News: Child protection is everyone’s responsibility – disposal freeze for records that may become relevant to an allegation of child sexual abuse

As of 1 June 2018, Queensland State Archives has issued a disposal freeze on records that are relevant to, or may become relevant to, an allegation of child sexual abuse.

Any records covered by this disposal freeze in an authorised retention and disposal schedule must not be destroyed until this disposal freeze is revoked.

This disposal freeze has been issued in response to the recommendations contained in the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission found that “inadequate records and recordkeeping have contributed to delays in or failures to identify and respond to risks and incidents of child sexual abuse and have exacerbated distress and trauma for many survivors”.

Queensland State Archives considers that this broad disposal freeze is essential to protect the legal rights of child abuse survivors until the relevant records have been identified and existing retention and disposal schedules have been amended to reflect retention periods that are consistent with community expectations.

Who does the freeze apply to?

This disposal freeze applies to all Queensland public authorities and all service providers that create, keep or manage records on behalf of your agency.

If this applies to your agency, you are also responsible for ensuring that these providers know about, and comply with, this disposal freeze.

Information about the disposal freeze has been sent by the State Archivist to the CEO of each public authority.

What records are covered by the disposal freeze?

This disposal freeze applies to records that are relevant to, or may become relevant to, an allegation of child sexual abuse including:

  • allegations, investigations or evidence of child sexual abuse
  • files held on children (e.g. those in out-of-home care)
  • records containing possible corroborating evidence to support future allegations of child sexual abuse.

Categories of records covered by this disposal freeze include the following.

  • Service provision to children
    Includes records relating to child protection, education and training, health services, out-of-home care, short-term care, legal services and public programs for children.
  • Child protection investigations and prosecutions
    Includes allegations and cases of child sexual abuse, investigation and prosecution records, court records and child sex offenders.
  • Youth justice provision
    Includes records relating to the investigation and prosecution of child offenders, youth justice system and youth correctional and rehabilitation services.
  • Strategic management of child protection
    Includes records generated in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, regulation of children’s services, employment screening and personnel records for agency staff providing services to, or who may come in contact with, children.

While Queensland State Archives has provided examples of records that fall within the above categories as part of the disposal freeze, every agency is responsible for undertaking their own detailed analysis of their legislative requirements, business activities and records holdings to identify affected records.

What do I need to do?

  1. All disposal of relevant public records covered by this disposal freeze must cease
  2. Ensure all staff, contractors and service providers that may manage these records are aware of and comply with the disposal freeze
  3. Agencies should analyse their legislative requirements, business activities and records holdings to identify all affected records.
  4. By 27 July 2018 all agencies must provide the following information to Queensland State Archives:
    • whether your agency holds records covered by the disposal freeze
    • what steps have been taken to ensure that records covered by the disposal freeze are protected from disposal
    • any additional impacted schedules that have not been identified in the disposal freeze documentation
    • any records created, received or kept by your agency which are relevant to the disposal freeze but are not currently covered by a retention and disposal schedule.

How long will the disposal freeze be in place?

There is no defined end date for the disposal freeze at this stage. The disposal freeze will remain in force until revoked by the State Archivist.

Background information – Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Recommendations from volume 8 (Recordkeeping and information sharing)

The Royal Commission recommended that “to allow for delayed disclosure of abuse by victims and take account of limitation periods for civil actions for child sexual abuse, institutions that engage in child-related work should retain, for at least 45 years, records relating to child sexual abuse that has occurred or is alleged to have occurred”.

The Royal Commission also recognised that uncertainty exists as to what evidentiary records need to be retained to protect individual rights where the possibility exists for an allegation of child sexual abuse to be made. This not only includes allegations of child sexual abuse but also possible corroborating evidence to support future claims.

Consequences of poor recordkeeping

The Royal Commission found that records can be critical to an individual’s sense of self. The loss of these records can result in a:

  • disconnect from family and community
  • lack of knowledge about personal and family medical histories
  • loss of ethnicity, language and culture
  • loss of childhood experiences and memories
  • diminished self-esteem and sense of identity.

There are also significant consequences for government agencies if relevant records are lost or destroyed. This includes:

  • preventing the identification of risks and incidents of child sexual abuse
  • delay or obstructing responses to risks, allegations and instances of child sexual abuse
  • prevent the identification of perpetrators
  • obscuring institutional knowledge and responsibility
  • leaving survivors feeling that their accounts are not believed and cannot be verified
  • preventing or hindering disciplinary action, redress efforts, and civil and criminal proceedings.

Queensland government response

The Queensland government is working with its partners and stakeholders on a formal response to the Royal Commission and the Queensland Premier has announced that the State will opt in to the National Redress Scheme for survivors of child sex abuse in government run institutions. Additionally, the Queensland government has also passed changes to the Limitation of Actions Act 1974 to remove limitation periods for legal actions relating to claims of child sexual abuse.

Queensland government agencies have a moral responsibility to retain records for a sufficient time period to protect a person’s legal rights and entitlements where a future allegation of child sexual abuse may be made. Given claims of child sexual abuse are often brought after the victim has reached adulthood, disposal of relevant records will have a significant and devastating impact on the individual’s affected and potentially diminish avenues of legal redress.

This disposal freeze is an interim measure to ensure that relevant records are protected while Queensland State Archives works to identify what records may be needed as evidence for future claims and updates existing retention and disposal schedules.

Since the formation of the Royal Commission, Queensland State Archives has been working on this issue with its counterparts in other Australian jurisdictions through the Council of Australasian Archives and Records Authorities (CAARA). Now that the Royal Commission has completed its work, Queensland State Archives will continue to work through the Commission’s recommendations with CAARA including identifying “records which, it is reasonable to expect, may become relevant to an actual or alleged incident of child sexual abuse; and on the retention and disposal of such records”.

Stay across what is happening with the disposal freeze by monitoring our mailing list and checking advice published on our Disposal Freeze page.

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