7. Awareness and access

Introduction

  1. 7.1 Awareness of, and access to, information about birth registration and birth certificates were common themes raised during consultations and within submissions.
  2. 7.2 In the consultation paper the Commission sought specific views on:
  • the level of community understanding of the obligation to register a birth and the right to apply for a birth certificate
  • the adequacy of access to information about birth registration and birth certificates
  • how to improve community awareness of birth registration and birth certificates
  • whether changes to law are needed to include a specific promotional and educative function for the Registry.1
  1. 7.3 This chapter will explore how awareness and access can be improved, and whether the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 (Vic) (the Act) should be amended to provide that one of the Registrar’s general functions is to promote public awareness of the importance of birth registration through education and information programs. This chapter will also discuss whether access to Registry services is adequate.

Current practice—awareness

  1. 7.4 Despite the fact that the Act does not give the Registry a specific public education function, the Registry undertakes some public awareness-raising activity.
  2. 7.5 A number of forms and printed information about Registry services are available in hardcopy and on the Registry’s website. This includes information on how to register a birth, apply for a birth certificate and correct a birth certificate. The website also includes information on the Donor Treatment Register; information on how to name your child; and a list of frequently asked questions about birth registration.2
  3. 7.6 Information can be obtained by phoning the Registry. The Registry also provides services to rural and remote communities through the justice bus.
  4. 7.7 Following the identification in 2008 of barriers to access to birth certificates for members of the Indigenous community, the Registry has undertaken a number of awareness-raising activities directed to that community. The work of the Registry with the Indigenous community was discussed in detail in Chapter 6. 
  5. 7.8 The Commission is aware that maternal and child health (MCH) nurses are another important source of information about birth registration and birth certificates. In Chapter 3, the Commission detailed the work, and potential future work, of midwives, ward clerks and MCH nurses in raising awareness of the requirement to register births.
  6. 7.9 The Registry supports this work by MCH nurses and advised that Registry staff attended the annual meeting of MCH nurses in 2012 to discuss awareness raising at key MCH baby health checks.3

Community responses—awareness

  1. 7.10 In the following section the Commission outlines comments and suggestions received in consultations and submissions in response to the four questions posed in our consultation paper.

Ease of access to information about birth registration and obtaining a birth certificate

  1. 7.11 Written information about birth registration is currently available on the Registry’s website as well as on the birth registration statement. The birth registration statement states that a birth certificate:

is often required for official purposes such as claiming government benefits, enrolling a child in childcare and school, or obtaining a passport.4

  1. 7.12 The Commission heard that some other agencies provide written information about birth registration and birth certificates. The Department of Health has a web page entitled ‘Having a baby in Victoria’ (discussed in Chapter 3).
  2. 7.13 Some Victoria Legal Aid and community legal centre publications also raise the issue of birth certificates, including the booklet geared towards young adults called Am I old enough?5
  3. 7.14 The Commission heard that many parents access information about birth registration during their engagement with the health system during pregnancy and around the time of the birth of their child.
  4. 7.15 In practice, a number of agencies, health professionals and public servants have a role in providing information about birth registration to the community.
  5. 7.16 Information may be provided to women in the antenatal stage of their pregnancy, including at pregnancy support classes. Some hospitals include information about the requirement to register a birth, and the process for doing so, in their classes.6
  6. 7.17 Women should also receive the parent pack (as described in Chapter 3) following the birth of their child in hospital. Midwives or ward clerks may go through, or explain to parents, the contents of the pack prior to discharge. The Commission understands that this advice may (time permitting) include information on the requirement to register the birth.
  7. 7.18 Parents who have not registered the birth will be reminded of their obligation to register the birth at the two-, four- and eight-week checks by their MCH nurses.
  8. 7.19 Only if a child is still unregistered 60 days after his or her birth does the Registry send a reminder letter. 
  9. 7.20 Participants in consultations who had sought information about how to register their child or obtain a birth certificate reported that they had generally done so by visiting the Registry’s website, phoning the Registry direct, attending a justice service centre or asking a health professional about what to do next.7

