Reporting incidents and concerns

Download the Responding to incidents, disclosures and suspicions of child abuse (PDF, 126KB) - a resource designed to support ECEC staff with their reporting requirements

It is important that all staff in ECEC services drive a culture of advocacy for children. If you are concerned or have a suspicion that a child is at risk of abuse, harm, neglect or ill-treatment, you should talk to someone about it. You should refer to your service’s policies and procedures on child safety, child protection or complaints handling to understand who you can talk to.

It is important that any concerns or suspicions you may have are discussed with an appropriate person, this might include your manager or supervisor and/or a relevant agency. If you are worried that your concerns have not been appropriately addressed, you should contact a relevant agency for more information. Information on which relevant agency you should report to is below.

Reporting and legal obligations

ECEC staff have reporting requirements to different agencies under the following laws:

The NSW Department of Education administers the regulation of services in accordance with the Children (Education and Care Services) National Law and the Education and Care Services National Regulations. When reporting an incident to the Department, depending on the circumstances of the report, you should consider if a report is also required for any of the other relevant agencies.

Relevant agencies

When to report to:

If you are concerned that a child’s immediate safety is compromised, this should be reported to the NSW Police by calling 000.

Any conduct towards a child that you suspect may be criminal in nature should also be reported to the NSW Police.

Services should follow police direction on a criminal matter, which may impact upon their own investigative or risk management response.

This factsheet may help to identify conduct that is criminal in nature. If you are unsure if it is a criminal matter, call the Police Assistance Line on 131 444.

Educators in centre-based and family day care education and care services are ‘mandatory reporters’ under NSW child protection law.

Mandatory reporters must make a report to the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) when they have current concerns about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a child for any of the following reasons:

  • the basic physical or psychological needs of the child or young person are not being met (neglect)
  • the parents or caregivers have not arranged necessary medical care for the child or young person (unwilling or unable to do so)
  • the parents or caregivers have not arranged for the child or young person to receive an education in accordance with the Education Act 1990 (unwilling or unable to do so)
  • risk of physical or sexual abuse or ill-treatment
  • the parents’ or caregivers’ behaviour towards the child causes or risks serious psychological harm (emotional abuse)
  • incidents of domestic violence are placing a child or young person at risk of serious physical or psychological harm (domestic or family violence)
  • the child was the subject in a prenatal report and the birth mother did not engage successfully with support services.

There are two ways you can make a child protection report:

If you are a mandatory reporter in NSW and you have concerns that a child or young person is at risk of being neglected or abused, you should use the NSW Mandatory Reporter Guide to determine whether a report is needed.

Further information can be found on the Department of Communities and Justice website.

The Reportable Conduct Scheme is administered by the Office of the Children’s Guardian under the Children’s Guardian Act 2019.

The scheme keeps children safe by monitoring how certain organisations (‘relevant entities’) investigate and report on types of conduct ('reportable allegations' or 'reportable convictions') made against their employees, volunteers or certain contractors who provide services to children. Relevant entities include approved education and care services, including family day care.

When the head of a relevant entity (for example, the approved provider) becomes aware of a reportable allegation or reportable conviction, they must notify the Office of the Children's Guardian within 7 business days and conduct an investigation into the allegations.

Information and resources are available on the Office of the Children’s Guardian website

  • Fact sheets to assist you to understand and meet your reportable conduct scheme responsibilities. Topics include identifying reportable allegations, heads of entities and reportable conduct responsibilities, planning and conducting investigations, keeping records, disclosing information to children, parents and carers, and FAQs
  • A 30-minute training video explaining the Reportable Conduct Scheme
  • Notification forms

If you have any questions about the scheme, please contact the Reportable Conduct Enquiries Line on (02) 8219 3800 or at reportableconduct@ocg.nsw.gov.au.

