The Children and Community Services Amendment Bill 2021 has today passed State Parliament, delivering on the McGowan Government’s commitment to require ministers of religion to report child sexual abuse, including when information is gained during confession.
The Bill implements recommendations of the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) and recommendations of the 2017 Statutory Review of the Children and Community Services Act 2004.
Safety of children is at the heart of the mandatory reporting reforms, which will better protect children by increasing the number of people who are legally required to report child sexual abuse.
As well as ministers of religion, the changes extend mandatory reporting laws to early childhood workers, out-of-home care workers, registered psychologists, school counsellors and youth justice workers, in line with Royal Commission recommendations 7.3 and 7.4.
Department of Communities officers and assessors appointed to visit residential care services and secure care will also become mandatory reporters.
The staggered implementation of the eight new mandatory reporter groups is expected to increase the number of people legally required to report child sexual abuse by an estimated 55,000 reporters.
Significantly, there will be no excuse for failing to make a mandatory report because a minister’s belief was based on information disclosed to the minister during a religious confession, or because making the report would otherwise be contrary to the tenets of the minister’s faith or religion.
The State Government is also committed to working more closely with Aboriginal people, organisations and communities to build stronger connection to family, culture and Country for Aboriginal children in care because the evidence shows this is fundamental to achieving better outcomes for children in out-of-home care.
Key amendments in the legislation supporting this include:
- Changes to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle to prioritise placements in closer proximity to the child’s community if placement with family or an Aboriginal person in the child’s community cannot be achieved;
- Stronger consultation requirements for arranging who a child in care should live with (referred to as a ‘placement arrangement’). As well as consulting members of the child’s family and relevant Aboriginal staff of the Department of Communities, consultation will also have to occur with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander representative organisation;
- The Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander representative organisations must also be given the opportunity to participate in the preparation and annual review of children’s cultural support plans;
- Provision of cultural support plans in written proposals to the Children’s Court, as well as information on arrangements for placing the child in accordance with the Child Placement Principle and the placement consultation that has occurred;
- Before making a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) for an Aboriginal child with only non-Aboriginal carers, the court must consider a report from certain Aboriginal agencies or persons about whether the SGO should be made.
These changes will strengthen the Act to better protect children from harm as a result of abuse. Further information about the Children and Community Services Amendment Bill 2021 can be viewed on the Department of Communities website.
As stated by Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk:
“The experiences endured and courage shown by those who bravely stepped forward during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will not be ignored by the McGowan Government.
“The extension of mandatory reporting laws to ministers of religion and a number of other professions sends a clear message that child safety must always be paramount.
“In 2021, the McGowan Government has overseen the first reduction in the number of children in care since 1997, and these legislative amendments build on the government’s ongoing work to protect children and young people in WA.
“We are absolutely committed to working more closely with Aboriginal stakeholders to better inform decision making and ensure that Aboriginal people are at the centre of decisions that impact Aboriginal children, families and communities.
“The amendments passed today strengthen the Act to better protect Western Australian children and young people from abuse and associated harm, and include a number of practical steps to achieve this.”