Progress Report 2019 - Healing past hurts; Protecting children now; Preventing further harm

Corporate report:
Recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Implementing the Recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Foreword

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The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handed down its Final Report in December 2017. Since that time, the McGowan Government has been unequivocal in our response.

The experiences, and the courage shown by those who bravely stepped forward, cannot and will not be ignored by this State Government.

It is why we have prioritised this important work across Government, with direct oversight by Cabinet.

It is why we have prioritised healing past hurts, through initiatives like opting into the National Redress Scheme, lifting the Statute of Limitations, and apologising to people whose experiences were brought to light by the Royal Commission.

It is why we have prioritised protecting children now through introducing legislation to extend mandatory reporting to ministers of religion, and strengthening criminal law responses.

And, it is why we have prioritised preventing further harm, by being the first jurisdiction to opt into a national reference system for working with children checks, and progressing work on embedding child safe standards across the community.

Methodically, we have progressed work on implementing the 310 recommendations applicable to our state through the allocation of $5.7m allocated in this year’s budget.

I am pleased that this report demonstrates that over 95 per cent of the 310 applicable recommendations to Western Australia have either been completed, or are progressing. I hope that it goes some way to demonstrating through our actions that the McGowan Government has not only heard the experiences of survivors, but that we believe you, and we are acting to create change.

And whilst this change will not be instant, we remain committed because the importance of this work is clear: keeping children safe is the highest priority.

I thank the many public servants, community organisations, and people involved in this important work. It is clear that child safety is everyone’s responsibility and the only way we are going to see lasting and meaningful change, is if we all contribute towards increasing our efforts to protect children. I encourage everybody, to join us in this important work.

Simone McGurk MLA
Minister for Child Protection; Women’s Interests; Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence; Community Services

Introduction

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Our commitment to making Western Australia safer for children

The Western Australian Government (the WA Government) has strongly supported the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission).

Survivors told the Royal Commission that the majority of child sexual abuse occurred in non- government, including religious, institutions. The Royal Commission made 99 recommendations specifically for organisations including churches, private schools, charities and community services. The WA Government accepted responsibility for all 310 recommendations that apply to the Government and urges all institutions to similarly commit to honouring the work of the Royal Commission to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

The WA Government will report every year for five years (from 2018 to 2022) on progress in implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations. This is WA’s second annual progress report and builds on the first report, published in December 2018, to show examples of work undertaken and to outline next steps to make WA safer for children.

Our approach

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The 310 recommendations are complex, interrelated and require work across many government sectors such as law enforcement, justice, health, education, child protection, and the funded community, cultural and sporting services. The WA Government is working collaboratively across these sectors to create a safer WA for children. Our joined-up and whole of government approach will make it easier for children, families, victims and survivors to engage with government services. It also allows us to better target our resources to improving outcomes for survivors and children.

In addition, we are working with the Australian and the state and territory governments to ensure a coordinated and effective approach to the recommendations that require national collaboration and consistency. This work addresses a wide range of recommendations and includes things such as making institutions child safe, responding to children with harmful sexual behaviours, working with children checks, and responding to online child sexual abuse. A consistent approach will ensure that children in WA have the same protection as children across Australia.

Implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations requires changes to how government and non-government entities provide services to children in Western Australia.

The WA Government is working toward a safer WA for children by:

Healing past hurts

We are providing redress for survivors of child sexual abuse, making it easier to access justice through the courts, and improving advocacy, support and therapeutic treatment services for survivors of child sexual abuse.

Protecting children now

We are acting swiftly when sexual abuse of children occurs. This includes better laws to support victims and survivors to disclose abuse and expand those professions who must legally report suspected child sexual abuse.

Preventing further harm

We are preventing abuse from occurring by making sure institutions such as sporting and community clubs, government and non-government agencies, and religious institutions operate in ways that are child safe. We are also developing a system of independent oversight to make sure these institutions fulfil their obligations to be child safe.

In addition, we are improving screening of and support for people who work with, undertake activities with or care for children.

A circular diagram divided into three equal sections, representing the three elements that will help make a safer WA for children. These sections are labelled: healing past hurts, protecting children now, and preventing further harm.