Community awareness, rights and obligations

  1. 7.21 In the consultation paper the Commission asked whether the community was sufficiently aware of the obligation to register a birth and of each person’s right to be issued with a birth certificate.
  2. 7.22 Most consultation participants were aware of the obligation to register the birth of their child, and many had applied for certificates at the same time.8
  3. 7.23 Others were aware of the requirement to register but were unaware, or unconvinced, of the importance of applying for a birth certificate at the time of registration.9 Of this group, many noted that other priorities had meant that they had not sought further information at the time of their child’s birth about the requirement to register or about applying for a certificate.10
  4. 7.24 Participants in a number of groups were unaware that a birth certificate is routinely required for enrolment at kindergarten and/or long-day child care.11 Those who were aware of the importance of a birth certificate noted that it was required for access to many things, including Centrelink services.12
  5. 7.25 Some confusion was expressed about what documents must be completed for a birth certificate application, and the timing of the application. One justice service centre informed the Commission that some clients did not realise that Part 2 of the birth registration statement had to be completed to obtain a birth certificate.13 There was also some confusion among new parents about whether it was possible to register a birth and apply for a certificate at different times,14 with some believing that the birth registration statement and the birth certificate application form needed to be filled out together.15
  6. 7.26 In another consultation, health care professionals expressed concern that some parents, particularly vulnerable groups, may not realise that birth registration is the individual’s responsibility and not that of the hospital.16
  7. 7.27 During consultations the view was expressed that the information currently available is not sufficient to convey to new parents the importance of birth registration and of obtaining a birth certificate.17 

Improving community awareness

  1. 7.28 In the consultation paper the Commission asked what could be done to improve community awareness and what role the Registry should take in this. Specific concerns about raising awareness among the Indigenous community were discussed in the previous chapter.
  2. 7.29 One suggestion was that the Registry should include a statement about the importance of registering a birth and applying for a birth certificate in a prominent position on the birth registration statement.18
  3. 7.30 Several consultation participants suggested that the parent pack could be better used as a resource to increase awareness of the birth registration process. It was noted that a lot of paperwork is provided to parents after the birth of a child and that this is often a chaotic time.19 Parents may not always realise the importance of the paperwork contained in the pack, as it is often combined with other items, for example baby products and samples.20
  4. 7.31 Other participants felt that the parent pack should not be the only means of informing new parents about the importance of birth registration and obtaining a birth certificate for their child.21
  5. 7.32 The Mercy Hospital informed the Commission that in order to bring parents’ attention to documents in the parent pack they place an adhesive label on the front about the importance of the documents inside. This reminds parents not to discard the material.22
  6. 7.33 Consultation participants provided a range of suggestions for improving community awareness:
  • A fact sheet outlining why birth registration and obtaining a birth certificate is important.23
  • A list of community legal centres and other places for new parents to seek further information and advice in complex cases (such as determining parentage).24
  • Flyers and posters (such as the culturally appropriate information produced as part of the 2009 Indigenous Access Project) could be developed as part of a wider, ongoing program of community awareness and promotional activities, including information about the Indigenous Access Fund.25
  • Registry promotional material for justice service centre officers, health care providers and MCH centres to give to new parents.26 For example, a sample birth registration statement could be used as a prompt for MCH nurses for their visits and appointments with parents at the early health checks.27
  • A series of public education advertisements, possibly including television advertisements, that would inform people about the need to register their child’s birth and obtain a birth certificate.28
  • A ‘pathway’ map that outlines the process of applying for a birth certificate to give to new parents.29
  • A teaching resource for schools covering the role and functions of the Registry.30

Commission’s view

  1. 7.34 The Commission considers that it is important that the Registry make available appropriate and accessible information about birth registration processes and the importance of obtaining a birth certificate.
  2. 7.35 This information could be available for download from the Registry’s website and brochures could be provided to a range of mainstream and specialist agencies including migrant resource centres and local Indigenous cooperatives.
  3. 7.36 The Commission considers that including a prominent statement on the birth registration statement about the importance of registering a birth and applying for a birth certificate would be an effective way of reaching almost all new parents.
  4. 7.37 This could include a statement about the benefits of applying for a birth certificate at the same time as registration, and explaining what a birth certificate is required for, such as getting a driver’s licence or passport. 

