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Vulnerable Children

The new Vulnerable Children Act is wide-ranging legislation that will impact on many providers in the community sector.

This 2014 legislation is aimed at providing better protections for vulnerable children and confers responsibility on the heads of five government departments for improving the lives of children.

Frontline staff in health, education, social development, justice and police have to ensure that children identified as vulnerable get the services and support they need.

This law also introduces new vetting and screening checks for government and community staff working with children. Anyone with serious convictions will be banned from working directly with children.

Even if your NGO already does workforce safety checks, the new legislation is likely to mean changes to who and what you check. As well as workforce restrictions, the child protection policies bring new responsibilities for many of us in the non-profit sector.

Workforce safety checks

The worker safety checks are coming into force in a phased fashion over four years to ensure that organisations have sufficient time to screen their existing workforce and implement the necessary processes for pre-employment screening. These require police checks for staff that will look for any relevant convictions that could exclude people from working in specific roles – you need to ensure your NGO has suitable processes in place for this.

Initially, only new core children’s workers have to be checked under the new regime. From 1 July 2016, new non-core children’s workers will need to be checked. For existing core children’s workers, checks must be completed by 1 July 2018 and for existing non-core children’s workers, by 1 July 2019 – so there are generous timeframes for our sector to meet the requirements. A core worker is a children’s worker who is regularly the only worker present with children or has primary authority over or responsibility for a child or children in the work context.

In October/November 2014, the Ministry of Health sought feedback on proposed content of the Regulations for worker safety checks required by the Vulnerable Children Act. The government then produced various guidance material to help providers. The official guidelines document and various factsheets are available on the Children's Action Plan website:

Child protection policies

NGOs’ contracts to provide children's services (as defined in Section 15 of the Act) now include a clause requiring the adoption of child protection policies. A Child Protection Policy must cover matters related to the identification and reporting of child abuse and neglect (including physical, emotional or sexual harm, ill-treatment, neglect or deprivation).

A cross-government group, which included the Ministry of Health, developed a template and a set of documents to help providers. These are all online, including official guidelines on the Children's Action Plan website:

Another source to check is the free Child Protection Policy Guide on the Child Matters website.