Protection of Vulnerable Children

Protection of Vulnerable Children

 A New Compliance Issue


New requirements under the Vulnerable Children Act 2014 add significantly to the burdens placed on community organisations. Writing this article has been difficult, and if a lawyer finds it challenging to explain legislation it is probably fair to say that many (most?) community organisations will struggle to understand and comply with their obligations.

For the purposes of the Vulnerable Children Act 2014, a “child” is defined as a person under the age of 18 who is not married or in a civil union, while “vulnerable children” are defined as “children of the kind or kinds (that may be or, as the case requires, have been and are currently) identified as vulnerable in the setting of Government priorities under section 7” of the Act. No-one want children at risk, but minimising that risk creates an administrative nightmare for not-for-profits.  According to a Departmental publication Children’s worker safety checking under the Vulnerable Children Act 2014” available at the Children’s Action Plan website.

The Government’s Children’s Action Plan includes a commitment to implement legislation for the vetting and screening of the children’s workforce – these “children’s worker safety checks” became law in the Vulnerable Children Act 2014 (the VCA), and came into force for new workers in core children’s workforce roles on 1 July 2015.

The VCA requires safety checking of all paid employees and contractors, employed or engaged by government-funded organisations, who work with children. The requirements for safety checking also apply to people undertaking unpaid children’s work as part of an educational or vocational training course.

Businesses, unfunded non-government organisations, and voluntary organisations are not covered by the requirements, but are encouraged to also adopt the new standards voluntarily.

The VCA also contains a restriction on the employment of people with convictions for certain offences in some children’s worker roles, subject to a government-run exemptions process.

This explanatory publication extends to 29 pages which illustrates the fact that these new requirements are detailed. There is insufficient space in this article to discuss those requirements, but all not-for-profit organisations dealing with children need to come to grips with what is now required of them. In essence:

  • Children’s worker safety checking is intended to help identify the small number of people who pose a risk to children.
  • From 1 July 2015, new Regulations under the Vulnerable Children Act 2014 are being phased in requiring all paid employees and contractors who work with children for organisations “funded (whether wholly or partly, and whether directly or indirectly) by a State service to provide regulated service(s)” (regulated services being identified in Schedule 1 of the Vulnerable Children Act 2014 as including a range of health, welfare, justice and education services, specifically including “social or support services, including (but not limited to) victim support services, drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, and childcare services,” “mentoring and counselling services,” “youth services and youth work,” “out-of-school care and recreational services,” education services provided by a trades academy, a service academy, or an alternative education provider for or on behalf of a school,” and “education services provided at any off-site location for or on behalf of a registered school or early childhood service, including teen parent units, school camps, and learning centres”) to be safety checked.
  • The Regulations apply to people doing unpaid (voluntary) work with children as part of an educational or vocational training course (eg, trainees or students).
  • Identity checking is required by reference to an electronic identity credential or by checking an original primary identity document (with confirmation that the person being checked is that “identity” by reference to an identity document that contains a photo or by using an identity referee), checking that the “identity” has not been claimed by anyone else, followed by an interview with the “identity,” checking the “identity’s” work history over the previous 5 years, obtaining and considering information from at least one independent referee, seeking information from any relevant professional organisation, licensing authority, or registration authority, obtaining and considering information from a New Zealand Police vet (such checks can take months to obtain), and then evaluating all of that “information to assess the risk the potential children’s worker would pose to the safety of children if employed or engaged, taking into account whether the role is a core children’s worker or non-core children’s worker role.”