What do I do if I have child protection concerns?
The NSW Department of Education is committed to children’s safety and best interests being the core of its operations, and ensuring that children are valued, their rights respected and their best interests are paramount.
All agencies that provide services to children, young people and their families, or whose staff come into contact with children and young people in the course of their work, have a particular role to play in identifying safety, welfare and wellbeing concerns early on and in working together to provide effective care and protection before problems escalate. Agencies are required by legislation to take reasonable steps to coordinate decision-making and the delivery of services regarding children and young people.
Department of Communities and Justice is the agency with the authority and mandate to respond to risk of significant harm and where a statutory response is required. Statutory intervention is focused only on those children and young people who require it to protect them from significant harm. