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Concerns about current legislation to protect children - Safeguarding Children

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A recent media story highlighting the fact that a convicted paedophile has worked on a popular New Zealand children’s tv show reveals the serious inadequacies of current legislation which is supposed to protect our children, according to Safeguarding Children CEO Willow Duffy.

"We echo the Children’s Commissioner’s concerns about the current systemic weakness when it comes to the protection of children. Rather than providing a framework for adequate training, risk identification, and child protection, our legislation has gaping holes through which predators can easily slip, which the production company’s hiring decision clearly illustrates.

"It appears, for example, that the Children’s Act 2014 would not class the screen industry as a "Regulated Service". Only those services who fall into the category of regulated services are legally required to carry out police checks on employees. Therefore, the presenters and crew would not be classed as core or even non-core workers, a classification which would trigger safety checking.

"We note that the screen industry has been reportedly urgently drafting vetting guidelines to ensure children are safe. We have reached out to the industry to provide our expertise in this area and hope that they will work with an appropriately qualified organisation to make sure their policies and procedures and training are fit for purpose.

Duffy says that best practice, in the best interests of the child, would support police checks, reference checks, and the adoption of child protection policies for the screen industry in New Zealand, but our legislation does not require this. Even then police vetting alone is not enough. Thorough reference checks to explore the suitability of a person to work with children are just as important. Someone may never have come to the attention of the police, but their behaviours and attitude towards children may be unsafe. Reference checks are crucial to identify people who are not suitable to work with children.

Internationally, as a result of cases such as the Jimmy Saville case, standards have been put in place to protect children but Duffy says that she can find none for New Zealand.

"Regardless of how an organisation is funded, whether it is linked to the government, or whether its services are classed as regulated or not, children have right to be safe and parents and carers have a right to expect their children to be safe. If any organisation is engaging with children they must make provision to keep those children safe."

Duffy says that her organisation, Safeguarding Children, regularly sees child protection policies that are not fit for purpose, but those same organisations would pass a compliance audit as they can say that they have a policy in place.

Duffy says that if child protection is compared with New Zealand’s approach to workplace health and safety the difference is stark and unacceptable.

"The Children’s Act is a piece of legislation that doesn’t provide a carrot or a stick. The lack of auditing of standards and a compliance ‘tick box’ approach combined with weak wording around training to identify child abuse means that our children remain vulnerable.

"Our research shows that many staff don’t know if their organisation has a child protection policy or have never seen it. Our children deserve better."

The volunteer sector is of particular concern, says Duffy. "Volunteers do not have to be safety checked according to the legislation, yet services to children in New Zealand rely heavily on volunteers. Based on our experience, we know that people who seek to harm children and are unable to pass police vetting in paid employment will seek voluntary roles working with children."

Duffy says that the Children’s Act needs reviewing and revisiting and should include any service working with children, not just those linked to government or funded by government. She is calling for revised legislation to include volunteers and for it contain stronger wording around child protection training.

"Organisational funding needs to be tied to high quality and embedded approaches to safeguarding children, not a passive box ticking exercise. As a country we need to demand more and demand better for our tamariki."

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