Approved providers are required to notify the regulatory authority within 7 days of:

  • any incident where the approved provider reasonably believes that physical or sexual abuse of a child or children has occurred or is occurring while the child is being educated and cared for by the service
  • allegations that physical or sexual abuse of a child or children has occurred or is occurring while the child is being educated and cared for by the service; and
  • any circumstance at the service that poses a risk to the health, safety or wellbeing of a child attending the service

Notifications should be made through NQA ITS*.

When the Department receives a notification of an incident or allegation of child physical or sexual abuse, the Department will conduct a preliminary assessment and may obtain further details from the service.

The notification may be forwarded to the Department’s investigation team where investigators may visit the service and speak with educators and staff about the incident/s or allegation/s. They may provide support with the service’s response, for example, reminding the service of their reporting obligations to other agencies.

When conducting an investigation, the Department will ensure ongoing liaison with the service and families.

The Department can share information with other relevant authorities, including the NSW Police, Department of Communities and Justice, and Office of the Children’s Guardian. The Department’s investigators may liaise with these agencies to establish facts about the incident/s or allegation/s and determine whether an offence against the National Law and/or Regulations has been or is being committed.

The NSW Police, Department of Communities and Justice and Office of the Children’s Guardian have different legislative powers and may make other determinations in relation to the incident/s or allegation/s.

* Mobile and occasionsl care services can use the notification forms found here.

Navigating child safety reporting obligations webinar

On 28 March 2022, the NSW Department of Education and NSW Department of Communities and Justice presented a session on navigating child safety reporting obligations. The session aimed to enhance the safety of children in ECEC and OSHC services by supporting educators and leaders in understanding their reporting obligations and navigating reporting child safety issues or child protection concerns to the relevant agencies.

Please note, that some of the scenarios discussed in the webinar involve sensitive issues that may raise strong emotions for some viewers. If you feel impacted, please feel free to skip this section, and seek support if needed.

A presentation from the NSW Department of Education and NSW Department of Communities and Justice.

Answered by NSW Department of Communities and Justice

What is the difference between ROSH and IROSH?

ROSH: Risk of Significant Harm

IROSH: Immediate Risk of Significant Harm

The term IROSH is used in the Mandatory Report Guide to tell reporters that they must report immediately, as opposed to a ROSH outcome that requires reporting over the next 24 hours.

The statistics show that the number of notifications received by DCJ have been going up since 2011. Is this because people are more comfortable in knowing how to notify or is it that there are more incidents occurring requiring notification?

It’s likely that the availability of eReporting, the Royal Commission and other media attention has increased awareness of mandatory reporting responsibilities. When a ROSH report is received, there are a number of potential responses based on the details of the report. Each year, approximately 30% of children and young people who are the subject of a ROSH report receive a formal DCJ response. However often there are alternative responses such as referrals that are more appropriate, or the information was later confirmed to be incorrect.

The NSW Department of Communities and Justice has a statistical website that reports on their performance, and can be found here.

What should we do if a child seems to always come in hungry, dirty and in inappropriate clothes for the weather. Should we attempt to investigate the child’s home situation ourselves?

Firstly, you should refer to and follow the policy and procedures of your service. Note down concerns or dates to record how regularly it is occurring or if there is a pattern of when it is occurring. You should discuss your concerns with your manager or supervisor and complete the Mandatory Reporter Guide for advice on next steps if there are concerns that the child may be experiencing neglect. You can also contact your local Community Services Centre (CSC) for advice on further support that can be offered to the family.

Our organisation does not have a Child Wellbeing Unit. Who can we contact for advice regarding child safety concerns? Often I would like to discuss the situation with someone for advice which can help me understand whether I need to make a report.

Please contact your local Community Services Centre (CSC), and ask to speak to a Triage Caseworker. They are there to listen and offer advice, and they will also give you resources or information for other contacts that may be appropriate.

If we notice a child with inappropriate language or behaviour towards their peers, what is the first step that should be taken and should we talk to the child’s family?