Recommendation

  1. 21The Registrar should make available appropriate and accessible information outlining the birth registration process, the importance of birth registration and how to apply for a birth certificate.

    The birth registration statement should include a prominent statement about the obligation of a parent to register a child and the benefits of obtaining a birth certificate, including listing the important identity documents which can only be obtained on production of a birth certificate.

 

Current practice—access to services

  1. 7.38 Awareness-raising is not the only activity that will improve timely birth registration. Access to services will also affect registration compliance, and decisions about when to apply for a birth certificate.
  2. 7.39 The Registry, including its customer service centre, is located in Collins Street, central Melbourne. The services include being able to register a birth, apply for a birth certificate or name change, record an adoption or death, submit an intention of marriage notice, register a domestic or caring relationship, and apply for certificates for all these life events. Some services require the applicant to phone the customer service centre in advance to make an appointment before attending in person.31
  3. 7.40 Some Registry services are also available at justice service centres, including:
  • lodging birth certificate applications
  • certifying copies of identity documents
  • paying for Registry services.
  1. 7.41 At present there are 10 metropolitan and 13 regional justice service centres that provide Registry services, as well as a number of mobile justice service centres, called justice buses.32
  2. 7.42 Justice service centre officers are trained to provide Registry services along with performing their other duties. Justice buses provide a range of justice-related services to community members who live outside regional centres.33
  3. 7.43 Birth registration and an application for a birth certificate can also be made by post.

Recent Registry initiatives

  1. 7.44 The Registry is currently reviewing the way it provides its services to the community. This positive step coincides with the publication of this report and other work examining the issue of birth registration nationally. This report is a timely contribution to this parallel work being done at a state and national level.
  2. 7.45 The Registry notes on its website that it is looking at better ways of delivering its services,34 and indicates that it will be working with the community and service partners to redesign the organisation.35
  3. 7.46 As part of the review, the Registry is conducting an online survey asking the community for its thoughts and ideas.36 A short video is also available promoting the forthcoming changes and asking for customer feedback.37

Community responses—access to services

  1. 7.47 This section will examine community suggestions to improve accessibility of Registry services.
  2. 7.48 As discussed earlier in this chapter, no agency currently has legislative responsibility for the provision of information about the requirement to register a birth or how to apply for a birth certificate.
  3. 7.49 The Department of Justice website lists birth certificates as one of the most popular website searches, demonstrating that that there is clearly community demand for information.38
  4. 7.50 Some consultation participants were of the view that birth registration needs to be the shared responsibility of the parent/s and a government agency.39 Generally these participants felt that this agency should be the Registry in partnership with other agencies.40
  5. 7.51 Suggestions included an increased role for Registry staff working outside the Registry to support registration and make it easier.41 For example, The International Commission of Jurists—Victoria noted in its submission that:

practical measures might include community outreach programs conducted regularly in areas or communities identified as having low registration rates for births.42 

  1. 7.52 The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) recommended in its submission that particular focus should be given to developing collaborative strategies with the Indigenous community. Proposed suggestions to increase access to services include:

supporting birth registration units within regional Aboriginal communities, employing Aboriginal staff, and mobile units regularly accessing remote areas.43

  1. 7.53 One group suggested that the Registry could host open days, or drop-in sessions at the customer service centre in Melbourne. It was suggested that the Registry advertise these sessions widely via health networks and on the Registry website. These sessions would differ from the traditional counter service queue system and would focus solely on new parents who may need help with filling out the birth registration statement. Registry officers and interpreters could be made available if needed.44
  2. 7.54 Another suggestion was that Registry officials should attend maternity hospitals to help new parents fill out the birth registration statement.45 The Commission acknowledges the related security and logistical implications of this suggestion; but includes it as an illustration of the breadth of views presented to the Commission. Making greater use of health professionals, such as MCH nurses, was also suggested, as discussed in Chapter 3.

