General Policies: Child Protection Policy

  1. Preamble
  2. Rationale
  3. Guiding Principles
  4. Definitions
  5. Context
  6. Scope
  7. Child Protection Code of Conduct
    Use of childrens’ images
  8. Child abuse reporting procedures
  9. Risk Management
  10. Educating staff and others on child protection
  11. Reviewing the Child Protection Framework

1. Preamble: Palms Australia’s commitment to child protection

Palms Australia is strongly committed to creating and maintaining an environment that promotes and protects the rights and dignity of children and prevents all forms of abuse and exploitation of children.

All staff, volunteers, directors, interns and contractors engaged by Palms Australia are expected to uphold the dignity of all with whom we work and abide by Palms Australia’s Child Protection Policy and Child Protection Code of Conduct.

Palms Australia strongly condemns all forms of abuse and exploitation, including physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse of children.  Abuse and sexual exploitation constitute acts of gross misconduct and are therefore grounds for termination of employment. The protection of children is always paramount and all relevant legal steps will be taken corresponding to the legal and social conditions of the local situation.

2. Rationale

This Child Protection Policy has been developed to clearly articulate:

  • Palms Australia’s strong commitment to the protection of children;
  • Palms Australia’s strong condemnation of all forms of child abuse or exploitation; and,
  • Practical steps to be taken to ensure children are kept safe.

Additionally, this Policy will provide guidance on how to respond to concerns and allegations of child abuse. It provides guidance to staff and others on how to work respectfully and effectively with children. This will provide all stakeholders, including staff, volunteers and others with a safe working environment.

Palms Australia is obliged to adhere to local and international child protection criminal laws, which prohibit the abuse and exploitation of children. These include local laws where Palms Australia’s programs exist, and international laws and Conventions in relation to all forms of child abuse and child exploitation, including: child sex tourism, chid sex trafficking, child labour and child pornography.

3. Guiding Principles

  • Palms Australia does not tolerate any form of child abuse or exploitation.
  • All children have rights, outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the right to be safe at all times.
  • Palms Australia believes in the empowerment and participation of children and aims to create environments in which children feel confident to contribute to discussions and decision-making.  In such an environment, children will be more able to raise their concerns for their own safety and wellbeing.
  • Palms Australia’s Child Protection Policy is consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, AusAID’s Child Protection Policy and the ACFID Code of Conduct.  Nothing in this policy should be taken as a repudiation of the concepts and principles outlined in these documents or of any civil law related to the rights and protection of children.
  • All staff, volunteers, directors, interns and contractors engaged by Palms Australia are expected to read this policy and the related Palms Australia Child Protection Code of Conduct. Adherence to these documents is mandatory for all staff, global volunteers and others who may be seen as representatives of the organisation.

4. Definitions

Palms Representative, for the purposes of this policy, refers to all Palms Australia staff, program participants, office volunteers, interns, directors, state representatives, in-country representatives, contractors or others operating under the auspices of Palms Australia, in Australia or abroad, or who may be seen to be representing the activities and/or values of Palms Australia.

Child or young person
In accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Palms Australia defines child or young person as any person below the age of 18 years regardless of local laws or other definitions.  Notwithstanding this definition, Palms Representatives may have additional obligations under local laws where a higher adulthood threshold is applied.

Bullying is the inappropriate use of power by an individual or group, with an intent to injure either physically or emotionally. It is usually deliberate and repetitive. The bullying may be physical or psychological (verbal and non-verbal).

  • Physically, bullying includes pushing, hitting, punching, kicking or any other action causing hurt or injury.
  • Verbal bullying includes insults, taunts, threats and ridicules.
  • Psychological bullying includes physical intimidation and ostracism.

Child Abuse can be physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect or sexual abuse.

Both boys and girls can be the victims of abuse, and abuse can be inflicted on a child by men and women, as well as by young people themselves.

