Why a Fresh Approach to Safeguarding is Needed
23 October 2018 at 8:56 am
In wake of the national apology to survivors of sexual abuse, it’s time to take an innovative and fresh approach to ensuring the safety of vulnerable people, writes Peter Baynard-Smith.
Across Australia, thousands of people have waited a very long time for 22 October 2018; the day the Australian prime minister delivered a national apology to survivors of child sexual abuse following the horrific findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
In an impassioned speech, Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged that the crime of sexual abuse “happened in schools, churches, youth groups, scout troops, orphanages, foster homes, sporting clubs, group homes, charities and in family homes”.
“It happened anywhere a predator thought they could get away with it and the systems within these organisations allowed it to happen and turned a blind eye,” Morrison said.
The systems to protect children failed, with catastrophic outcomes for children and their families.
It is time for us to think outside the square – how can technology and innovation contribute to new ways to keep vulnerable people safer?
Australian governments have responded to the royal commission by implementing regulatory changes based on the commission’s recommendations to shape a safer future for children.
For instance, the onus of proof on organisations has been reversed. Organisations must now prove that steps were taken to prevent abuse, i.e. fulfil their duty of care.
But is the fragmented state-based system of Working With Children Checks increasing the risk of potential perpetrators slipping unnoticed between organisations, sectors, and jurisdictions?
The royal commission has recommended a more standardised approach to Working With Children Checks, an improved information sharing and visibility of WWCC decisions across all jurisdictions, and a reduction in complexity and duplication of safeguarding schemes.
However, with a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety due to report in late 2019, and calls for a royal commission into abuse in the disability sector, not-for-profit organisations can expect further regulatory changes to protect vulnerable people.
As identified by Susan Pascoe AM, former commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, and president of the Australian Council for International Development: “Regulation is increasing across the board… the government reacts to various scandals by placing extra responsibilities on citizens, on businesses, and on not for profits.”
Certainly, all community organisations welcome changes that strengthen systems to protect children and other vulnerable people. Yet we must also acknowledge that such changes increase the already onerous compliance burden and heavy administrative costs.
Most organisations only verify an individual’s WWCC accreditation when they join the organisation and when the accreditation expires up to 5 years later. If the checking of accreditations once is onerous, how many organisations will proactively manage risk by instituting annual, monthly or even weekly verifications?
The burden on the community sector to comply with a growing number of accreditations and cards risks leading to a focus on attaining minimum compliance, rather than exceeding compliance to maximise safety and security of vulnerable people.
New technological innovations could offer ways to ease the administrative burden, improve safeguarding system integrity, and reduce risks:
- Cloud technology allows organisations to verify continuously and receive immediate notifications when accreditations are revoked anywhere in the fragmented national system. Organisations can be informed, proactive, and responsive in their actions to ensure client, staff and volunteer safety and protection.
- Blockchain technology enables the possibility of secure, permanent and tamper-proof records and smart information-sharing across organisations. Organisations can be confident that they have an immutable and fully auditable proof of accreditation verifications.
- Integrated software platforms and databases allow organisations to reduce both their administrative costs and compliance risks through automated continuous accreditation management.
Novel approaches to improve protection systems will likely only come from partnerships between the public, private and community sectors and the embrace of innovative technologies.
Internationally, initiatives are emerging to use blockchain and cloud technology to facilitate humanitarian passports and sharing of cross-jurisdictional criminal check databases to reduce sexual abuse in the humanitarian aid sector.
In Australia, some organisations are using these technologies to perform continuous and ongoing real-time validation of professional and safeguarding accreditations for individuals working with vulnerable people across all sectors.
Is your organisation embracing innovative technology to maximise the safety of children and other vulnerable people?
About the author: Peter Baynard-Smith has 20 years experience working in the international aid and development sector, and is the former CEO of Engineers Without Borders. He is currently the CEO of dutyof.care, an online platform enabling organisations to take a proactive approach to preventing harm.