Our overall progress in 2019

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The WA Government has completed 125 of the 310 recommendations within the first two years of our 10-year reform program. Most of the remaining recommendations will take years to complete as they involve changing or developing new laws, and/or making significant changes across many organisations, including government and non-government institutions. Seven recommendations have not yet started, as other recommendations, including changing legislation, need to be in place first.

The Royal Commissioners themselves noted that this work would take up to 10 years to complete.

A diagram summarising the WA Government's overall progress in 2019. So far the WA Government has completed 125 of the 310 recommendations, with 178 recommendations commenced and 7 yet to commence. This work would take up to 10 years to complete.

Healing Past Hurts

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The WA Government recognises the importance of having pathways for survivors of child sexual abuse to seek justice and recognition of abuse suffered, and to have access to healing and support services.

Our work in addressing abuse that happened in the past includes providing the following for survivors of child sexual abuse: access to the National Redress Scheme, making civil litigation more accessible and improving advocacy, support and therapeutic treatment services.

A diagram summarising the WA Government's progress under Healing Past Hurts. 74 of the 88 Recommendations to the State Government are complete, 13 have commenced and 1 is yet to commence.

Examples of our work during 2019

National Redress Scheme

People who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse in WA have the choice of applying for redress through the National Redress Scheme or seeking compensation through civil litigation.

WA joined the National Redress Scheme on 1 January 2019. Participation in the scheme gives survivors a simpler and streamlined alternative to pursuing justice through the courts. Redress provides an easier, more supportive and less traumatic pathway because it requires a lower standard of proof, reduced time and legal resources to apply, and comes with specialist counselling.

The WA Government funded the establishment of a Redress coordination unit in the Department of Justice to assist applications from WA being submitted to the National scheme.

As at 30 June 2019, over 600 Western Australians have applied to the National Redress Scheme.

Difficulties with the operation of the National Redress Scheme in the first year have been well documented; the length of time it is taking to process applications and the delay in non-government institutions joining the scheme. The WA Government acknowledges the negative impact that these delays have had on survivors who have applied to the scheme in WA. The WA Government has been working closely with the other states and the Australian Government to ensure that these difficulties are addressed and that survivors are provided access to a timely and trauma informed service.

The WA Government is encouraging non-government institutions to join the scheme and making participation in the scheme a condition of contracting with government.

Guiding principles for civil litigation involving child sexual abuse

The Civil Liability Legislation Amendment (Child Sexual Abuse Actions) Act 2018 removed any time limits that existed for bringing a civil action for damages in child sexual abuse cases. A survivor can now bring a civil action, no matter when in the past the child sexual abuse occurred. In an effort to minimise the trauma that survivors may experience when participating in a civil action, the WA Government has developed a set of guiding principles for responding to civil litigation involving child sexual abuse.

WA Redress Coordination Unit – Direct Personal Response

Applicants to the National Redress Scheme can ask for a Direct Personal Response (DPR). This may involve a letter or a face-to-face acknowledgement and apology session. WA is unique in that trained and professional staff from the Redress Coordination Unit (the Unit) deliver each DPR.

National Redress Scheme applicants who have requested a DPR are invited to directly contact the Unit in their own time. The Unit responds to applicants and case manages a DPR for each applicant. A key benefit to this approach is that one person in the team is responsible for supporting the applicant through the process.

The Unit works with the applicant, providing as much choice as possible around the provider, timing, location and content of the DPR, and ensuring that each applicant is followed-up afterwards. As a first step, Unit staff speak with the applicant to find out about them as an individual and what is important to them in the DPR process. The process is individualised, it is not a one size fits all approach. This means that our diverse, remote and regional population can be considered when providing a direct personal response that is meaningful and authentic for each applicant.

A key benefit to this approach is that one person in the team is responsible for supporting the applicant through the process.

Consultation with local government about the National Redress Scheme

The Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (DLGSC) has led consultation with the WA local government sector about the National Redress Scheme to raise awareness about the Scheme and identify whether local governments are considering participating in the Scheme.

