Mandatory Grooming Offence Training: VRQA Update

The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (“VRQA”) released the new Guidelines to the Minimum Standards on 17 June 2020.

These will take effect from 1 January 2021 (new schools) or 1 July 2021 (existing schools).

The updated guidelines include changes to governance and operations requirements, child safety requirements and not for profit regulations. One notable change for schools is the obligation to provide formal training to all staff on the Grooming Offence under section 49M of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). A school’s relevant policies and procedures also need to be updated to reflect this additional obligation.

The Guidelines state: 

“Child Safety

There must be evidence of the school’s policies and procedures for ensuring all staff understand:
•    mandatory reporting
•    the failure to disclose offence
•    the failure to protect offence
•    the grooming offence under the Crimes Act 1958 which is included in the definition of child abuse in Ministerial Order No. 870.”

Grooming is a Criminal Offence 
The Crimes Amendment (Grooming) Act 2014 (Vic), which commenced in Victoria on 9 April 2014, introduced the offence of Grooming for sexual conduct with a child under the age of 16 years. This offence targets predatory conduct designed to facilitate later sexual activity with a child, be it in person or online.

What is Grooming?

  • The offence of grooming concerns predatory conduct undertaken to prepare a child for sexual activity at a later time.
  • The offence applies where an adult communicates, by words or conduct, with a child under the age of 16 years or with a person who has care, supervision or authority for the child with the intention of facilitating the child’s involvement in sexual conduct, either with the groomer or another adult.
  • Grooming does not necessarily involve any sexual activity or even discussion of sexual activity – for example, it may only involve establishing a relationship with the child, parent or carer for the purpose of facilitating sexual activity at a later time.
  • The sexual conduct must constitute an indictable sexual offence. This includes offences such as sexual penetration.

What does this mean for schools?

In short, schools must now ensure that their child safety practices include policies, procedures and training that reflect the school’s awareness and prevention of grooming offences. As with all child safe requirements, schools must ensure that they maintain appropriate policies, procedures and provide necessary training to staff to ensure compliance with Ministerial Order 870.

Of course, it is not enough for a school to simply maintain a policy that references protections against grooming offences. The school’s policies must be ‘living documents’ that are properly implemented, readily available and regularly reviewed to ensure that the school’s approach to child safety is proactive.

Accordingly, to ensure compliance with the VRQA’s new minimum standards, schools must:

  1. Update their policies/procedures;
  2. Provide the requisite training to their staff on the policies/procedures.

The guidelines do not specify the type of training that is required regarding the grooming offence. What is clear, however, is that the school’s policies and procedures must ensure that all staff understand the grooming offence and their obligations in the school setting. By extension this appears to mean that all staff must be trained to enable them to:

  • Understand what grooming is, and that it is a criminal offence;
  • Be able to identify any grooming behaviour;
  • Understand the process for reporting any such behaviour.
Distinguishing grooming in this way makes clear the spectrum of illegal and harmful behaviours students and their families must be protected against.

How can Brennan Law Partners assist?

Brennan Law Partners can provide training to all VACPSP members and their staff on the Grooming offence.  Please contact us to secure a date where we may attend your school or connect with your staff virtually to provide this training. We are also continually working with VACPSP members to draft and refine your policies and procedures. We recommend that you review and refine your relevant policies to ensure you are meeting the VRQA’s requirements.

If you have any suspected cases of grooming or current mandatory reporting action you are not clear about, please contact us immediately to discuss an appropriate course of action.

If you have any questions regarding any information in this BLP Brief, we welcome you to contact us at any time.
This is meant as a guide only and should not be taken as legal advice.

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