By Eva, Aline and Michelle on 4 Sep, 2023

This week is National Child Protection Week. It’s an opportunity to draw our attention to the role we all must play in improving the safety and well-being of children in our communities. This year’s accompanying theme really connects with the early childhood setting as early childhood services can shape the early experiences of children and young people in the community.  

“Where we start matters” prompts us to reflect upon the fact that not every child starts life with the same opportunities and that inclusive and supportive approaches towards children and their caregivers can change the trajectory of a child’s life, assist in shaping their early learning experiences and influence their access to support and services if they need an extra helping hand. More importantly, educators are in a position to notice when a child or young person is under stress and can be pivotal in identifying harm, exposure to risk, abuse and neglect.  

It is also important to recognise that in choosing a career in early childhood education, where you start matters.

As an early education professional, you have valuable skills and experience to offer the community. Creating a culture where educators are encouraged to share their views and observations can support a team's ability to truly meet the needs of children.  

Here are things to remember this child protection week as you play your role in keeping the children you work with safe.  

Seek support, advice, and training 

Refreshing and updating your knowledge on child protection puts you in the best position to act on your responsibilities to protect children.

Never put off reporting child protection matters. As a mandatory reporter it is important that you are always supported to report risk of harm or use the tools available (such as the NSW Mandatory Reporter Guide) to see if your concerns meet the threshold for mandatory reporting. These tools enable educators to document and discuss their concerns even though they may not meet the required threshold.

Where you may be uncertain about a particular situation or need clarity on the best course of action, it can be helpful to reach out to trusted colleagues or a helpline (such as the Child Protection Helpline in NSW).

CELA has recently launched CHCPRT025 Identify and Report Children and Young People at Risk (this course supersedes CHCPRT001 Identify and Respond to Children and Young People at Risk). The course covers legal requirements, including the responsibilities of mandatory reporters, teaches how to identify significant harm, dynamics of abuse and risk factors, and all reporting requirements for the early childhood sector (our information focus is NSW, but we provide relevant reporting information for participants from other states).

Your skills and insights are incredibly valuable 

You may be new to your role or recently graduated and may notice a child or young person exhibiting behavioural indicators that show they are struggling. You might have noticed a shift in the demeanour of children's parents or caregivers, leading to concerns about their situation.

Do you know how to respond?

Get to know the channels through which you can voice your concerns within and outside of your organisation. Engage in continuous learning to enhance your skills and grow your confidence, enabling you to analyse your observations. Always keep the child's interests at the heart of your actions. 

Early childhood services can be a soft place to land for children experiencing adversity 

Access to quality early childhood education and care can be an equalising experience for a child, as it can give them access to early learning that can promote and support all aspects of development. Bear in mind that for some children, the early education space is a safe place outside of the family home. For children who experience adversity, ECEC can be a protective factor and a support to families who are struggling.

With increases in the early diagnosis of developmental challenges for children and an increase in parental mental health challenges, it is important to know that at any given time a supportive and inclusive approach is required for both the child and caregivers.  

Beware the parental influence and narrative—remain neutral and professional and take a holistic approach 

In reflecting on the theme again, it is important to maintain a child focus in the way we support, identify and keep children safe. Parents and educators can be powerful in shaping and reinforcing narratives about children. When you notice risks or concerns, look holistically at the issue and seek opportunities for improvement to the services you are providing.

Examples of risks could include: 

  • Substance abuse—You can smell alcohol when in close proximity to a caregiver or witness them behaving in an unsafe manner.
  • Extreme financial difficulty and elevated levels of stress—You notice that a caregiver has been showing signs of not being able to have the basic needs of the child met (recently the child comes to care looking dirty, hungry, unkempt, overtired, is loosing a lot of weight or getting sick more frequently) and the caregiver is not doing anything to change the situation.  
  • Caregiver talks to the child or about the child in an unsafe manner—The caregiver may refer to the child using degrading names and/or use rough behaviours such as dragging the child by the arm harshly, pushing the child through the door, or not be interested in knowing about any issues or progresses relating to the child. 

Engage parents respectfully in the process where it is considered safe to do so (please seek advice from the child protection agency in your state and territory BEFORE discussing your concerns with parents and caregivers about their child, children or young people).

Remember you are not alone—look for ways to build opportunities for professional peer discussion within your teams.  

Your health and well-being are important 

You are on the go meeting the demands of children from infancy to middle childhood each day, often for longer hours than the average working day. It is important to remember that you matter, your work is important and staying both physically and mentally healthy is a priority in this demanding profession. Take advantage of professional development, break time and restorative and regenerative activities outside of work. Maintain healthy boundaries.  

