By CELA on 20 Aug, 2018

A new writer for Amplify, Ruth Harper, this week shares her view about the growing number of services with closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) to monitor activity inside the service during the day, not just for security out of hours.

Ruth, of East West Childcare and Kinder in Fitzroy, Victoria, tested out her views on social media and was surprised at the number of educators who responded with praise for the use of internal CCTV.  In some cases it was about self-protection – the evidence was available when falsely accused of mistreatment, for instance – in other cases it was more the idea that modern life means constant monitoring and this wasn’t a problem if you have nothing to hide.

It’s food for thought, and as Ruth explains her view, you might find your own ideas challenged too.

Scroll to the end for links to additional information about Australian legislation covering the use of CCTV in workplaces.

Workplace cameras

There seems to be a belief that having CCTV cameras operating in early childhood education and care services is A Good Thing.

When l ask people – as I did recently, with hundreds of responses – why they feel the need to have cameras watching them work, they say things like:

  • parents are very untrusting
  • staff might be neglecting or abusing children
  • staff might not do their job properly
  • cameras will support us when we are falsely accused of something
  • cameras will help us understand when something goes wrong.

Things will, of course, at times go wrong in life and at your service.

People will make mistakes; misunderstandings will occur; children will fall over and get hurt, sometimes badly; things will get lost.

And yet … and yet, I’ve never felt the need for surveillance!

Monitoring can’t replace respect

When l checked in with my team, l was unsurprised to discover that they felt similarly. I expected this because l know the people l work with well. l respect them and l trust them implicitly.

At my service, management and staff work together as a team, there is no sense of ‘us and them’, no thought that they will only work if we are watching, or that they are not competent to do their jobs.

We all know that if (and when) something happens that we will support each other, that we will work it out as a team where relationships are based on mutual trust and respect.

We work hard to establish and maintain good, strong relationships with parents, where communication is valued and, again, trust and respect are key.

Parents trust us, they talk to us if they are concerned, they tell us if they are unhappy, they share their worries with us and trust us to do the same.

Who's watching the watchers? Image credit: Ruth Harper
Who’s watching the watchers? Image credit: Ruth Harper

Conversations, not cameras

If there is a problem we sit down together and figure it out.

We have conversations with parents. We laugh and joke, we tell stories and share both their sorrows and joy.

The parents at our service understand the importance of these shared, sustained conversations, and we know this because they tell us. We care for and respect each other, understanding that we are valued and feel secure in our positions.

Based on their replies to me, I worry that some educators may be working in an environment where relationships with parents are at best fragile, at worst, non-existent. While those educators may be comforted that workplace cameras ‘support us’, it still concerns me that being perpetually observed may actually create a false sense of security, of assuming that all will be well because someone else is watching.

More questions than answers

But what happens when an incident is not caught on camera? Or it is filmed, but the footage appears not to support or even contradicts what the educator is saying happened?

Should we be concerned about the children’s right to privacy?

Are there issues around informed consent, both of staff and children?

Who is empowered or advantaged?

Who might be disadvantaged?

Do we really want to be watched all the time?

Editor’s notes

What are the rules about CCTV in workplaces in your jurisdiction?

You will get a good overview of Australia’s various legal rules about workplace monitoring in this article in The Conversation. The author, law professor Rick Sarre, notes that our state and territory parliaments have generally been slow to update legislation to account for modern access to video and other new technologies and says that three jurisdictions – the ACT, Queensland and Tasmania – still only mention listening devices, not cameras.

We couldn’t find any ruling that specifically covered informed consent by children to be filmed, or video privacy for children in the typically open bathrooms in early learning services.

Below we have added links to samples of advice or legislation from Victoria, NSW and South Australia below.  If you are concerned about monitoring and privacy in your workplace, your first stop (after talking to your employer) should be the authority in your state that looks after industrial relations and workplaces.

Commonwealth privacy legislation does not cover workplace surveillance, but state workplace surveillance rules should all comply with privacy principles. This includes being informed by your employer of the location and purpose of any CCTV, and that there can’t be cameras in places that you could reasonably expect privacy such as bathrooms and changing rooms.

We couldn’t find any ruling that specifically covered informed consent by children to be filmed, or video privacy for children in the typically open bathrooms in early learning services.

Have you got a view on children’s privacy? Share it in the comments below


“In Victoria, there are no specific laws regulating use of CCTV cameras for workplace surveillance by employers. Therefore, workplace surveillance in Victoria is subject to the same restrictions as general surveillance devices.”

Read about Victoria’s workplace advice

New South Wales

“In NSW, an employer must not carry out, or cause to be carried out, covert surveillance of an employee while the employee is at work for the employer unless the surveillance is authorised by a covert surveillance authority (eg, the police).”

Check the legislation in NSW

South Australia

“For many years, the regulation of surveillance devices in South Australia has been less comprehensive than in other Australian jurisdictions. Recently, the South Australian Parliament took action to bring South Australia in line with other States and Territories by passing the Surveillance Devices Act 2016 (SA) (the 2016 Act)”

Read this report from an SA law firm.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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