In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures our children and family are everything. So, when it comes to keeping our kids and teenagers safe, we all have a big part to play – as individuals and families but also, the community organisations we’re part of.
To help us all do this, in 2019 every State and Territory agreed to 10 National Principles for Child Safe Organisations, which the Australian Human Rights Commission helped to create. The Principles set out the most important things that everyone needs to do to keep kids and teenagers safe.
Since then, over 100 Indigenous groups from all over the country have shared their ideas about how the National Principles might help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, and organisations working with First Nations people be more child safe. At the heart of this feedback was how important it is for culturally safe practices to be embedded in all organisations – from big too small.
Let’s take a closer look at the National Principles and what they mean for your organisation.
A child safe organisation: Puts kids and teenagers’ needs first. In the way it thinks and acts, and how it does things. Values kids and teenagers and wants to really engage with and listen to them. Does everything it can to prevent harm and minimise the impact if it does happen. And doesn’t delay when responding to a kid’s or teenager’s worries, concerns or complaints.
National Principle 1: Child safety and wellbeing is embedded in organisational leadership, governance and culture.
Principle 1 is about getting your organisational culture right – from leadership through to administration. From managers, staff and volunteers, to kids, teenagers, family and community – everyone needs to be on board and keep what kids and teenagers say they need at the centre of all decision-making. Cultural safety needs to be a fundamental part of your organisation’s culture - that is creating a safe, nurturing and positive environment where kids and teenagers feel comfortable with themselves and with expressing their culture and spiritual beliefs.
Your organisation could create a child safety code of conduct or rule book to help guide staff and volunteers on what is expected of them as individuals, and as an organisation to be child safe.
A code can also be used to guide behaviour and responsibilities and be included in things like job ads, employment contracts and performance reviews.
National Principle 2: Children and young people are informed about their rights, participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously.
Principle 2 is about making sure kids and teenagers know their rights and how to use them. Your organisations’ staff and volunteers need to make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids and teenagers feel respected, proud of their identity and culture, and empower them to exercise their rights. Doing this allows them to be part of the decisions that affect them. It helps to build trust and makes them feel comfortable and part of your organisation.
National Principle 3: Families and communities are informed and involved in promoting child safety and wellbeing. Principle 3 looks at how organisations involve families and communities in child safety and wellbeing. Family members and caregivers are an important part of making decisions, so they need to have a say in how things are set up and done at your organisation to keep kids and teenagers safe. Organisations need to have open communication with families and communities, and have information that is easy for everyone to access and understand.
National Principle 4: Equity is upheld and diverse needs respected in policy and practice. Principle 4 acknowledges the importance of diversity – that all kids and teenagers, regardless of what mob they’re from or what their individual differences are, have unique needs that need to be met. When your organisation, staff and volunteers recognise diversity and the need for equity – that is, giving kids and teenagers what they need in a way that is fair to them – kids are empowered, feel comfortable and included. It means they will have access to support and information, like complaints processes, in a way that is easy to understand and helps them feel safe.
National Principle 5: People working with children and young people are suitable and supported to reflect child safety and wellbeing values in practice. Principle 5 is about making sure that staff and volunteers working with kids and teenagers are fit to do so. In addition to having the right skills, experience and background checks to keep kids and teenagers safe and well, your staff and volunteers must also be culturally aware and culturally safe. You can screen for this during interviews and recruitment and support cultural safety in your organisation through ongoing training and professional development.
National Principle 6: Processes for complaints and concerns are child focused. Principle 6 is about making sure kids and teenagers are respected when they raise concerns or complaints. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids, this means: They need to feel culturally safe and have a clear understanding about how to make a complaint and what will happen next. Their complaint needs to be taken seriously and responded to quickly, in a way that is culturally safe. Importantly, these things help kids and teenagers build trust in the process and your organisation and makes them more likely to speak up if something is wrong.
National Principle 7: Staff and volunteers are equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to keep children and young people safe through ongoing education and training. Principle 7 focuses on the importance of staff and volunteers being equipped on how to keep kids and teenagers safe.
Your organisation can achieve this through ongoing training and education of staff and volunteers in order to build on their knowledge about kids’ and teenagers’ development, their behaviour, signs they might be experiencing harm, their culture and what cultural safety means to them.
National Principle 8: Physical and online environments promote safety and wellbeing while minimising the opportunity for children and young people to be harmed. Principle 8 is about reducing risk of harm to kids and teenagers, both online and in physical environments. This means working out where the risks are in your organisation and how you will reduce them. In the physical environment, it helps for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids and teenagers to see themselves in the physical space, so they feel culturally safe. A few ways to do this might include using the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags and artwork and having an Acknowledgement of Country printed and shared. In the online environment, it is important that you demonstrate to kids and teenagers how to engage safely with online platforms. You can do this through training and education and by having safe online practices in your organisation.
National Principle 9: Implementation of the national child safe principles is regularly reviewed and improved. Principle 9 reminds us not to wait for a problem to happen to review your organisation’s child safety practices. Once the National Principles are set up and in action, it’s important that you regularly check and review what is working well and what improvements may be required. Don’t forget to check how kids and teenagers are finding it too!
National Principle 10: Policies and procedures document how the organisation is safe for children and young people. Principle 10 tells us that we need to have our commitment to child safety documented in policies and procedures. A bit like a rule book, it helps make sure everyone – staff, volunteers, kids, teenagers, families and communities know what they need to do, how they need to do it and when - Keeping your whole organisation united, on the same path. This documentation needs to show how culturally safe practices are embedded within your organisation. Whether you are an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation, or an organisation working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, it is your responsibility to make sure that every effort is made to help keep our kids and teenagers safe.
For more information about putting the National Principles into practice in a culturally safe way, download the resource booklet or visit the following websites.
Proudly supported by the Australian Government.