What impact will this have on those working with children in residential care?
Implications of the ACNC External Conduct Standards for Australian Charities
The External Conduct Standards (ECS) introduced by the ACNC in July 2019 specifically recognises children in residential care as being of heightened risk and vulnerability. Therefore, Australian charities, including churches, involved in running, supporting or sending teams to overseas residential care services are now expected to put in place comprehensive measures to prevent harm and safeguard against abuse and exploitation.
We often assume that residential care settings (e.g. orphanages, children’s homes, shelters), are inherently safe places for children. However, global evidence shows orphanages, even well-run ones, can cause harm to children due to the effects of institutionalisation and can also expose a child to an increased risk of abuse and exploitation.
ACCI strongly believes that God designed family as the best place for the holistic development and care of a child. Therefore, we believe as Christians we should be on the forefront of promoting families and supporting standards which promote the best interests and wellbeing of orphaned and vulnerable children. Therefore, we recommend churches:
Ensure funding is allocated to support children in families, including family-based alternative care or working with existing residential care services to reintegrate children with families. (If you are interested in how ACCI is working with alternative care options, you can read more here)
How are the Standards Relevant to Churches involved in Residential Care?
Whilst charities must comply with all four ECS, Standards 1 and 4 have a direct bearing on churches who are involved in residential care activities as outlined below.
Standard One: Activities and Control of Resources
This standard aims to prevent Australian donors from funding organisations which are seeking profits and exploiting beneficiaries. Unfortunately, residential care facilities are prone to this as it is common for orphanages to recruit children into their care or keep children in care longer than necessary to access foreign funding, leaving children needlessly separated from their families. All churches who fundraise for or send teams to residential care settings, are exposed to this risk and therefore must ensure they complete the following:
Conduct thorough due diligence assessments on all partners
Including ensuring supported overseas organisations are registered and duly licensed per law and have demonstrated sufficient will and capacity to conduct activities appropriately. For ACCI’s due diligence tool visit here.
Put in place formal partnership agreements with all partners
Agreements should include the terms, expectations, standards, code of conduct, roles and responsibilities of both parties and designation of funds.
Ensure proper financial controls are in place
Including ensuring bank accounts and assets are not in individuals’ names, more than one signature is required to withdraw funds, regular financial reports are required including periodic audited reports. This could be built into the partnership agreement or be captured in a financial management policy.
Ensure there is a robust child protection/safeguarding policy in place
Including strict child safe employment recruitment procedures and clear mechanisms for reporting allegations and incidents including means by which children can safely report concerns or allegations to someone other than staff.
Standard Four: Protection of Vulnerable Individuals
Children in residential care are a highly vulnerable group and therefore Standard Four requires charities to ensure the protection of the safety and rights of orphaned and vulnerable children. Due to harms caused by separation from family and community and the institutional nature of care in residential settings, the risks of residential care activities cannot be entirely mitigated by high standards of care alone. It is for these reasons that churches should prioritise supporting activities that strengthen and preserve families and communities.
Residential care should only ever be used in limited situations as a last resort and for the shortest duration possible. Extensive work is required by charities and churches to ensure that the residential care activities uphold this principle and comply with relevant local legal minimum standards and international conventions including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. Churches engaged in residential care activities should ensure:
residential care activities are fully compliant with the alternative care policy and minimum standards of care per local law.
admission procedures are strictly in accordance with the national gatekeeping policy or the Guidelines on the Alternative Care for Children. Including:
- A requirement for child and family assessments, carried out by competent and authorised professionals and for decisions to be made in the best interests of the individual child and free from discrimination.
- A means of directing children towards the type of care most appropriate to their needs and with priority given to family-based care (through case management and/or referral networks).
- A requirement for admissions into alternative care to be approved or mandated by the competent authorities.
- A prohibition on active recruitment of children for placement in residential care.
- A requirement to conduct regular reviews of all children’s placements to assess for ongoing necessity, suitability and to work towards reintegration.
a reintegration policy is in place
Including requirements for the organisation to have case management and time bound reintegration plans in place for all children.
a child safe visiting and volunteering policy is in place
This policy should include restrictions on receiving visitors, volunteers or missions teams, due to the well-known harms of orphanage volunteering and tourism. For more info visit here.
children are involved in making decisions, where those decisions affect their lives.
aftercare services are provided to ensure children and young people leaving care are supported to integrate safely and successfully.
You can download the ReThink Orphanages guidance note here
You can download the ReThink Orphanages Partnership Due Diligence Assessment Tool here
For more information and resources visit - kinnected.org.au