Every year the IEU represents, advises and supports up to 100 members who have been the subject of child protection allegations.
In the past year the Union closed the files on 69 such matters and as this year ends over 40 cases still remain outstanding. Members with yet unresolved matters work across eight Catholic dioceses and 14 independent schools.
In some instances, the members have experienced lengthy delays with little or no information provided by their employer. The reason for such delays in providing them with allegation details or finalising their investigations are not provided.
The impact of receiving a child protection allegation can be profound and this is compounded when investigations are protracted.
Members are obliged to keep the strictest confidence and this often leads to a great sense of isolation. In such circumstances there can be threats to a member’s health and their family’s wellbeing.
Some delays can occur as a result of things like police investigations or reporting to other external authorities. While these delays are unacceptable, the Union is particularly concerned about untimely responses due to child protection management issues on the part of the employer.
Examples occur across a range of employers, but the Union has had ongoing problems over a considerable period of time with the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) in particular.
The IEU first wrote to the Executive Director of Schools in August 2015 with complaints about a number of child protection processes, including excessive delays. Despite our 2015 correspondence, it is of immense concern that this situation continues. Currently, the Union is dealing with many CEDP child protection matters with excessive delays in providing affected members with allegation details or finalising their investigations.
There are also significant delays being experienced by members who have sought access to their investigation file under the enterprise agreement to assist them in preparing a response on an adverse finding notified by their employer.
Further, the Union asserts the employee’s entitlement to have access to all information that was relied upon to determine an adverse investigation finding. Many findings in child protection disputes have been partially or wholly changed as a result of challenges arising from file access.
The Union is also concerned that employees subject to allegations are being denied sufficient details about the allegations. An integral feature of procedural fairness (as outlined in the Ombudsman guidelines) is the requirement of employers to provide employees with as much detail as possible of the allegation prior to taking any employment action against them: eg removal from their workplace with/without pay.
Some reportable conduct allegations, if sustained, can lead to bans on working in any child related employment in NSW for a period of five years and loss of teacher accreditation with NESA. Some matters can also result in criminal charges.
Lesser matters, however, can still result in loss of employment and future work in the employee’s chosen profession. Some result in unfair dismissal cases. Many child protection allegations, even if they end well for the employee, can disrupt a career and create considerable stress.
The Union will continue to raise our concerns with employers, seek the intervention of the NSW Ombudsman where necessary and provide legal and industrial assistance to members with child protection matters. Members are strongly encouraged to seek confidential advice and assistance from the Union in the event that they are subject to a child protection allegation.