Children and Youth

Councils in NSW promote, provide and plan for the needs of children and young people through both direct services and infrastructure as well as creating an enabling environment through policy and planning.

The role of local government

Councils have a history of providing for the needs of children. For example, the Local Government Act (1919) was amended in 1937 to allow for councils to subsidise kindergartens and nurseries.

Council facilities and services

Today, children and young people benefit from a variety of council facilities and services including parks and playgrounds, libraries, community halls, youth centres, playing fields, skate parks, leisure centres, entertainment centres, art galleries, patrolled beaches, and festivals and events. Particularly in some regional and rural areas, councils are the only providers of these services. 

Early childhood education and care

Councils are heavily involved in enabling the provision of early childhood education and care (including through land use planning and leasing of council premises). Councils in NSW are also direct providers of long day care, family day care, occasional care, preschools, playgroups, vacation care and outside-of-school-hours care. 

Youth services

Councils recognise that young people have needs for their own specific local facilities, services and programs. Local government currently makes a significant investment in the local youth services through running youth programs, providing buildings for youth groups to meet, and through local youth advisory councils. Youth councils enable young people who work, live or study in a particular local government area to influence council policies and decisions towards young people. 

Youth Week

Significantly, councils involve young people in the planning and management of activities and events for Youth Week, which occurs in April each year. In 2016, 120 councils in NSW registered Youth Week events, and each year the NSW Minister responsible for youth affairs provides awards to councils which conduct the best Youth Week programs. 

Plans and policies

To address the needs of families, children and young people, councils across NSW commonly employ policy and development staff. Councils are also a key partner in connecting with other local agencies to ensure the provision of community development services which benefit children and young people.
 
Councils therefore often have specific plans and policies to address the needs of children and young people and to incorporate the needs of children and young people into the council’s Community Strategic Plan.
 
Local Government Children’s Services Managers’ Network logo for use by council-run children's services in NSW
 
The above logo has been developed by the Local Government Children’s Services Managers’ Network for use by council-run children’s services in NSW.

Child protection and child safe organisations 

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

There are several recommendations and new pieces of legislation arising from the findings from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which councils should note.

On 15 December 2017 the Royal Commission presented a final report to the Governor-General, from the five-year inquiry into institutional responses to child sexual abuse and related matters. The report is across 17 volumes and contains 409 recommendations. Both the Australian Government and the NSW Government responded to the recommendations in June 2018.

NSW Government Response

The themes of the NSW Government response can be grouped into recommendations regarding:

  1. Justice for victims
  2. Criminal justice and sentencing
  3. Child safe institutions and prevention

Councils as leaders in the community and providers of services to children have a responsibility to ensure councils are child safe institutions. One key recommendation from the NSW Government Response for councils is 6.12 which states:

“With support from governments at the national, state and territory levels, local governments should designate child safety officer positions from existing staff profiles to carry out the following functions:

a. developing child safe messages in local government venues, grounds and facilities

b. assisting local institutions to access online child safe resources

c. providing child safety information and support to local institutions on a needs basis d. supporting local institutions to work collaboratively with key services to ensure child safe approaches are culturally safe, disability aware and appropriate for children from diverse backgrounds.” (Accepted in principle)

As part of this recommendation, the NSW Government through the Office of the Children’s Guardian will engage with councils.

New legislation includes:

New legislation introduced during 2018 in response to the Royal Commission has also clarified the legal responsibility of organisations to protect children, report abuse and in some cases increased penalties for not doing so.

  • Child Protection (Working With Children) Amendment Statutory Review Bill 2018 NSW (April 2018)

Implications for councils: New sections to make it an offence for an employer to fail to obtain and verify the details of a worker employed to work with children or to keep a record of the details that were obtained. The bill provides for penalty infringement notices to be served on employers who fail to ensure that staff working with children have obtained clearance. Employers can verify whether a worker has the appropriate clearance through an online process.

Implications for councils: This includes the ‘failing to protect’ offence where a person will commit an offence if they know that another adult in the organisation who works with children poses a serious risk of physically or sexually abusing a child.

This also includes the ‘failing to report’ offence where a person will commit an offence for failing to report child abuse.  The new offence, Section 316A, will apply where a person knows, believes or reasonably ought to know that a child abuse offence has been committed against a child.

  • Civil Liability Amendment (Organisation Child Abuse Liability) Bill 2018 (October 2018)

Implications for councils: Councils can be held vicariously liable for the abuse of children perpetrated by people who are employed by council and by people who are “akin to employees” of council.  This may include family day care workers, as well as volunteers and contractors.

In addition, councils, as providers of children’s services, which do not take reasonable steps to prevent child abuse of children in their care, may be liable in a negligence action.

Support available

The NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian has resources available online for creating child safe institutions and also offers training courses, both online and in-house.

Cumberland Council has recently developed a Child Protection Policy which was placed on public exhibition during National Child Protection Week (2- 8 September). NSW councils are encouraged to share and refer to this document as needed.

Contacts

Councils requiring assistance with legal responsibilities can contact Jessica Wood, LGNSW Legal Officer, on 9242 4125.

Councils requiring assistance with prevention and child safe institutions can contact Elizabeth Robertson, LGNSW Policy Officer, on 9242 4028.

The Office of the Children’s Guardian can also be contacted for support on 8219 3600. 

The role of LGNSW

LGNSW advocates for local government children and youth services to ensure legislation and funding enables councils to continue to support these essential services. 
 
The planning and regulation of children and youth services is a complex policy area. In NSW, the provision of children and youth services is a shared responsibility between the three levels of government, with multiple stakeholders and government agencies involved including the:
 
LGNSW engages with the local government children and youth sector through coordination of an email network to feed information and advice between the relevant council staff and the LGNSW policy team. Please contact Elizabeth Robertson to express interest in joining the network. 
 
LGNSW is also a member of the Local Government Children’s Services Manager’s network and the Local Government Youth Development Network hosted by Youth Action.

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