Failing to protect children from sexual offences

From 5 July 2021, it is an offence to fail to protect a child from a sexual offence in an institutional setting.

For this law, child means a person under 16 or a person under 18 with an impairment of the mind.

Child sexual offence

A child sexual offence is an offence of a sexual nature committed against a child and includes:

  • Indecent treatment of a child
  • Carnal knowledge with or of a child
  • Rape
  • Incest
  • Grooming a child (or their parent or carer)
  • Making child exploitation material
  • Maintaining a sexual relationship with a child

Learn more about child sexual offences.

Failure to protect

Failing to take steps to protect children from sexual offenders is an offence.

This offence requires a person in a position of power or responsibility within an institution to reduce or remove a known risk of sexual offending against a child by an adult associated with an institution.

The failure to protect offence applies if you are 18 or older and associated with an institution that has children in its care, supervision or control, and you:

  • know there is a significant risk that another adult also associated with the institution (or who is a regulated volunteer) will commit a sexual offence against a child or children
  • have the power or responsibility to reduce or remove the risk
  • wilfully or negligently fail to reduce or remove the risk.

Removing or reducing risk

How you can remove or reduce risk depends on the situation. You should not have to adopt unnecessarily expensive or risk-averse behaviour.

Associated with an institution

For this offence, an institution means an entity other than an individual that either:

  • provides services to children
  • operates a facility for (or engages in activities with) children under the entity’s care, supervision or control.

This may include government and non-government entities, such as:

  • schools
  • religious organisations
  • hospitals
  • child-care centres
  • licensed residential facilities
  • sporting clubs
  • youth organisations.

An adult is associated with the institution if they either:

  • own the institution (or are involved in the management or control of it)
  • are employed or engaged by the institution
  • volunteer for the institution
  • engage in an activity with the institution that requires a blue card (i.e. where they must be authorised under the Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000)
  • deliver a service to a child who is under the care, supervision or control of the institution.

Examples of when a child is considered in an institution’s care, supervision or control include when they:

  • participate in a sporting club
  • live in residential care
  • obtain services from a youth organisation.

Regulated volunteer

A regulated volunteer is an adult also living or spending substantial time in the home of certain people who care for children in their homes, who also requires a blue card under the Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000.

This includes all adult household members of:

  • family day care residences
  • homestay providers
  • home-based stand-alone care services
  • foster and kinship carers.

Religious confessions

It doesn’t matter if you learned of a significant risk of a sexual offence during, or in connection with, a religious confession—the offence still applies.


The maximum penalty for failing to protect a child from a sexual offence is 5 years’ imprisonment.

Behaviours to combat

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse uncovered serious failures to protect children from being sexually abused. Some of the failures they identified were:

  • Allowing people to continue to work with a particular child after concerns were raised regarding sexual offending against the child.
  • Allowing people who had allegations made against them to continue to work with other children.
  • Moving suspected offenders between schools or other locations or sites operated by the same organisation.
  • Failing to recognise signs of child sexual abuse shown in offenders’ behaviour towards children, such as
    • spending time alone with the child
    • giving gifts to the child.
  • Allowing unsupervised contact between suspected offenders and children.
  • Not taking any action in response to concerns raised.
  • Not reporting allegations of child sexual abuse to superiors in their organisation, nor to police.


If you have any questions about the practical operation of the offences, you can email

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