  • Physical abuse occurs when a person purposefully injures, or threatens to injure, a child or young person. This may take the form of slapping, punching, shaking, kicking, burning, shoving or grabbing.
  • Emotional abuse occurs when a child is repeatedly rejected or frightened by threats. This may involve name-calling, being put down or continual coldness from parent or caregiver to the extent that it affects the child’s physical and emotional growth.
  • Neglect is the persistent failure or the deliberate denial to provide the child with clean water, food, shelter, sanitation or supervision or care to the extent that the child’s health and development are placed at risk.
  • Child sexual abuse occurs when an adult, more powerful child or adolescent uses his or her power to involve a child in sexual activity. That coercive power can be physical, verbal or emotional.  Sexual abuse is prohibited regardless by the age of majority or age of consent locally. Neither mistaken belief in the age of the child nor consent amounts to an excuse or defence to such situations.

Child Protection is the term used to describe the responsibilities and activities undertaken to prevent or stop children being abused or maltreated.

Child Sex Tourism is defined (by ECPAT International) as:

‘… the commercial sexual exploitation of children by men or women who travel from one place to another, usually from a richer country to one that is less developed, and there engage in sexual acts with children, defined as anyone aged under 18 years of age.’ (ECPAT International, 2006)

Particularly vulnerable children refers to children who may be at heightened risk of child abuse within or external to the family situation, including at institutions, at work, on the streets, in war zones or in emergencies. In an emergency or crisis situation, children are extremely vulnerable when they become part of a displaced or traumatised population.

Children may also experienced heightened vulnerability to abuse as a result of other factors, such as a disability or loss or absence of caregivers.

Particularly vulnerable children may experience greater difficulty in reporting abusive situations.

5. Context

Palms Australia recruits, prepares, sends and supports global volunteers in skill exchange programs aimed at reducing poverty.  These programs occur in a number of countries, including Australia, and operate in collaboration with local partner organisations.

All Palms Australia global volunteers are over the age of 18, though some may be accompanied by their own children to Palms Australia’s preparation and re-entry courses in Australia and to their placements, either in Australia or abroad.  Volunteers are placed for an average period of two years in local communities and work directly for a local partner organisation.  Placements are scoped by Palms Australia staff, in line with Palms Australia’s Field Trip Policy and Procedures.

Palms Australia Global Volunteers will often live in a local community where children are present or may work in roles which require them to work directly with children, for example as teachers, youth workers or in hospitals.

Palms Representatives may also be involved in education or fundraising programs in Australia which may involve children, particularly at schools or churches.

6. Scope of the policy

This policy applies to all Palms Representatives as defined above. While recognising the different laws related to children in different national contexts, all must abide by the Palms Australia Child Protection Code of Conduct in all contexts.

7.1 Child Protection Code of Conduct

All Palms Representatives must sign the Palms Australia Child Protection Code of Conduct prior to being engaged in activities connected to Palms Australia which involve, or may involve, children.

The Palms Australia Child Protection Code of Conduct provides a simple articulation of the responsibilities and obligations of Palms Representatives in their interactions with children.  The Code of Conduct is designed to establish clear professional boundaries, and to protect everyone involved from misunderstandings or violations of professional standards.

Palms Representatives must:

  • treat children with respect regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status
  • not use language or behaviour towards children that is inappropriate, harassing, abusive, sexually provocative, demeaning or culturally inappropriate
  • not engage children in any form of sexual activity or acts, including paying for sexual services or acts, where under the law(s) applicable to the child (including Part IIIA of the Australian Crimes Act 1914 (Cwlth) as amended), the child is below the age of consent or the act(s) are an offence under relevant laws
  • wherever possible, ensure that another adult person is present when working in the proximity of children
  • not invite unaccompanied children into my home, unless they are at immediate risk of injury or in physical danger
  • not sleep close to unsupervised children unless absolutely necessary, in which case I must obtain my supervisor’s permission, and ensure that another adult is present if possible
  • use any computers, mobile phones, or video and digital cameras appropriately, and never to exploit or harass children or to access child pornography through any medium (and see following section on ‘Use of children’s images for work related purposes’)
  • refrain from physical punishment or discipline of children (excluding my own children)
  • refrain from hiring children for domestic or other labour which is inappropriate given their age or developmental stage, which interferes with their time available for education and recreational activities, or which places them at significant risk of injury
  • comply with all relevant Australian and local legislation, including labour laws in relation to child labour
  • immediately report concerns or allegations of child abuse in accordance with appropriate procedures.

