WA Education, Justice, Health departments fail to 'fully comply' with working with children checks

The West Australian departments of Education, Health and Justice are not "fully" meeting their obligations to ensure every person on their sites who required working with children cards actually had one, a new report by the Auditor General has warned.

Auditor General Caroline Spencer said the three entities understood the need for cards, but control weaknesses created a risk that unsuitable individuals could work with children.

Procedures for managing working with children checks were not always followed, she said.

"The entities did not consistently manage card records across operational areas and information was often decentralised," Ms Spencer said.

"As a result, management did not have a complete understanding of whether everyone required to had a card.

"With new employees, the entities did not always check with Department of Communities that their cards were valid or inform the department of hiring them.

"This means that the entities may be unaware that a prospective employee’s card has been revoked, creating a risk that unsuitable employees could be working with children."

The Auditor-General tabled the Working with Children Checks – Managing Compliance report in the WA Parliament on Wednesday.

Most people who undertake paid or unpaid work with children must apply for a working with children check in Western Australia.

Individuals apply for a card through the Department of Communities, which considered information including criminal records and if their behaviour indicated they posed a risk to children.

But gaps in processes, errors in record-keeping, and shortcomings in performance monitoring were found.

Ms Spencer said when people started working with children, the three departments did not always check that cards were valid, or inform the Department of Communities of these new hires.

"This means entities may not be made aware when Communities revokes a card and there is a risk that entities could allow unsuitable employees to work with children," the report found.

"The issues we found serve as timely reminders. I encourage all organisations who work with children, public sector or otherwise, to consider the findings in this report," Ms Spencer said.

The report did not discover any employees working with children with a negative or interim negative notice.

"We could match 80,486 records to Communities’ database at a point in time and found 80,196 (99 per cent) employees had valid cards," the report said.

For the 290 expired cards, more than half had been expired for more than 90 days.

Entities would not have met their obligations under section 22 of the Act if they allowed these individuals to work with children for more than five days in a year, the report said.

The Auditor General’s performance audit covered the departments of Education, Health and Justice.

A state government spokeswoman said the audit found overall the Department of Education had a strong system for recording and monitoring working with children card compliance.

"However, as with all audit reports, opportunities have been identified to strengthen these agencies’ processes," she said.

"We understand that they have accepted the findings made by the Auditor General and will work to make the necessary improvements."

She said the Department of Communities recently completed work to further improve its processes, including strengthening criteria for determining whether an applicant was issued with an interim negative notice until their application was finalised, and employing more WWCC staff to speed up checks.

It had expanded a proactive compliance program to identify areas of non-compliance.

A department spokesperson said the WA health system’s policy, procedures and practices would be reviewed, with the OAG recommendations and findings informing this review.

Ms Spencer said the public had "every right" to expect public sector entities demonstrated the highest standards to help keep children safe.

This article was first published on WAtoday. Read the original article here.

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