Child Protection (Mandatory Reporting – Mason’s Law) Amendment Bill 2016 – What the Proposed Changes will Mean for the Early Childhood Education and Care Sector

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Child Protection (Mandatory Reporting – Mason’s Law) Amendment Bill 2016

The Child Protection (Mandatory Reporting – Mason’s Law) Amendment Bill 2016 (‘the Bill’) could legally oblige persons working in the Early Childhood Education and Care (‘ECEC’) sector to report suspicions of child abuse to relevant authorities. Currently the Child Protection Act 1999 (‘the Act’) only defines ‘mandatory reporters’ as including doctors, registered nurses, teachers, police officers who work in child protection and persons engaged to perform child advocate functions under the Public Guardian Act 2014 (Qld). The proposed changes would result in Queensland joining all other Australian states and territories (except Western Australia) in extending the definition of a ‘mandatory reporter’ to include childcare workers.

Mason’s Law

The proposed law reforms are in response to the death of Mason Parker, a 16 month old child murdered by his mother’s partner. The childcare workers charged with Mason’s care had noticed bruising on the toddler’s body but had not reported the bruising to authorities. At the time, child care workers were not defined as ‘mandatory reporters’ within the meaning of the Act.

The Amendments – Who Will They Target?

Section 13E(1)(f) of the Act proposes to extend mandatory reporting to ‘early childhood education and care professionals’. Here ‘mandatory reporting’ means that where a relevant person forms a ‘reportable suspicion’ about a child in the course acting as a relevant person (e.g as a doctor, teacher or childcare worker), that person must give a ‘written report to the chief executive officer’. This report must state the reasons for the suspicion and the information required by the Act to the extent of that person’s knowledge.

It is important to note that the definition of ‘reportable suspicion’ is a two limb test requiring both that there be a “reasonable” suspicion that the child has suffered, is suffering, or is at unacceptable risk of suffering, significant harm caused by physical or sexual abuse, and that the child may not have a parent able and willing to protect the child from the harm. It is important to note that the harm is in relation to physical or sexual abuse only.

Who is an ‘Early Childhood Education and Care Professional’?

Early Childhood Education and Care Professionals are defined in proposed section 13(4) as ‘an individual, other than a volunteer or an individual under the age of 18’, who is ‘an approved provider’, a ‘supervisor for a QEC approved service’ or ‘an educator for a QEC approved service’ within the meaning of the Education and Care Services Act 2013.

An early childhood education and care professional will also be defined as ‘an individual, other than a volunteer or an individual under the age of 18’, who is any of the following under the Education and Care Services National Law (Queensland):

  • an approved provider;
  • nominated supervisor for an approved education and care services;
  • educator for an approved education care service;
  • family day care co-ordinator for an approved family day care service; or
  • a family day care educator for an approved family day care service.

Parliament noted in the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum that the ECEC sector was already subject to child protection obligations and had internal procedures in place by which to report concerns. This proposed legislation is aimed to align with such pre-existing obligations and systems.

Proposed Commencement

While initially proposed to commence in January 2017, the government has suggested that the Bill could commence in July 2017.

For more information the Child Protection (Mandatory Reporting – Mason’s Law) Amendment Bill 2016 please contact our Business Development Team or call us on (07) 3252 0011 to book an appointment with one of our Lawyers today.

This article was written by Fiona Manderson (Special Counsel).