Following two of the toughest years, schools and child service organisations will be kept busy this term to ensure their readiness for the new National Child Safe Standards and Victorian Ministerial Order 1359.

The new Standards come into effect and become mandatory on 1 July 2022. Organisations must be compliant by this date, including updating any policies, procedures and practices to address the Standards.

What is Victorian Ministerial Order 1359?

The Ministerial Order 1359 greatly expands the various policies, procedures and practices that a "school governing authority" must develop, endorse and implement for a school and for its boarding premises. It includes specific details on how schools are expected to comply with each Standard. It also includes important changes to definitions impacting all child safety, student duty of care and human resource policy and procedures.

11 Standards replace the current seven Standards and principles

The new Standards provide greater clarity for organisations on actions that are required to meet minimum standards. Key changes to the Standards include new requirements:

  • to involve families and communities in organisations' efforts to keep children and young people safe;
  • for a greater focus on safety for Aboriginal children and young people;
  • to challenge on further improvement in diversity and inclusion practices;
  • to leverage the value in incident and complaints data; and
  • for greater clarity on the governance, systems and processes to keep children and young people safe.

Family and community involvement

A key change in the new Standards is the requirement to involve families and communities in the organisations efforts to keep children and young people safe. This involvement is essential to foster an open and transparent child safe culture.

For example, relevant communities might include the parent community, the local community surrounding the school, the traditional owners of the land on which the school sits, the cultural, linguistic and other communities that make up the staff and student cohort. Schools will need to ensure that information and involvement strategies meet the communication needs of all these groups.

Culturally safe environment, respected and valued

Supporting Aboriginal children and young people and their diverse needs is a greater focus in these Standards. It is made clear that establishing a culturally safe environment requires specific strategies designed to ensure that a school's policies, procedures and practices take into account, reflect and validate the cultural makeup of its students and their communities. They also must minimise any cultural barriers that there might be to reporting concerns.

The expanded definition of diversity needs to be fully considered for readiness to meet these Standards. This could include strategy, approach, culture training, risk assessments and expertise, to ensure that the principles are embedded within the organisation and facilitate participation and inclusion for students and their families.

Empowering students

The Standards require organisations to support children and young people to become stronger, understand their rights, have greater control in their lives and build confidence in themselves and the organisation. Organisations must also provide opportunities for children and young people to participate in the organisation and the decisions that affect them.

Most schools are already doing much of this through their home group programs, student representative councils, student participation in committees and child safety and wellbeing curriculum. Embedding and documenting these initiatives will play a key part in addressing the requirements of the Standards.

In addition, new requirements expanded from exclusively physical to physical and online environments promoting safety and wellbeing and minimising opportunity for harm. The additions will require schools to review their current codes of conduct relevant to online activities to ensure that they are consistent with the child safety code of conduct and child safety and wellbeing policy.

Leadership, governance and culture of the organisation

Child safety and wellbeing must be embedded through leadership, governance and culture of the organisation. This includes through policies, procedures, code of conduct, risk management strategies and appropriate reporting and recording of risks. Ensuring this is all communicated clearly and effectively to all staff and volunteers is essential. Changes in the obligations for volunteers, contractors and procurement practices need to be reflected in practices and procedures.

What do schools and child service organisations need to do now?

It is important to act quickly, as there can be a lot of work involved. Establishing a plan to meet the requirements by the deadline is a good place to start. We understand that you will need support, and are already helping many with readiness checks and workplans, risk workshops, diversity and inclusion risk assessment, and setting up or embedding incident and complaint management frameworks and policy and procedure support.

This article is issued as general commentary - please contact us about your specific circumstances.