Each child and situation should be considered individually, with consideration given to the child’s current situation and level of risk. It is important to not place children in a situation where they may be subjected to further risk.

If a child was behaving inappropriately it would be fair to first raise this with the child, let them know that you saw/heard the behaviour and remind them of what is appropriate behaviour in a developmentally appropriate way. If the behaviour is out of character, then the first step might be to check with the child if everything is okay. Often showing care and curiosity may be enough for a child to let them know you care and are a safe person to talk to. If they have something to disclose and are ready to, this offers them an opportunity to do so.

If you are worried about the sexual risk of harm, you should speak to your Community Services Centre (CSC). Sexual abuse is often by someone known to the child and family.

Answered by NSW Department of Education:

Are we not obligated to call NSW Police in situations where an educator has injured a child?

If an educator has hurt a child at the service, services should consider the level of risk in the immediate situation to determine whether they should contact NSW Police. The individual circumstances surrounding the incident, your service context, severity of the injury and understanding of the educator’s history will all play a part in deciding whether NSW Police should be contacted.

Some examples of situations where NSW Police should be contacted include:

  • An educator is observed to have hit/struck or otherwise assaulted a child with deliberate intent to harm.
  • An educator is alleged to have intentionally caused an injury to a child/children.

If you are unsure, you can contact the NSW Police Assistance Line for advice on non-urgent matters on 131 444.

ACECQA has developed a helpful resource on recognising and managing inappropriate discipline, which can be found here.

Why should services report situations where a child wasn’t injured, for example the child was accidentally locked in a storeroom and left unattended for 10 minutes without supervision. Won’t this go on our record and it could be used against the service negatively in the future during a service visit or A&R?

Under the National Regulations, the definition of a serious incident includes a child being mistakenly locked in or locked out of the education and care service premises or any part of the premises. Serious incidents must be notified to the department within 24 hours of the incident occurring. It is important for services to notify the department of all reportable matters defined under the National Law and Regulations because, not only is it a statutory obligation, but it also allows you to demonstrate how you dealt with the incident and what measures you put in place to prevent it from happening again. Reporting an incident to the department should be viewed as an opportunity to show the lessons learned from such incidents.

The department also uses this information to inform tailored sector support initiatives. Data on notifications received is used to develop campaigns, communications, guidance or other forms of sector support in response to topical issues services may be experiencing. This helps to support services to improve quality and contributes to ensuring the best possible outcomes for children and families.

Can the department create a flow chart on who to report to for different scenarios inside or outside the centre, providing a quick snapshot that can be displayed for all staff?

The department has a helpful resource for services to outline the steps that should be taken following an incident, disclosure or suspicions of child abuse. The resource shows the steps that should be taken depending on whether the incident has occurred whilst the child is attending the service or at home or in the community. The resource can be found here.

In addition to this, we have published the case scenarios that were used during the session on this webpage for your reference. You may also like to refer to the department’s guide on Implementing the Child Safe Standards for other scenarios that can be used to facilitate reflective discussions during team meetings.

Answered by Office of the Children’s Guardian:

Does the OCG ever recommend that a service should file a report to the Police or is this at the discretion of the service?

Any conduct towards a child that you suspect may be criminal in nature should be reported to the NSW Police, in line with your legal obligations. Under section 316A of the Crimes Act, it is an offence to fail to report information to police if you know, believe or reasonably ought to know that a child abuse offence has been committed against a child, and you do not have a reasonable excuse for failing to make a report. Under section 43B of the Crimes Act, an adult working in an organisation doing child-related work will commit an offence if they know another adult working there poses a serious risk of abusing a child, and they have the power to reduce or remove the risk, and they negligently fail to do so.

When you contact the OCG about a reportable allegation, OCG staff may note that a matter appears to include an allegation of a criminal offence which requires reporting to NSW Police. They may also remind you of the potentially serious repercussions if you respond to a criminal allegation, without speaking to police first about what steps you can take. Even telling an employee that an allegation has been made, without getting police permission first, might compromise a police investigation or a future criminal prosecution.

