Children and young people are the most vulnerable members of our society, and their safety and wellbeing should always be our first priority. Organisations must take action to ensure the children of today and future generations are safe from abuse.
Children are the most vulnerable members of society due to their dependence on adults and limited comprehension of their rights or ability to identify acceptable social norms and behaviours.
However, the safety of children and young people within an organisation is often taken for granted and rarely questioned. Parents, and the community, often don’t think to question enough if their child is safe and protected from harm at school, or at their part time job, for example.
Similarly, boards and executives don’t question enough whether or not children are safe in their organisations. Yet, their safety should far outweigh business profits, revenue, popularity and market share.
With children’s wellbeing, as well as organisational reputations at risk, it is not an issue that can be ignored.
Child safeguarding refers to the processes, practices and culture embedded in an organisation that comes into contact with children and young people, to keep children safe from all forms of abuse or harm as a result of contact with that organisation.
A number of recent enquiries, including The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, have highlighted alarming examples of abuse, neglect and exploitation of children and young people within organisations. Between 2016 and 2017 there were 60,930 cases of substantiated child abuse in Australia. We know that child abuse is overwhelmingly underreported, and therefore this does not capture the full extent of the problem.
As we begin to appreciate the prevalence of children and young people in our community and the countless types of interactions that all organisations have with children and young people, it becomes clear that the potential impact on organisations if an incident of child abuse or neglect were to occur under its supervision, could be severe.
The more complex the organisation – including the type of direct and incidental interactions with children, or its sector and industry regulatory obligations – the more important it is to address this.
Many organisations and businesses underestimate the relevance of child safety to their operations and their risk profile. Engagement with a child or young person may occur directly – for example in schools or universities, health or welfare service settings, the employment of young people in retail outlets, or services targeted at children such as amusement parks. Or incidentally – for example as customers in retail settings, or transport users, participants in research projects, or colocation of a childcare facility on a property.
The ongoing reputational risks associated with a failure to make child safety a priority, including strong public backlash and scrutiny, are significant.
However, understanding what must be done to better protect children is a challenge in itself.
Facing this level of change is daunting. The role of leadership in embracing these shifts and influencing change is critical.
In Child safeguarding, is your organisation safeguarding children and young people?, a joint report with Child Wise, we look at robust steps towards child safeguarding including:
Sectors and institutions have shown they are unable to self-regulate and the community is now holding those sectors and institutions to account. Until it can be shown that institutions can do better, there will be more regulation, heightened standards and expectations, and a stronger focus on audit and compliance.
Working together, KPMG and Child Wise (www.childwise.org.au) are combining expert guidance in and a better practice approach to child safety. This is focused on the areas of risk identification, management, strategy and advisory.
We are helping organisations to prevent, identify and respond to child safety risks, allegations and substantiated cases of child abuse.
We aim to empower children to contribute to their overall safety and wellbeing.
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