Between March and May 2019, DLGSC consulted with 115 WA local governments, involving:

  • an online webinar to 35 local governments, predominantly from regional and remote areas;
  • presentations at 12 WA Local Government Association Zone and Local Government Professionals WA meetings;
  • responses to email and telephone enquiries from individual local governments; and
  • presentations directly to individual local governments.

These consultations will assist the WA Government to determine how WA local governments may join the National Redress Scheme, so that survivors across WA can access the Scheme.

Legislation for class actions

In June 2019, the Attorney General introduced the Civil Procedure (Representative Proceedings) Bill 2019 into the State Parliament to implement a legislative class actions regime for the first time in WA. Class actions serve an important role in providing access to justice by allowing people who have suffered damage, due to a mass civil wrong, to seek compensation. This action by the WA Government goes further than the Royal Commission’s recommendations regarding redress and removal of civil litigation periods for survivors of child sexual abuse. The WA Government believes that enhancing victims’ and survivors’ access to justice and their ability to seek compensation through class actions is the right thing to do, in response to large scale wrongs committed by large and powerful institutions.

Next steps

The WA Government is committed to improving access to therapeutic treatment for all survivors of child sexual abuse, starting with those who are in youth detention. This is an area of focus as these children are particularly vulnerable. This will be done as part of a considered, multi-agency approach.

The WA Government is also working with the Australian Government and other states and territories to establish a National Centre for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. The centre will improve outcomes for survivors of child sexual abuse by focussing on preventing child sexual abuse and reducing the associated stigma, as well as raising awareness and understanding of the impacts of child sexual abuse.

Protecting Children Now

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The Royal Commission found that the distress suffered by survivors of child sexual abuse is made worse if there are unnecessary delays in identifying abuse and in responding to the risks or any actual incidents of child sexual abuse. When child sexual abuse occurs, responses must be reliable, swift and effective, to minimise trauma to the survivor.

The WA Government’s work in this area includes making sure that if abuse occurs, it is reliably reported and acted on, and investigations and prosecution of child abuse are conducted to the highest standard, so that the criminal justice system responds effectively to child sexual abuse.

A diagram summarising the WA Government's progress under Protecting Children Now. 34 or 106 recommendations are completed, 66 have commenced and 6 are yet to commence.

Examples of our work during 2019

Mandatory reporting legislation extended to ministers of religion

The Royal Commission found that the most commonly reported roles held by adult perpetrators of child sexual abuse within institutions were people in religious ministry and teachers.

Currently in WA ministers of religion are not mandatory reporters. This means that child protection authorities may not receive information that would prevent or stop the abuse of children.

The Royal Commission recommended that mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse be extended to people in religious ministry, including where the information is disclosed through religious confession.

The Royal Commission recommendations for mandatory reporting aim to ensure that adults who provide close care and supervision of children carry out their obligation to report their knowledge of child sexual abuse of children. Mandatory reporting laws in WA already apply to doctors, teachers, nurses, midwives, police and school boarding supervisors. If convicted of failing to report, a $6,000 fine is imposed.

In late November 2019, the WA Government introduced amendments to the Children and Community Services Act 2004 to Parliament. The amendments extend mandatory reporting requirements to people who are recognised in accordance with the practices of a faith or religion as being authorised to conduct services or ceremonies in accordance with the tenets of that faith or religion. This includes members of the clergy, priests, ministers, imams, rabbis and pastors. This is consistent with other states and territories and will ensure WA children have the same level of protection.

Extending mandatory reporting to ministers of religion will result in the prevention or early intervention in child sexual abuse.

Strengthening criminal law to respond to child sexual abuse

To address the Royal Commission’s finding that child sexual abuse crimes are not effectively dealt with by the justice system, the Department of Justice conducted public and targeted consultation in 2019 on reform needed in Western Australia. Both government and non-government institutions provided input to this first step toward criminal law reforms. The Royal Commission recommended the introduction of new criminal offences, strengthening of existing criminal offences, and reforms to sentencing for child sexual abuse offences.

In addition, the WA Government has gone beyond the Royal Commission’s recommendations by introducing legislation to make it easier to convict perpetrators where the date of the offence is uncertain. The Criminal Law Amendment (Uncertain Dates) Bill 2019 will resolve current technical barriers to conviction for serious offences, including historical child sexual abuse, where the offence can otherwise be proven.

