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Working With Vulnerable People (NT)

A person who works with vulnerable people must be trustworthy. Vulnerable individuals are, by definition, less able to look after their own interests and are statistically more likely to be the victims of physical, sexual and financial abuse. Some states and territories in Australia have laws that require workers to pass a Working with Vulnerable People (WWVP) clearance check. In contrast, in the Northern Territory, the law currently only requires a worker to apply for an Ochre Card to have clearance to work with minors. However, there are federal laws that require clearance for those who work with the elderly and disabled. This article explains the requirements for working with vulnerable people in the Northern Territory. 

Vulnerable People in the Northern Territory

The term “vulnerable” is in common usage, but there is an actual legal definition. Under Australian law, a vulnerable person is either:

  1. A minor under the age of eighteen, because a child is considered incapable of full mental and physical awareness and therefore cannot look after their own interests; or
  2. An adult who cannot protect themselves from exploitation and harm, who is mentally, physically or psychologically impaired, or has a disability that prevents them from completing routine activities.

A person can be vulnerable because of their age, disability, trauma, disorder, or mental illness. Vulnerable people require dedicated care and attention and will often need an adult guardian to watch over their interests. Because these people can be targeted by fraudsters and other predators, the people around them must be trustworthy.

Many organisations, services and agencies work within the vulnerable sector in the Northern Territory. This includes homeless support, women’s services, rehabilitation and youth support groups. In addition, many therapists, educators and healthcare workers also serve vulnerable populations.

Working with children

In the Northern Territory, there is currently only Territory level legislative regulation of working with children. It is an offence under the Care and Protection of Children Act 2007 to work with a minor without applying for an Ochre Card clearance. This is an assessment of a candidate’s suitability to work in a child-related role.

An Ochre Card clearance reveals information that is not disclosed during a criminal history check. This check reveals both recorded convictions and spent, pending and non-conviction charges. Under these rules, a person cannot work with a minor in the NT if they are subject to a Domestic Violence Order, Restriction Order, or police cautions for child-related offences. An Ochre Card stays current for two years and must be updated after that time. This clearance is similar to WWVP clearance, except it does not gather as broad a wealth of information on the candidate’s suitability to work with a vulnerable person.

A person who wishes to work in a volunteer or paid role in contact with children will need to obtain clearance. In fact, it is not only those who provide direct services to children that must obtain clearance, but also those who have access because they work in the same vicinity or have access to personal information about the child, including ancillary staff.

There are some workers in the Northern Territory who are exempt from the requirement to obtain an Ochre Card. Under the Care and Protection of Children Act, the following people are not required to obtain a clearance:

  • A person providing child minding services on a non-commercial basis;
  • An emergency carer in a placement arrangement;
  • Ancillary service providers at a child-orientated venue who have no contact with the children;
  • A member of the Police or Australian Federal Police; and
  • An individual who is not otherwise involved in child-related employment.

Aged care screening

The aged care sector involves caring for and supporting the well-being and health of the elderly, infirm and disabled. Caring for these vulnerable people is a sensitive job, and workers in this sector must be thoroughly scrutinised. The federal government enabled police check requirements for the aged care sector in 2007 that aim to screen all people working with these vulnerable people. Under the Aged Care Act 1997 (Cth), Aged Care Quality Standards cover all residential care, home care and other services provided through the Commonwealth Home Support Programme.

NDIS worker screening

When someone applies for a role under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, they must complete a risk assessment check so the NDIS can decide whether the worker poses a risk to the disabled person. The check takes into account more risk factors than a national police check, such as workplace conduct, past employment history, AVOs, juvenile offences and any other relevant information. The clearance is handled by a government screening unit of the NDIS and is valid for up to five years.

Contact Go To Court Lawyers if you have any questions about working with vulnerable people in the Northern Territory. Our civil law solicitors can explain the legal obligations when applying for an Ochre Card or the type of criminal history that can prevent a person from working with vulnerable people in the Northern Territory. Call 1300 636 846 for help with this issue or any other legal matter.


Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2020.

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