What is a child safe organisation?

According to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse:

“all institutions that directly engage with or provide services to children should act with the best interests of the child as a primary consideration. Institutions need to ensure that this principle, is widely known and understood by all staff and volunteers, appropriately integrated, and consistently applied…”

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has identified a 10 key elements to creating child safe organisations.

One of these key elements relates to ensuring physical environments within organisations minimise the opportunity for abuse to occur.

To get a better understanding of what this means for Community Services we talked to leadings child safety expert, Professor Stephen Smallbone, who’s research is concerned primarily with understanding and preventing sexual violence and abuse.


What are some of the obstacles to preventing child sexual abuse?

Professor Smallbone emphasises that one of the important aspects of crime prevention is the required understanding of why a crime happens and where. Unfortunately this can pose a big obstacle for mitigating sexual abuse as people get caught up in the why – unable to comprehend why someone would commit such an offence.

Instead of trying to work out the motivation of the offender or labelling them, Professor Smallbone recommends thinking about sexual abuse as a crime. Therefore enabling the application of established crime prevention models, such as situational crime prevention, which helps us to focus on the where.

Another obstacle to preventing sexual abuse is that traditional screening processes are limiting. For example, if there is no previous offending history a potential perpetrator may not be identified.

“These tools also primarily focus on adult to child abuse risk, while there remains the larger potential problem of peer-to-peer abuse in child-serving organisations,” explains Professor Smallbone.

What is situational crime prevention?

Situational crime prevention (SCP) focuses on the environments which crimes occur. “It relates to how a particular situation or setting facilitates, enables and precipitates a crime,” explains Professor Smallbone.

A dynamic concept, SCP looks at how situations affect behaviours and how physical and social environments can be designed or altered to minimise the risk of the crime.

This type of approach is particularly effective for organisations, where there is greater control over the environment, unlike domestic settings.

Organisations can look at physical space design and use, who has access to spaces, as well as training and governance issues around the organisational environment.

It is important to be aware that as many Community Services are dealing with diverse activities in many settings, this can pose a challenge, as there is no “one size fits all” solution to situational crime prevention.  

“There needs to be a highly specific analysis of each environment,” recommends Professor Smallbone.

What do community services need to do?

Professor Smallbone also recommends organisations work through the feasibility of situational crime prevention measures to ensure the organisational outcome is still providing the best service to family and children. He prefers the term “child friendly” to “child safe”.

“Prevention of abuse is only one aspect of creating healthy environments for kids,” he explains.

Staff training is imperative. “We need to help people get a fundamental understanding of abuse to overcome unhelpful assumptions.”

Professor Smallbone has conducted workshops nationally in the child and family sector to help organisations understand how they can apply situational prevention principles to create child safe/child friendly environments.

There are a number of initiatives nationally around creating child safe organisations in the wake of the Royal Commission. In fact, CSIA are currently working with the Queensland Family and Child Commission to explore the possibility of an industry lead framework of excellence for child safe organisations.

Resources for services include:

A suite of Child Safe eLearning packages, NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian

Creating Child Safe Institutions, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Child Safe Organisations Workshop – Queensland, NAPCAN & Queensland Family and Child Commission

Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies

About Stephen Smallbone

Stephen Smallbone worked as a prison psychologist before joining Griffith University in 1998, and is now a Professor at the Griffith Criminology Institute. Stephen’s research-practice team is concerned primarily with understanding and preventing sexual violence and abuse. His publications include the books Situational prevention of child sexual abuse (Criminal Justice Press, 2006), Preventing child sexual abuse: Evidence, policy and practice (Willan, 2008), and Internet child pornography: Causes, investigation and prevention (Praeger, 2012). Stephen has provided expert evidence to the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry and the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations, and was engaged by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse as an independent expert witness in two of the Commission’s public hearings.


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