A report done by the government in Western Australia indicates that children are being put in danger to exposure to criminals that could abuse them including sex offenders. The reason being that background checks for individuals that work with kids are backlogged. The government review also indicated that criminals in forty different incidents had access to children.
The risk comes as a threat to the “Working with Children Act” which was put into place in order to ensure that people who work with children are properly screened. The cause of the backlog is that the number of applications has increased from 20,000 back in 2006 to upwards of 100,000 applications as of 2012. The significant increase has meant that staff members at the Department of Children’s Protection are becoming burnout with the workload and are quitting. The number of available staff members has not increased with the workload further contributing to the problem.
One idea to get the number of applications down was to extend the validity of the cards from the current period of three years to five years. However some critics say by reducing the frequency of the checks, this would only put children at risk of further harm. Another review done by the government also indicated that there were issues with people being declined a card but still being able to work with children in a role as a volunteer parent.
Child Protection Minister Robyn McSweeney has stepped up to show that the law should be changed in order to stop the declined applicants from being able to access children under this exemption from the checks as a parent volunteer. However the minister did not make any apologies for the fact that the reviews take such a long time further adding to the backlog problem. Minister McSweeney cites that the checks take a long time because some significant investigation must be done in order to determine whether the person’s background and criminal history would warrant prohibition from being able to work with children.
For the majority of the people that apply for the applications, they are almost immediately allowed to begin working with children if they lack a criminal history. These authorisations are completed in roughly 14 days.
The problem is that when the individual has a lesser background rather than a serious background that should prevent them from working with children, these people are still given the opportunity to work with children as a volunteer parent while they wait for the clearance. In the case of the most serious defenders these people are being outright denied.
Child advocates have called for an increase in the resources available to help the staff review these cases so that the backlog is reduced and so that the applications can be reviewed faster. As of right now the talks are still going on as to how to best combat the problem and what measures should be put into place.