The principal body representing social workers is concerned that working with children checks in the ACT are insufficient to protect children from harm, despite the territory having one of the strongest such systems in Australia.
On Thursday, the ACT government said it will move its system online, after completing more than 55,000 working with children checks in the past 20 months.
Recently retired Public Advocate ACT and board member of the Australian Association of Social Workers, Anita Phillips, warned that while the ACT was ahead of the game in conducting checks, they were not enough to protect children.
"They really only identify the high-risk individuals; those who have already been identified as somebody who has either abused children, or been involved in child pornography. And even these checks are not consistent nationally," she said.
The first discussion paper from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, released in June, raised the question if there should be a national system for working with children checks.
"Child safety checks in every state are different. Some states don't even have a consistent program right across the state, so if somebody moves from state to state, they can move under the radar. We've got to have a nationally consistent working with children check, but that in itself is just not enough," it said.
Other states and territories require working with children checks. Tasmania is moving towards implementing a system. NSW moved its application system for its working with children check online in June.
La Trobe University research published in July made the case for Victoria to switch from working with children checks to working with vulnerable people checks, after disturbing cases of sexual assaults against elderly people.
Since checks began in the ACT in November 2012, 149 people have been barred from working with children, or not been given a permanent licence. Ms Phillips said she believed the ACT's check system was rigorous and that the territory had "set the bar quite high".
However, she said there was a need for higher standards for child-protection, out-of-home-care and foster care services. "We're certainly failing children in not sufficiently monitoring the [child protection] services," Ms Phillips said.
Ms Phillips said that while big orphanages and institutions, the subject of the terrible stories emerging from the royal commission, were a thing of the past, it "doesn't mean that we're not having people who are providing services actually placing children at risk".
Ms Phillips' comments follow an Australian Institute health and welfare report released last Friday. which showed that almost 500 children in the ACT had been, or were likely to be, abused, neglected or harmed in 2012-13.
She also urged the ACT government to establish standards for out-of-home care. "The government has been working on this for many years, but the fact that we don't have those standards means that we don't have the routines, the scanning, the screening, the supervision, the training of all of the providers," she said.
Ms Phillips also raised concerns that some foster carers were insufficiently educated or trained.