Further tips to create a child-safe environment in your service: 

It is important to know your reporting obligations

Are you a Mandatory Reporter? What does that mean? Know who you report to in your state or territory, as this process differs for each jurisdiction. 

If you are a Mandatory Reporter in NSW don’t be afraid to practice using the Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG)—it’s a wonderful tool that can guide you in deciding whether you need to report. The more we practice, the more familiar we will be in using the MRG online tool if a situation arises.  

Ensure you have strong recruitment and HR strategies.

Employment screening tools such as Working With Children Checks, Working with Vulnerable People checks and Blue Cards must be supported with strong recruitment and HR strategies such as interviews, reference checks, orientation/induction, probation, appraisal, and supervision of educators.  

Talk to children about body safety, physical boundaries, consent and body parts.

Adults underestimate the power of these strategies when creating a child-safe environment. Child-safe environments are about all elements of child protection, including the children themselves. It is our responsibility to ensure that we are equipping children with the skills to defend themselves from abuse at a very early age. In addition, children must be protected by trustworthy adults at all times.  CELA’s NESA Accredited webinar Body Safety: Exploring Protection, Respect and Consent with Young Children will give you practical examples of how to implement those practices and how to talk to families about them.  

Open spaces with observation windows and a multi-team member policy are crucial to prevent child maltreatment and abuse.  

No team members should be left alone (or allowed to be alone) in an enclosed/unobserved room or area with a child. This includes cot rooms. CELA members have access to resources such as our Supervision Sample Optional Policy to help implement this practice.   

Have a well-informed and enforced digital technology policy.  

Team members, work placement students and volunteers should not be allowed to use their own devices in the workplace to produce or store pictures of children. CELA’s webinar Effective Use of Technology with Children can help you develop your own knowledge and understanding of appropriate technology use and safety with children and families.   

Reflect on barriers to reporting in the workplace with your team.  

The fear of being labelled a troublemaker and the fear of losing their job are the barriers most discussed in our child protection sessions. All team members need to feel empowered and supported to uphold children’s rights first and foremost. Even if that means reporting a supervisor, a well-regarded family member, a team member or a member of the community.  

Ensure you focus on your own well-being.  

Supporting children and families who find themselves in a vulnerable position can be emotional, so it is important you practice self-care and seek support if you need it. 

CELA professional development relating to this topic: 

CHCPRT025 - Identify & Report Children and Young People at Risk (RTO ID: 90842) - 3 Part Webinar

Note: This course supersedes CHCPRT001 Identify and Respond to Children and Young People at risk


Body Safety: Exploring Protection, Respect and Consent with Young Children NESA Accredited PD


CHCPRT025 Identify and Report Children and Young People at Risk (RTO ID 90842) - Self-Paced Online

Note: This course supersedes CHCPRT001 Identify and Respond to Children and Young People at risk


Child Protection NSW — Refresher Course


Further reading: 

We draw your attention to the scenarios on pages 30, 40 and 57 in the document below: 

Risk Management and the Child Safe Standards Part 1: Responding to risk, Office of the Children's Guardian

The document can be downloaded from this list of resources.  

We also recommend becoming familiar with the document Child Safe Recruitment and the Working With Children Check, Office of the Children's Guardian

About the authors: 

Aline Majado: CELA RTO Manager/ child protection specialist

Aline is an early childhood teacher with 21 years of experience working in education and child protection social projects. She has worked as a room leader, nursery manager and service director in Sydney for many years and has extensive experience in vocational training. 

Aline holds a Bachelor of Arts, a Diploma, and a Bachelor of Education (EC), and a Certificate IV in training and assessment.  

Eva Bowers: Child protection specialist/facilitator and assessor

Eva is a social worker and educator with an extensive practice background in child protection. Eva spent a decade working as a case worker, case work specialist and training with the NSW Department of Communities and Justice.

She currently works with the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia as a Regulation 7 Family Consultant/Child Expert and has worked as a teacher, trainer and consultant in the community services education sector for the past 15 years.  

Michele Urquhart: Child protection specialist/facilitator and assessor

During more than 25 years in the ECEC sector, Michelle has worked in a variety of roles, including Centre Director, Family Day Care Educator and in management positions in private and community-based services. Her work has also included establishing new centres, identifying new business opportunities and drafting the Child-Safe Organisation framework, policy and procedures for a large not-for-profit. 

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