Improving access to supports for children in out of home care

More than 5,300 children and young people are being cared for by people other than their parents in the WA Government’s out of home care system.

The Advocate for Children in Care is currently piloting a phone app to help children and young people in care to speak out about issues that are concerning them. The app includes short videos from young people encouraging their peers to make their voice heard and includes an option for young people with literacy barriers to send a video.

Young people will be asked to respond to a short questionnaire, supported by emojis and icons, to help them explain their concerns, how they’re feeling and which service they need to be connected to.

The pilot involves 200 young people aged 12 and above and will help to inform the effectiveness of the app before it is made available to the larger population of young people in care, aged 12 years and above. Young people have their own unique login to the app, and any information they enter, including photos, is stored separately and securely to maintain privacy.

The app also includes:

  • information about the Charter of Rights for Children in Care;
  • contact numbers for emergency services, such as Crisis Care, Kids Helpline and police;
  • email link to case manager and team leader (with the capacity to attach a video);
  • email link to Complaints Management Service;
  • email and text link to the Advocate for Children in Care; and
  • life story section where young people can save their own photos of events in their lives.

The trial is a step towards making it easier for children and young people to make complaints, provide feedback about their care, and help them be involved in the planning and decisions made about their care. Once the trial is completed a state-wide rollout will be considered.

Further, the Royal Commission recommended full implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child placement principle. Approximately 55 per cent of children in out of home care in WA are Aboriginal. Proposed legislative amendments to the Children and Community Services Act 2004, currently before Parliament, will support efforts to apply this principle for Aboriginal children in out of home care, and the role and responsibilities of Aboriginal community controlled organisations towards their children. This action is important because it will promote more culturally appropriate placements and supports for Aboriginal children in out of home care.

Upgrade of child interview recording equipment

In 2019, the WA Police Force installed new specialist audio-visual equipment at three metropolitan sites, including the Stan & Jean Perron Child Advocacy Centre in Midland in partnership with Parkerville Children and Youth Care. Portable units will be rolled out across regional WA through 2020. The equipment is a vital tool in child sexual abuse investigations, as it spares victims and survivors from the trauma of having to tell their story multiple times or give evidence in a crowded courtroom. To date, 379 visual recordings have been undertaken.

The equipment will allow interviews to be conducted at locations such as schools, hospitals or in regional communities when required, making it easier for survivors, while enabling police to collect the best possible evidence.

Next steps

In addition to progressing the recommendations that are currently underway, the WA Government is committed to starting work on the remaining criminal justice related recommendations, which require significant judicial and broader justice sector consultation.

The WA Government will also focus on protecting children who are migrating from one state to another. Each year about 330,000 people move interstate in Australia. Vulnerable children migrating between states are often at heightened risk of harm if their background in a previous jurisdiction is not known, or not easily accessible to child protection authorities in their new location. In recognition of this risk, the Australian Government is establishing a world-first information sharing platform to improve collaboration between state and territory child protection agencies to protect vulnerable children. The platform will make sure that case workers across the nation have more information at their fingertips, allowing them to respond to child protection incidents with a more comprehensive history. WA will be one of the first states to use this platform in early 2020.
 

Preventing Further Harm

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The Royal Commission heard countless stories from survivors whose claims of abuse were ignored for decades by the institutions charged with their care and protection. Governments too, failed to provide oversight and protection of children in these institutions.

Accordingly, 116 of the 310 Royal Commission recommendations applicable to the WA Government focus on reducing the likelihood of child sexual abuse, to prevent further harm.

To make sure this does not happen again, we are working on multiple initiatives:

  • Establishing an independent system to oversee all organisations that work with children.
  • Ensuring that child safe standards are implemented in a nationally consistent way, and improving screening of and support for people who undertake activities with, or care for children.
  • Using a multi-agency approach to improve the way we work with children with harmful sexual behaviours. Advice from the Royal Commission was that children with harmful sexual behaviours require specific responses due to their developmental stages and capacity for rehabilitation.
A diagram summarising the WA Government's progress under Preventing Further Harm. 17 of the 116 Recommendations to the State Government are complete and 99 have commenced.

