The McGowan Government will today introduce changes to the Children and Community Services Act 2004 to require ministers of religion to report child sexual abuse.
The changes will implement recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, including extending mandatory reporting to information gained during confession.
As a result of a statutory review of the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (completed in 2017), the Bill will also implement 41 recommendations aimed at achieving better outcomes for Western Australian children.
To achieve this, the legislation sets out:
- changes to the Aboriginal Child Placement Principal, to prioritise Aboriginal children in care being placed in their community and remaining connected to culture;
- requirements to consult Aboriginal communities in the assessment of Aboriginal children coming into care, the placement of children in care, and throughout the care planning process;
- the prioritisation of children in care by Government services and agencies providing support (this is an extension of the existing Rapid Response policy);
- improving support provided to children in care, including requirements for cultural plans, and leaving care plans by the time a child reaches the age of 15; and
- planning for long-term stability and continuity in children’s living arrangements, and maintaining family connections where possible for children who remain in care.
WA’s mandatory reporting laws currently require doctors, nurses, midwives, police officers, teachers and boarding supervisors to report child sexual abuse to the Department of Communities if they form a belief based on reasonable grounds – during the course of their paid or unpaid work – that a child has been or is the subject of sexual abuse.
Ministers of religion will join this group, ensuring all child sexual abuse is reported, even if it relates to information provided during a religious confession.
The extended legislation will apply to people who are recognised in accordance with the practices of a faith or religion as ‘authorised to conduct services or ceremonies in accordance with the tenets of the faith or religion’, for example: members of the clergy, priests, ministers, imams, rabbis and pastors.
To send a clear message about child safety being everyone’s responsibility, the existing $6,000 penalty for failing to make a mandatory report about child sexual abuse will be extended to ministers of religion.
As stated by Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk:
“The experiences endured and courage shown by those who bravely stepped forward during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse cannot be, and will not be, ignored by the McGowan Government.
“This legislation sends a clear message about the expectation that child safety will always be paramount.
“The McGowan Government is committed to creating a safer Western Australia for children and young people, and these changes are practical steps in our ongoing work to protect children now and prevent further harm.
“One of the Bill’s themes is the importance of long-term stability and family connections to children in State care when it is not safe for them to be reunified with their parents.
“This includes building stronger connections to family, culture and country for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, who make up more than half of the children in out-of-home care in WA.”