7.2 Use of childrens’ images

The following guidelines also form part of the Child Protection Code of Conduct that must be signed by all Palms Representatives.

When photographing or filming a child, Palms Australia representatives must:

  • before photographing or filming a child, assess and endeavour to comply with local traditions or restrictions for reproducing personal images
  • before photographing or filming a child, obtain consent from the child or a parent or guardian of the child. As part of this the photographer or assistant must explain how the photograph or film will be used
  • ensure photographs, films, videos and DVDs present children in a dignified and respectful manner and not in a vulnerable or submissive manner. Children should be adequately clothed and not in poses that could be seen as sexually suggestive
  • ensure images are honest representations of the context and the facts
  • ensure file labels do not reveal identifying information about a child when sending images electronically

8. Child abuse reporting procedures

It is mandatory for Palms Representatives to report concerns or allegations of child abuse connected with Palms Australia or a Palms Representative.

All instances or concerns should be reported immediately to the Executive Director, or if occurring overseas to the relevant Country Program Coordinator.  The individual receiving the report will acknowledge its receipt immediately.

Concerns which must be reported immediately include:

  • any disclosure or allegation by a child that he or she has been harmed, or fears being harmed, by a Palms Representative
  • concerns expressed by a partner organisation, government representative, other international NGO, or other person about the behaviour of a Palms Representative
  • any observation or reasonable concern of inappropriate behaviour by a Palms Representative which breaches the Palms Australia Child Protection Code of Conduct
  • Inappropriate use of Palms Australia’s photography or computer equipment for the purposes of child pornography
  • Suspicious behaviour of a Palms Representative in regard to sexual exploitation, trafficking or abuse of children

Palms Australia advises prudence in reporting incidents to local authorities. Many countries do not have sufficient child protection services, and may not be able to effectively protect the child in question.  Palms Australia recommends considering the “best interests of the child” as a measure of appropriate action.  In any case, Palms Australia recommends discussing such incidents initially with the relevant Country Program Coordinator or Palms Australia’s Executive Director.

Palms Australia will treat all reported concerns seriously. All reports made in good faith will be viewed as being made in the best interests of the child regardless of the outcome of any investigation. Palms Australia will ensure that the interests of anyone reporting child abuse in good faith will be protected, however Palms Representatives making intentionally false or malicious claims will face disciplinary action.

Palms Australia will ensure that the concern is handled with utmost care and confidentiality, including protecting the identities of the reporting individual, the person against whom allegations or suspicions have been raised, and the victim or potential victim of abuse.  Details will only be released on a “need to know” basis or when required by relevant local or Australian la or a notification to police or child protection authorities is made.  The Executive Director may, at his/her discretion, seek advice from another staff member or Director before deciding how to proceed.

9. Risk management

All Palms Australia programs should be designed utilising the principles outlined in Palms Australia’s Risk Management Matrix.

Specific steps related to mitigating risk in matters of child protection include:

  • The acquisition of criminal records checks for all Palms Australia global volunteers
  • At least three verbal or written references will be required for each global volunteer
  • The employment of a specialist childcare worker at all Palms Australia courses attended by one or more children where parental supervision is not possible at all times
  • The purchasing of travel insurance for all global volunteers and their dependents
  • The inclusion of children of volunteers, where possible and appropriate, in Palms’ pre-departure preparation and re-entry programs

10. Educating staff and others on child protection

Palms Australia is committed to educating all Palms Representatives on the principles of child protection, appropriate behaviour and their obligations related to the reporting of child abuse.  This Policy and the accompanying Child Protection Code of Conduct make up part of the Palms Australia Induction Kit that will be provided to all new staff and board members within their first month.

Palms Australia will endeavour to keep staff abreast of the latest standards in child protection and will organise professional development for staff when necessary.

11. Reviewing the Child Protection Framework

Palms Australia commits to reviewing the Child Protection Policy and Code of Conduct every three years.  The Executive Director will be responsible for this process and will engage staff and other stakeholders as necessary.

The key to community is the acceptance, in fact the celebration of our individual and cultural differences. It is also the key to world peace. - M. Scott Peck