, said the guide has been designed to suit a wide audience, from small service providers to large government agencies.
“[The guide] gives advice to organisations on handling a broad spectrum of complaints relating to child safety, from simple customer service issues which impact on children and young people to more complex complaints of abuse by staff, volunteers or other children and young people receiving services,” Mandla said.
“Every organisation working with children and young people — no matter their size — has the same obligations to respond effectively to complaints that affect children, whether initiated by a child or young person directly, or by an adult on their behalf.”
The guide offers nine key points, accompanied by scenarios that agencies might face. For example, how to appropriately and ethically deal with a parent’s complaint about a service.
It also gives advice on how to approach complex situations including trauma, the cultural safety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people with disability and gender-diverse children.
NSW Acting Deputy Ombudsman, Julianna Demetrius, and Project Officer, Claire McMullen, were commissioned by the National Office for Child Safety to produce the guide. They worked with the Office of the e-Safety Commissioner, the Australian Human Rights Commission, children’s guardians, commissioners and various ombudsman’s offices.
The resource also includes the AHRC’s national principles for child safe organisations, which centre on cementing child wellbeing into governance and culture, supporting the rights of young people, and dealing with issues in a way that is safe and practical.
The nine guidelines are as follows:
- Embedding children’s rights, safety and wellbeing into the complaints process: Creating a child-rights focused complaints culture is the first step in handling complaints involving children and young people. All children and young people, staff, volunteers, parents and carers should feel supported in making a complaint to an organisation.
- Reporting responsibilities: It is important that an organisation is aware of its obligations to report and take action to protect the safety of children and young people in their organisation. The roles and responsibilities of staff and volunteers in meeting these obligations should be clearly articulated in the organisation’s complaint-handling policy.
- Sharing information and communicating with stakeholders: Sharing information is important to promote the safety and wellbeing of children and young people. An organisation should be aware of relevant legislative responsibilities for information sharing. Staff and volunteers should also be aware of what information they can share, with whom, and when and how it should be communicated.
- Confidentiality and privacy: Children and young people have the same right to privacy, anonymity and confidentiality as adults (subject to reporting obligations). An organisation should maintain current knowledge of, and comply with, their legislative obligations to maintain confidentiality and protect personal information and privacy.
- Managing risks — complaints and incidents: It is important to have a clear understanding of potential risks to children and young people in an organisation and develop a plan to prevent risks from occurring. An organisation should monitor and reassess risks throughout investigation and complaints processes.
- Conducting investigations involving children and young people: Complaints affecting children and young people should be properly investigated, taken seriously, and their rights are safeguarded throughout the investigation process. These investigations are planned, fair, proportionate and thorough, with findings supported by the available evidence.
- Being fair and objective: Complaints processes should be fair to all parties involved, including affected children or young people and the subject of the complaint. An adult’s opinion is not prioritised over a child’s in the event that they differ; children and young people are listened to without judgement and their views are taken seriously.
- Explaining outcomes and review options: It is important for an organisation to be aware of what type of outcomes are available for different complaints and explain them to complainants, including children and young people. Final outcomes of a complaint, their reasons and options for review should also be clearly explained to the complainant and subject of the complaint.
- Record keeping and complaints data: Organisations should keep full and accurate records about complaints involving children and young people, in line with any legislative or other record-keeping requirements in the jurisdiction. These records should be analysed to improve service and identify trends and risks in the organisation.