Online resources

  1. 7.55 Increased use of online resources, including being able to register a birth online, were points raised during consultation and in submissions.46 The Commission is aware that the Registry is exploring the greater use of online resources in the future.47
  2. 7.56 The Registry website currently contains information about Registry products, services, policies and links to relevant legislation.48 Only the birth certificate application form is available to download online.
  3. 7.57 The Registry notes that it is committed to providing a website that meets the needs of all users regardless of language, technological or disability needs.49 To this end the Registry notes that the website is written in easy-to-understand English.50 The Commission agrees with the Registry that the website is written in plain English and is user-friendly. The Commission further notes that the Registry may make further improvements as a result of its current redesign process and development of online services.
  4. 7.58 Some jurisdictions in Canada and the U.S. have moved to online birth registration systems,51 including in some instances the full digitisation of the registration process.
  5. 7.59 The Florida Department of Health, Office of Vital Statistics, for example, offers an electronic birth registration mechanism that allows a designated hospital birth registry official to register a birth record online, and capture and store any required signatures.52 
  6. 7.60 To obtain a birth certificate a person must submit an application to the State Bureau of Vital Statistics (Florida) with payment included (US$9) and a copy of a valid picture ID.53 Alternatively, an applicant may order a birth certificate online using an authorised private service, VitalChek.54 In order to use this service, the name of the applicant must appear on the birth certificate. The cost of a computer-generated copy of the original birth record is US$19.55
  7. 7.61 During consultation participants referred to other government services offered online, such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics eCensus.56 The ABS notes that the eCensus enables people to complete the Census form online. The aim is to provide a fast, easy and secure option for respondents.57
  8. 7.62 Many participants supported the view that online services improve accessibility.58
  9. 7.63 In its submission, the North Melbourne Legal Service suggested forms be made available routinely for download online.59 Others consulted felt that a full range of information, such as fact sheets, should be available for download in a number of different community languages.60 It was noted that making documents available for download would greatly increase accessibility for the community as well as for health service providers and community services. This would enable relevant agencies to access forms and information when needed and disseminate these to their clients.61
  10. 7.64 It was noted, however, that services should continue to be available in non-electronic forms for those who are not computer-literate or may not have access to the internet.62
  11. 7.65 The greater use of online systems was also discussed in the context of simplifying registration processes. It was also proposed that online birth notification could become a type of pre-registration, so that details provided at notification stage pre-populated the birth registration statement.63 This issue was discussed in detail in Chapter 2.

Commission’s view

  1. 7.66 The Commission notes the positive steps taken by the Registry to increase the availability of Registry information and services online and encourages an expansion of its online presence.

Recommendation

  1. 22The Registrar should:

 

Single contact point at Registry

  1. 7.67 The Commission heard during consultations that it would improve access for vulnerable groups to have a specific casework officer, employed by the Registry, to help with more complex queries.64
  2. 7.68 Complex enquiries may include those made by members of the Stolen Generations, former wards of state or people raised in institutional care, or simply more complex matters that require greater time and a higher degree of problem-solving.
  3. 7.69 As discussed in Chapter 6, the Registry has informed the Commission of the work of the Indigenous Access Team. Many participants were not aware of this team. Some consultation participants knew of an individual officer who had in the past dealt with enquiries on behalf of members of the Stolen Generations but did not know that there was a designated access team.65
  4. 7.70 Participants commented that where enquiries concerned members of the Indigenous community, it would be more culturally appropriate to have a Koori person dealing with the enquiries.66 Link-Up Victoria suggested that, in addition to a dedicated officer, there could be a 1800 number for Indigenous people to call for direct access to the Indigenous Access Team.67
  5. 7.71 Other participants suggested that there could be a contact number or case officer designated to support a range of identified vulnerable groups such as people from a CALD background.68 It was noted that Centrelink often provides contact officers for agencies to ring direct on behalf of specific client groups and that it would be useful if the Registry were able to offer a similar service.69
  6. 7.72 Maternal and child health (MCH) nurses noted that vulnerable mothers, often from CALD backgrounds, often require extra assistance with registering the birth of their child.70 It was suggested that it would helpful if there was a particular worker or team at the Registry who could help in these circumstances. MCH nurses noted that rather than being able to obtain advice on behalf of a client, they were told by Registry staff that the client needed to come in person to the customer service centre.71 It was noted that these vulnerable mothers may not have the confidence or motivation to attend personally, and so the child may remain unregistered.

