When Vikki Shaw first read the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations in 2020, she knew this was going to be important for early education and care. As the Director of St Luke’s Preschool in Dapto, Vikki took a proactive approach with her team to ensure they were on top of the new developments.
“When the principles were released, I had a feeling this was going to lead to legislation in NSW,” recalls Vikki. “But more importantly, as a team, we’re really committed to creating a culture that promotes child safety and empowers children. We wanted to be proactive about how we used the principles.”
Vikki’s prediction was correct with the Child Safe Standards implemented as law on 1 July 2022 in NSW. She shares the journey her team has been on to implement the standards.
The first step for the St Luke’s team was to familiarise themselves with the standards. There was no expectation that the team memorised each one, but they did need to read, understand and reflect on them.
As is likely the case for many early childhood centres, many of the standards weren’t new to St Luke’s. However, Vikki says that the process has led to the creation of new documents as well as new training for the team with the Office of the Children’s Guardian.
“We’ve now created a Child Safety Standards Policy,” says Vikki. “We also have a Child Safe Code of Conduct, which is different to our regular Code of Conduct. We used the OCG Guide to the Child Safe Standards to create these. Then, as a team, we worked through–and continue to work through–different questions to ensure we have plans in place to address each element of the standards."
For every new team member that joins the St Luke’s team, the induction is thorough to ensure they are across the standards.
“Even before that, when we’re conducting employment checks and calling referees, we don’t hesitate to ask the hard questions,” adds Vikki. “We directly ask the referee if they’re aware of any sexual misconduct or disciplinary action complaints. We want to ensure that the people we’re employing are safe.”
In addition, each year, all team members complete the child protection refresher training. All staff members are also trained in the SAFE Series, which they teach to the children.
A team effort
Implementing the Child Safe Standards requires dedication and commitment from the leadership team. Vikki meets weekly with the preschool's licensee who is part of the management committee. They discuss the Standards and the roll-out of the documentation and requirements during these meetings. The licensee reads through all policies and procedures including their newest Child Safe Standards and Child Protection policies. The Committee are currently working through OCG documents such as reportable conduct to ensure they are up to date with processes and that the preschool is a child safe organisation. However, it’s not solely the responsibility of the leaders. Every individual has an important role to play. That’s the approach they’ve taken at St Luke’s.
“The practices we implement are part of the everyday practices of our team,” says Vikki. “It’s important that they are part of the journey to create them.”
Most recently, the team worked together on the risk management plan for the centre. They worked in small groups to identify the risks as well as the controls they have in place to mitigate them.
“As we worked through, we looked at all possible areas of risk,” she explains. “Then we looked at what we need to put in place to prevent each risk from happening.”
For Vikki, it's been a measure of success that the initiative isn't just led by a few people. Instead, the whole team is on board, engaging and supporting a mutual outcome.
“It’s not just a leadership thing where we do the work and pass a document on to the team,” she asserts. “The purpose of the standards is to ensure we have a culture that promotes child safety. We achieve that by working together.”
Thinking beyond the service to the wider community
Vikki recognises that the responsibility to keep children safe goes beyond just the St Luke’s team. All St Luke’s Allied Health partners are required to read and agree to the Child Safe Code of Conduct. Parent volunteers also require a Working with Children Check.
“The biggest thing for us is making sure it’s not just about the team that is working with the children but thinking more broadly about the community,” says Vikki. “It’s things like ensuring our Allied Health partners know where we stand and them standing by the same practices we do.
“We’re advocates for the children. It’s our role to protect and empower them while ensuring the people working with them are safe people.”
As a testament to St Luke’s leadership on implementing the Child Safe Standards, they also look for ways to support the broader Dapto community. This includes offering their facilities to the Office of the Children’s Guardian to run training sessions for other local centres and community organisations.
We applaud St Luke’s proactive and community-based approach to a serious and important topic affecting all services.
Office of the Children’s Guardian: A Guide to the Child Safe Standards
CELA via Amplify!: How we can put children first in early education and care
Professional development relating to this topic
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.