When notifying a reportable allegation to the OCG, the head of a relevant entity must include advice as to whether the matter has been reported to NSW Police (Section 29(2)(e) of the Children’s Guardian Act).

Scenario 1

Peter, aged 3.5 years, is with his peers and educators playing in the outdoor area during afternoon play. Educators counted each child as they entered the play area. Numerous activities are set up to engage the children and there are 20 children aged between 3 & 4 years old, with 3 educators. The educators are spread out at various supervision points, and one educator is helping a child tie up their shoe laces. At this time, Peter asks the closest educator if he can go to the toilet. As Peter is independent, the educator allows him to go inside to the bathroom on his own. She is standing within 1.5 meters of the bathroom door that faces onto the outdoor play area. She watches Peter go inside and then returns to watching three children in the nearby sandpit.

While inside the bathroom, Peter decides to explore further inside the service. It’s quiet as the babies are sleeping and the other children are all outside. He notices a door that is normally closed but was left ajar. He goes inside and closes the door behind him. Unfortunately, it locks. Peter sits down and begins to pull out some rags and other non-chemical items from the lower shelves.

The educator closest to the bathroom door is engaged with another child who had fallen over and, while not injured, was upset and needed comfort. Her colleague realises that they need to do a headcount (done every 15 minutes, and due) and commences counting the children. She realises there is one fewer than there should be. She identifies each child and realises that Peter is missing. She calls to her colleagues to ask if they have seen Peter. The educator closest to the bathroom door states that he went to the bathroom but that was about 10 minutes ago. She goes into the bathroom to look for Peter while the other two educators group the children together for a story.

The educator cannot find Peter in the bathroom and begins to search in other areas. Approximately 5 minutes later, as she walks past one door, she hears a voice that appears to be coming from inside. Trying the handle, she finds it locked but calls through the door. Peter responds. The educator unlocks the door and finds Peter sitting on the floor, happily playing dress ups with some clothes. The educator checks him over and does not find any injuries. She also checks the cupboard and finds chemicals stored on shelves out of reach of Peter. She brings Peter back out to the play area and he joins the rest of the group.

What needs to be reported from this scenario:

Serious incident

Who does it need to be reported to?

NSW Department of Education (NSW Regulatory Authority)

Key points:

  • Services must notify the regulatory authority within 24 hours of becoming aware of a serious incident (section 174(2)(a), regulation 12 and regulation 176(2)(a)(ii)).
  • NQAITS allows you to choose an incident type – for example, there is an option to select Child locked in/out.
  • While ratios may have been correct, communication between the educators is so important and adequate supervision is key.
  • It is challenging when dealing with multiple situations. Situations like this can happen very quickly.
  • Consider strategies to mitigate these risks including additional headcounts, positioning of staff, a change in daily routines, or increased communication between staff on children’s movements.
  • The situation could have been more serious if there was access to chemicals (such as cleaning solutions) stored in cupboards that were accessed by children.

Scenario 2

Emily, an educator at the service, was changing a child’s nappy when she overheard some commotion from the room. She looked over and witnessed another educator, Anna, approach a child, David, as he was trying to take a toy from another child. Anna grabbed David by his hoodie and dragged him away from the other child. She then picked David up by his left hand with a lot of force and dragged him to another area of the room. David became very distressed and began crying, holding onto his left arm. Anna then left the room in an agitated state, shouting at Emily to watch the children (5 children aged 12 months). Emily comforted David and noticed marks on the child's arms from the force.

Emily notified the Nominated Supervisor immediately. She also mentioned that Anna had become increasingly rough with children over the previous months. The NS was informed that other educators were aware of Anna’s behaviour, but did not want to say anything because all she had done was shout at the children and be a bit rough when picking them up. They were also concerned about how Anna would react if other educators in the room challenged her about her actions. Anna has been witnessed screaming at the children when they won’t listen to her on numerous occasions. This was the first time she had used such force.