Commission’s view

  1. 7.73 The Commission is of the view that the public profile of the Indigenous Access Team should be lifted. As detailed in Chapter 6, participants consulted had little or no awareness of the Indigenous Access Team, or knowledge about the Indigenous Access Fund (IAF). The Commission notes the advice of the Registry that an Indigenous-specific page is being developed for its website. This should provide a central source of information about services available for the Koori community, promoting both the Indigenous Access Team and the IAF.
  2. 7.74 The Commission considered that the suggestion made by a number of consultation participants of a contact point for service providers who are assisting clients has merit. This may be a way of providing services to vulnerable groups who are otherwise difficult to reach. 
  3. 7.75 Given the evidence that health service providers, particularly MCH nurses, are willing to help clients with birth registration issues, it would be cost-effective for the Registry to enhance its capacity to assist these clients by making it easy for them to gain assistance through a contact person or point, available by phone, within the Registry. This could help service providers to quickly resolve issues while they are with a client.

Recommendation

  1. 23The Registrar should:

 

Justice service centres

  1. 7.76 During the consultation period the Commission had the opportunity to visit a number of justice service centres both in regional Victoria and outer metropolitan Melbourne. The Commission also heard positive reports about the roll-out of the justice service centres and how they are providing previously inaccessible justice services to regional areas. For example, VEOHRC in its submission acknowledged the work of the justice service centres, justice bus and outreach by the Registry as a positive step in making Registry services more accessible.72
  2. 7.77 As previously highlighted, justice service centres and the justice bus73 provide access to a range of justice-related information and services, including Registry functions, Community Correctional Services, Consumer Affairs Victoria, Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria, Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee and Sheriff’s Operations.74 Justice service centres are located throughout regional Victoria.75
  3. 7.78 Individual justice service centres have identified specific gaps in access to justice services within their own communities, and have responded with outreach work in their regions.76 For example, in the Mallee/Wimmera the local justice service centre has hosted information stalls at community days, with the goal of increasing community awareness about services available and justice service centre functions.77 The Mildura centre has published a promotional flyer for distribution at this type of event that includes information about the IAF as well as other justice services.78
  4. 7.79 During consultations a number of participants expressed the view that due to the infancy of some centres it may take some time before the community is fully aware of the services provided. Some participants were not aware of their local centre.79 Those who were aware expressed generally positive views. MCH nurses in Bairnsdale, for example, felt that the justice service centres were a good initiative and very helpful for local people.80 
  5. 7.80 The Commission heard that Registry services have been successfully streamlined with the other services available at justice service centres, and that centres are in regular contact, via a dedicated hotline, with the Registry customer service centre in Melbourne.81
  6. 7.81 Generally, justice service centres commented that enquiries relating to Registry services are increasing.82 For example, the Bairnsdale and Morwell centres noted that Registry services are a growing part of justice business across Gippsland.83 Participants agreed that it has helped clients to be able to complete forms at the justice service centre and be given instant feedback.84 However, some justice service centres raised concerns in consultations that increasing demand for Registry services may mean the centres are not always able to maintain current service levels within existing funding arrangements.85
  7. 7.82 Justice service centres also noted that most training for Registry services is provided in Melbourne, requiring regional staff to travel.86 One suggestion was that in order to enable regional centres to maintain a consistent level of service to clients, Registry staff could visit the regions to provide both initial and refresher training to justice service officers.87
  8. 7.83 The justice service centre model appears to be unique to Victoria.88 However, other jurisdictions also offer Registry services from off-site locations,89 including New South Wales, where people can apply for a birth, death or marriage certificate through Australia Post outlets.90

