New Child Safe Standards are being introduced in the State of Victoria, Australia, on 1 July 2022. We will focus on the record keeping requirements that schools in Victoria will have to follow to comply with the Child Safe Standards – noting that schools in England and Wales may be subject to similar requirements in the not too distant future.
From 1 July 2022 schools in Victoria will have to:
“develop a policy or statement that details the processes the school has in place to meet Public Records Office Victoria Recordkeeping Standards [PROV].”
Victorian law will impose these recordkeeping standards on independent and religious schools – as well as on state schools.
In response to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, PROV introduced new record keeping standards. These standards require schools (and other organisations), to:
- indefinitely retain records about the development of policy, strategy and procedure;
- retain reporting and investigation records for 99 years; and
- retain training and development records for 45 years.
The new law will also require:
- school staff and volunteers to understand their obligations on information sharing and recordkeeping; and
- that training for staff and volunteers includes guidance on the information sharing and recordkeeping obligations.
In its Interim Report, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England & Wales (IICSA) highlighted that documentation had been critical to the Inquiry’s work. For example, records relating to Knowl View School in Rochdale showed that the local authority had been aware of sexual abuse allegations but had ignored them, though this had been denied at the IICSA hearing. In other cases, poor record keeping or lack of records altogether, had hindered IICSA’s investigations. One organisation had retained hardly any records relating to its programme for migrating children to Australia, for example. The Interim Report noted that this indicated a ‘failure to have the welfare and needs of the children as priorities.’
Of general importance to schools and other organisations charged with a duty of care towards children the IICSA Interim Report specifically indicated that – “The inquiry will consider whether it can recommend changes that would particularly benefit victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.”
IICSA’s final report is expected to be published by the end of the year – perhaps as early as this Autumn. It is likely, if not certain, that recommendations will be made in the final report, that mirror some if not all of those new requirements that are shortly to be introduced in the State of Victoria. Indeed, it is possible that IICSA might event recommend wider record keeping requirements than those about to be implemented in Victoria, such as long or indefinite retention periods for holding reports of abuse made by pupils or others, and for retaining records of the investigations that took place following such allegations.
Written by James Chambers, Large Loss Casualty Associate at BLM (James.Chambers@blmlaw.com)