David sustained a dislocated shoulder due to the actions of Anna. He also sustained bruising to his wrist and arm.

What needs to be reported from this scenario?

Any incident or allegation of physical or sexual abuse

Reportable allegation or conviction

Who needs to be reported to?

NSW Department of Education (NSW Regulatory Authority)

NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian (Reportable Conduct)

Key points:

  • Services must notify the regulatory authority of any incident or allegation of physical or sexual abuse within 7 days (section 174(2)(c) and regulation 175(2)(d)), however it is recommended that you notify the regulatory authority as soon as possible so that an investigation can commence.
  • Services should include in your notification that you have made a report to the OCG. This helps us understand whether the required reports have been made.
  • The department would also alert the OCG Reportable Conduct Unit to the incident.
  • The matter would be referred to the regulatory authority’s investigations team to follow up.
  • Educators should consider what actions are appropriate and escalate inappropriate behaviour to the relevant manager before the actions cause harm to children.
  • Depending on the severity of the situation and level of risk or harm, consideration should be given as to whether the matter should be reported to the NSW Police Force as well, for example if it was alleged that the educator intended to cause deliberate harm to the child.

Scenario 3

Educator Mark works in an outside school hours care service. There is a single bathroom inside the main room of the OSHC service. Mark notices Sam (8 years old), standing outside the door to the toilet and Mark encourages Sam to come and join the art activity at one of the tables. When Mark looks back, Sam was not there, and Mark assumes he was in the toilet. Later, as Mark scans the room again he notices Sam and another child, Max (11 years old), leaving the bathroom together. Mark questions the two children about being in the bathroom together, and they both deny it and resume normal play for the afternoon.

The next day, the centre director of the service receives a call from Max’s Mum. Max’s Mum advises that there had been an alleged incident of sexual harm of her son at the service the previous afternoon. Max’s mum alleges that her son Max was “assaulted” by a younger peer Sam. Max’s Mum advised that she had asked him questions to find out what had occurred. Max told his mother that Sam asked him to go into the toilet with him and touch his penis. Max told his mother that he did what Sam had asked him to do because he didn’t want Sam to stop being his friend. Max said that Sam told him not to tell anyone what they did, and that one of their educators Mark had seen them come out of the toilet together and asked if they were in there together which they denied. Max told his Mum that this was the first time anything like this had happened. Max and his sibling were immediately withdrawn from care, Max’s Mum is highly distressed by what has occurred.

What needs to be reported from this scenario?

Complaint

Any incident or allegation of physical or sexual abuse

Who needs to be reported to?

NSW Department of Education (NSW Regulatory Authority)

NSW Department of Communities and Justice (Child Protection)

Key points:

  • The service should complete the Mandatory Reporter Guide, and follow the directions to make a report to DCJ. It is possible Sam could be at risk and experiencing abuse.
  • This information would meet the Risk of Significant Harm (ROSH) threshold and requires a report to the Helpline for both children.
  • The reports would be sent to the Community Services Centre (CSC) for allocation.
  • The CSC would consider the history of the children, the level of risk, and weigh this up with other children reported to determine an appropriate response.
  • The reporter may be contacted to see any other information about Sam, has he displayed this behaviour before and what response did Sam’s parents have when finding out of the information.
  • It is likely that Sam would be allocated for a response. It is likely that Max’s mother may be offered support services or advice if needed.
  • This would also need to be notified to the NSW Regulatory Authority as an incident or allegation of physical or sexual abuse within 7 days (section 174(2)(c) and regulation 175(2)(e)), as well as the complaint from Max’s mum within 24 hours of receiving the complaint (section 174(2)(b) and regulation 12).
  • The matter would be referred to the NSW Regulatory Authority’s investigations team for follow up.

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