Commission’s view

  1. 7.84 The Commission notes that the roll-out of Registry services to justice service centres is relatively recent. This probably accounts for the seemingly modest levels of awareness outside the justice sector, for example, among health professionals and midwives, of the services that centres provide.
  2. 7.85 It may help to raise the profile of the work of the justice service centres, as well as provide signposting for the community, if details of centres’ locations, or a link to where these details can be found, were provided on the birth registration statement.
  3. 7.86 The Commission considers that the approach taken in New South Wales to allow selected Australia Post outlets to accept birth certificate applications also warrants further exploration. Expanding registry services to mainstream providers such as Australia Post may make them even more accessible for marginalised and vulnerable people. 

Recommendations

  1. 24The birth registration statement should contain a note indicating that assistance in filling in the form can be provided at a justice service centre and that the applicant should go to www.bdm.vic.gov.au to find the nearest centre.

  2. 25The Registrar should consider expanding the range of venues where registry applications may be lodged.

 

Registry promotional function

  1. 7.87 The Act requires the appointment of a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, who has responsibility for administering the registration system established by the Act.91 The registration of births in Victoria92 and the issue of certified and uncertified information from the registers93 are two of the identified objects in the Act.
  2. 7.88 One of the Registrar’s general functions is to ensure that the Act is administered ‘in the way best calculated to achieve the objects of this Act’.94 There is, however, no specific function of the Registrar to undertake public education or awareness-raising about the Registry and its objects.95
  3. 7.89 In the consultation paper the Commission asked whether the law should be changed so that the Registry is given a specific promotional function. Responses from participants broadly supported the Registry taking a more active role in awareness-raising.96 The International Commission of Jurists—Victoria submitted that:

The role of the RBDM in improving awareness should be addressed at a legislative level by amending the objects clause in the Act and by expressly addressing the issue in s. 6 dealing with the functions of the Registry. The amendments should not only include a statement that the function of the RBDM is to promote the objectives of the Act but that the objectives of the Act are to promote the human rights of the child. The objectives of the Act should explain the importance of birth registration.97 

Commission’s view

  1. 7.90 The Commission considers there is scope to provide for a specific information, community education and promotional function in the Act in order to improve awareness of and accessibility to Registry services. Importantly, this is needed to ensure that every Victorian is aware of their obligations in relation to birth registration and their right to a birth certificate.
  2. 7.91 The Commission notes that a similar provision can be found in the Electoral Act 2002 (Vic). Section 8 of the Electoral Act gives the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) research, communications and education functions in relation to electoral matters in Victoria. The VEC is required to:
  • promote public awareness of electoral matters that are in the general public interest by means of the conduct of education and information programs,98 and
  • conduct and promote research into electoral matters that are in the general public interest.99
  1. 7.92 The activities undertaken by the VEC in meeting its obligations under section 8 of the Electoral Act include working with community groups to develop Easy English publications to help people with disabilities or low language and literacy levels understand the electoral process.100 The VEC has also developed education programs delivered in secondary schools to increase students’ engagement in democracy.101
  2. 7.93 The VEC’s work places an importance on identifying low participation groups and researching ways of providing information about electoral matters to the identified groups and to the community more broadly.102 The community engagement and education work of the Commission focuses on the low participation groups. These groups are the same groups identified as facing potential barriers to access with regard to birth registration and access to a birth certificate, including young people, CALD communities, people with disabilities, Indigenous Victorians, and people experiencing homelessness.103
  3. 7.94 The VEC notes that it has taken different approaches to identified groups, targetting them with tailored information, and to this end, the VEC highlights that community consultation is a key element in ensuring tailored programs or material meet the needs of those particular groups.104
  4. 7.95 The Commission considers the responsibility and functions of the VEC as provided for in section 8(f)–(g) of the Electoral Act are an example that could be adapted to provide a suitable information, community awareness-raising and education function in the Act.

Recommendation

  1. 26The Registrar’s general functions, as set out in section 6 of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 (Vic), should be amended to include the promotion of public awareness of the importance of birth registration through the conduct of education and information programs. 

Footnotes

Main menu

Back to top