Examples of our work during 2019

Supporting child safe institutions

In February 2019, the WA Government, as part of the Council of Australian Governments, endorsed the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. The principles are designed to help organisations create safer environments when working with or providing services to children and young people. The WA Government is collaborating with the WA Council of Social Service (WACOSS) to engage with community service organisations and other sectors that work with children, to put the National Principles in place.

To support implementation across government, the Departments of Communities, Health, Justice, Education, Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries and the WA Police Force, are looking at how to better comply with the principles, including identifying current strengths, gaps and the priorities to work on.

What else we are doing in community, sporting and cultural groups and clubs:

  • The Commissioner for Children and Young People, the Department of Communities and the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries have updated existing child safe resources to align with the National Principles. The Child Safe Organisations WA resources are available on the Commissioner for Children and Young People website.
  • In 2019, the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (DLGSC) began including the National Principles in funding contracts and grants. The Department has also developed a ‘Self-Assessment Tool’ relevant for very small and volunteer based organisations, to help any arts, cultural, sporting or community group to make sure it is child safe.
  • We commenced the update of community-based resources such as Safe Clubs for Kids (SC4K) to align with the National Principles. SC4K is designed to assist community clubs with child safeguarding initiatives and effectively complying with Working with Children screening requirements.

What we are doing in schools:

  • To keep children safer and provide clear advice to teachers, the Teacher Registration Board of WA updated the ‘Teacher-Student Professional Boundaries – A Resource for Western Australian Teachers’ in September 2019 to assist teachers to maintain professional boundaries with students. The resource was reviewed and updated to reflect the current teaching environment, including the appropriate use of social media and digital platforms. It aims to raise awareness of issues and situations that may arise, prompt reflective behaviours, and provide some guidance around student-teacher relationships, including boundaries related to time, place, purpose and activity.

What we are doing across all State Government agencies:

  • Child-friendly complaint processes allow children to raise their concerns with government departments in way that is not intimidating or confusing for the child. National Principle six requires institutions to be child focused when receiving and responding to complaints from children. During its 2019 Complaints Monitoring process, the Commissioner for Children and Young People found gaps in the current complaint systems provided by government agencies, detailed in the Commissioner’s Monitoring of Complaints Systems (August 2019) report. The office of the Commissioner is now working with government agencies to make their complaints mechanisms child-friendly.

These initiatives will help to make community, sporting and cultural groups safer for children.

Joint Standing Committee on the Commissioner for Children and Young People

As part of the WA Parliament’s committee process, the Joint Standing Committee on the Commissioner for Children and Young People is conducting an inquiry into the monitoring and enforcing of child safe standards. This allows the Committee to consider the Royal Commission’s recommendations on child safe standards and their interaction with the well-established role of the Commissioner in WA.

As part of its inquiry in 2019, the Committee held hearings with the following entities:

  • Auditor General
  • Chief Psychiatrist of WA
  • Child and Adolescent Health Service
  • Department of Communities
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Health
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of the Premier and Cabinet
  • Health and Disability Services Complaints Office
  • Mental Health Advocacy Office
  • Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services
  • Ombudsman WA
  • Telethon Kids Institute
  • WA Police Force
  • WACOSS

The Committee will provide its findings and recommendations to Parliament on 25 June 2020.

Working with Children Checks

The WA Government puts the safety of children at the centre of what we do and the Working with Children (Criminal Record Checking) Act 2004 and Regulations (the WWC laws) and Working with Children Cards (WWC Cards) are integral to this. The WA Government continues to improve WWC laws and complementary processes.

In September 2019, WA was the first state to join the National Reference System. This system facilitates WWC Card results being shared across Australia so that all states and territories can record, maintain and share assessment outcomes for each person who applies for a WWC Card. This means that state and territory screening agencies issuing WWC Cards know whether a person cannot work with children in any given jurisdiction.

The number of people with a WWC Card in WA continues to grow. At June 2019, there were 377,199 cardholders, which represents about 1 in 5 adults in WA.

