Child Protection in ECEC


  • Sadly, child abuse is much more prevalent than people think
  • When in doubt, report
  • The breadcrumbs matter - it may seem minor in isolation, but it could be the fifth such report to the authorities

Gee there is a lot to think about as a parent. We spend a long time thinking about the safest car seat, the temperature setting on our hot water, if we have an escape plan in case of a fire... the list is endless. We are loathe to add another thing to the list but trust us - this one is important.

The abuse of children takes different forms but shares one thing - it's much more prevalent than people think. Everyone working in early learning is a 'Mandatory Reporter' which means that we have a mandatory obligation to report suspected child abuse. However, it's critically important for everyone in the community to be observant when it comes to interactions between children and children, and adults and children. If something doesn't feel right, err on the side of caution and report it.

Futuro recently organised a presentation at the centre by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Yeomans APM, who leads teams at NSW Police that investigate and prosecute child abuse matters. This article outlines some of the content covered in this presentation - including things to look out for, and who you should report to. 

DCI P Yeomans APM

The prevalence of child abuse is disturbing

Child abuse includes:  

  • Grooming  
  • Physical abuse  
  • Psychological abuse  
  • Sexual misconduct  
  • Sexual offences  
  • Neglect   

The child abuse squad at NSW Police investigates 5000-6000 new cases a year ( Duffin, P 'It's in the psyche of some people'). That is a disturbing number of cases, particularly when you account for the number of matters that likely go unreported.  

When people are asked to think about a typical perpetrator, they often imagine an older male in a trench coat. However, there are offenders across the demographic spectrum – men, women, young and old. Equally, abuse takes place in all socio-economic areas, it isn’t necessarily more prevalent in lower socio-economic areas.   

In the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator is known to the victim. There are no common characteristics for an offender, with the exception that they have exposure to children. That exposure can be afforded by virtue of being a parent or carer, or from working/volunteering with children. Offenders are also more likely to prey on vulnerable children.   

The problem with Working With Children Checks 

A Working With Children Check (WWCC) will capture previous convictions for child-related offences. However, DCI Yeomans noted that many matters investigated by his team involve people with no prior record of offending.   

The 2015 Royal Commission highlighted significant shortcomings in the approach to managing WWCCs at the state, territory and Federal level. In response, National WWCC Standards were developed however these have been implemented inconsistently across different states and territories, replicating the very problem that the Standards were intended to avoid.  

A second, and more important piece of work, involved the establishment of a centralised database to assist jurisdictions with the continuous monitoring of individuals holding a WWCC. The jurisdictional work required as part of this project is still in progress eight years after the Royal Commission’s report was handed down.   

So, while the sector takes a rigorous approach to ensuring that all staff hold current WWCC’s, this on its own is not sufficient.

Isn’t there a policy for that? 

At a centre level, we have a range of policies and procedures that contain information on indicators of abuse, and how to go about making a report (see our Child Protection Policy & Procedure, our Statement of Commitment to Child Safety, our Health & Safety Policy & Procedure, our Incident, Injury, Trauma and Illness Policy & Procedure, Delivery & Collection of Children Policy & Procedure). All of our team members sign Futuro’s Code of Conduct on commencing employment with us and this includes a statement regarding commitment to appropriate interactions with children.   

However, DCI Yeomans emphasised that these policies are only as good as their implementation. We induct our staff on these policies, and offer training like the recent presentation from DCI Yeomans, however it’s also important for our staff to get comfortable with holding each other accountable. Child abuse offenders don’t only groom children and their families, they also groom their work colleagues, so it’s important not to compromise on requirements around supervision, for example, just because you are friendly with your work colleague, and you trust them.   

Practical steps 

In an ECEC setting, DCI Yeomans emphasised:

  • Engaging with children while in ratio – if you are supervising children you need to be aware of their movements at all times. No one should be able to disappear behind a piece of fixed play equipment in the yard, even for a minute.  
  • Not having personal devices on the floor – Futuro has implemented some pretty strict data security measures to ensure that images of children taken in the centre can’t be used for the wrong purposes, however the presence of a staff member’s mobile on the floor undoes all that hard work.  
  • Ensuring that there are always at least two Educators working with a group of children at all times. This means that someone shouldn’t ‘duck out’ for 5 minutes without being covered.  

The breadcrumbs matter 

All staff working in early learning settings are Mandatory Reporters. This means that we aren’t exercising a discretion about whether to report something or not – if the relevant criteria are met, the matter must be reported. In terms of what the criteria are, check out the Mandatory Reporting Guide. Futuro’s management team can provide support to anyone making a report, as it can be a daunting process.   

It’s completely normal to rationalise any concerns we may have about a person’s behaviour. People don’t want to ‘make a fuss’ or get involved in an unnecessary confrontation. Something that may appear to be trivial in isolation can easily be dismissed. However, that isolated incident could be one of a number of breadcrumbs that the Police or the Department of Community and Justice have. When those breadcrumbs are pieced together, they create a trail that can be followed to prevent further abuse.   

When in doubt, report it 

The authorities will exercise judgement about whether to investigate a matter – so you don’t have to. However, it’s important to remember that when you make a report, it doesn’t only relate to the child in question – it relates to all other children that this potential offender may have access to. It could be any other child that the potential offender has access to including siblings. Chances are that if a child is being abused, they aren’t the only child that is being or has been abused by the perpetrator.   

Who to report to?  

  1. If a child needs medical attention, call an ambulance (000), then call the Police.  Mandatory Reporters should also call the Child Protection Hotline or make a report online, but only after the child's immediate medical needs have been met. 
  2. If medical attention is not required, and the report involves an alleged criminal offence, call the Police. If it’s an emergency, call 000. If it’s not an emergency, you can call CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000. Again, Mandatory Reporters should then report to the Child Protection Hotline or make a report online
  3. If Police involvement isn’t required, call the Child Protection Hotline: 132 111 or make a report online
  4. If the report involves an early learning service centre, the Approved Provider for that centre also needs to be aware of the matter as they have an obligation to make a report to the Department of Education and the Office of the Children’s Guardian.  

When reporting potential child abuse, it’s important to be mindful that sadly a parent or carer may be the offender. In some circumstances, difficult decisions may need to be made about allowing a child to leave the centre with a parent or carer (even if that person is authorised to collect the child on the enrolment form). Ultimately, the team’s top priority at all times is the safety, health and wellbeing of the child. Again, please involve Management in this decision-making process in such circumstances.   


If you want to discuss this important topic in more detail, reach out! You can contact us at .