Page 3390 - Week 10 - Thursday, 20 October 2022

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The purpose of the Background Checking Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 is to build on previous amendments by providing additional clarity on the working with vulnerable people assessment process, supporting the territory’s alignment with national standards and obligations, and allowing consideration of the unique circumstances of carers in the out of home care context.

The amendments introduce additional measures to prevent people who present an unacceptable risk of harm from engaging in work with children and vulnerable people. These amendments will strengthen protections for vulnerable people in the ACT and will enhance our capacity to implement restrictions on people who pose an unacceptable risk to vulnerable people. They are another important step in ensuring that people working with children or other vulnerable people do not pose a risk to participants.

The bill provides a clear legislative basis for decision-making and the assessment of applications with interstate and historic offences. This is to ensure that a consistent assessment process is applied for applicants who have committed an offence outside the ACT, or for those offences within the ACT that have been renamed or restructured. It is expected that extension of the disqualifying offences applicability to interstate applicants will be restricted to a small group of people in the ACT and will not prevent this group from seeking employment in other sectors.

Importantly, the bill’s amendments refine how the scheme applies to individuals seeking to work with children in the out of home care system. Carers play a vital role in providing a safe, supportive and nurturing environment to our children and young people in out of home care arrangements. Kinship carers are a key part of this group and have an important role in supporting the children and young people in their lives to maintain connection to family, culture and community, and are particularly important in the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families involved in the system.

While the Working with Vulnerable People Scheme remains the primary scheme for background checking and risk assessment of people working, or proposing to work, with children, it is not the only background screening operating in the territory for people engaging in foster care and kinship care. Historically, the process of background checking and risk assessment screening for people engaged in the out of home care system has been under the Children and Young People Act 2008. This legislation continues to provide for approval of kinship carers and foster carers who support children and young people.

The Children and Young People Act requires consideration of a wide range of matters before authorising a person as an approved carer, including, but not limited to, their criminal history and any non-conviction information related to the person. This existing suitability assessment process focuses on principles of screening practice that are culturally responsive, relationship based and trauma informed. In focusing on these principles, it ensures that the best interests of children are the paramount consideration in decision-making to provide approvals to carers.

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