There has also been a 19 per cent growth in the number of WWC Check applications and renewals processed annually between 2013-14 and 2018-19. Of the 130,297 applications and renewals processed in 2018-19, 83 per cent (108,169) of the applicants had no criminal record, while 128 were prohibited from working with children.

To manage this growth in applications, the Department of Communities and the WA Police Force are working together to improve information sharing so that children are protected.

The Government continues to ensure, by monitoring and improving compliance processes, that all Department of Communities related positions requiring a WWC Check have a valid WWC Card.

The Department of Communities takes a proactive and risk-based focus to the range of child safety services it provides, including WWC Checks, and is committed to improving the protection of children in WA through these activities.

Digitisation of criminal records to improve screening

The Royal Commission recommended all policing agencies take immediate action to update the national system, with all historic criminal records that are in paper form or on microfilm. Specifically, the Royal Commission recommended that governments need to make sure that paper records are documented electronically, so when someone applies for permission to work with children anywhere in the country, all records from all states and territories can be checked quickly. This will ensure a more efficient and timely analysis of applicants who apply for WWC Cards, increasing the protection of children.

Since June 2019, the WA Police Force has converted 4,300 paper based criminal records into electronic or digital format. The task of converting all 40,000 records will ensure that an adult with a criminal record of abusing a child cannot escape scrutiny by moving to another state or territory.

Next steps

The Royal Commission recognised a high level of risk to children in closed environments and made a range of recommendations to establish an integrated system of independent oversight. There is a critical need for independent bodies to ensure organisations engaged in child-related work have systems and cultures that report effectively, are aware of their obligations with respect to child safety, and have the capacity to meet these obligations.

Planning and setting up an integrated system of independent oversight will continue as a multi-agency project in 2020. The new oversight measures will:

  • build on WA’s existing measures to manage complaints and report allegations;
  • assist public, private and community organisations that work or undertake activities with children to prevent child abuse;
  • ensure there are appropriate responses where institutions do not meet certain standards or obligations relating to child safety; and
  • ensure that allegations relating to child sexual abuse are shared appropriately within WA, and with other states and territories.

The four areas of oversight being addressed in WA are:

  • monitoring and enforcement of the 10 National Principles for Child Safe Organisations recommended by the Royal Commission for all organisations that work with children;
  • commencing a reportable conduct scheme, similar to that in New South Wales, to help organisations manage internal allegations of child abuse and neglect;
  • independent oversight of out of home care providers. The Royal Commission recommended that these providers be accredited by government to ensure they are meeting a high standard of care and child safety; and
  • ensuring that young people in detention have access to an effective complaint system for disclosing sexual abuse.

WA currently has measures in place that partially meet a range of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, and is well advanced compared to other jurisdictions in some areas, such as oversight of youth detention. However, independent oversight to ensure the safety of children will apply to a broad range of organisations that provide services to children, from large, heavily regulated government agencies to small, private and non-profit organisations.

Establishing such a system will be a significant change for many organisations, and will be developed and rolled out in a way that ensures organisations are supported to comply, with the regulatory burden and costs balanced with the size of the organisation and the need to protect children. Given the scale, scope and complexity of the oversight work, the WA Government is taking a considered and methodical approach to implementation. The following principles will continue to guide the design and implementation of the system:

  • The best interests of the child are paramount.
  • Recognition of the WA context.
  • Responsive and risk-based regulation in line with best practice.
  • Collaboration, including effective information sharing.
  • Support and adaptability recognising the needs of children and organisations.

In addition to the oversight work, the WA Government will:

  • give priority to improving the timeliness of the WWC Checks scheme to make children safer; and
  • strengthen our responses for children with harmful sexual behaviours, using our multi-agency approach covering the justice, health, education and community service sectors.

Given the scale, scope and complexity of the oversight work, the WA Government is taking a considered and methodical approach to implementation.

The WA Government acknowledges the pain and suffering that victims and survivors of child sexual abuse have experienced. If reading or hearing any of this content raises difficult feelings, we encourage contact to crisis support and/or specialist counselling support services that are available, or call 1800 Respect on 1800 737 732.

Published

11 December 2019
Page reviewed 9 January 2020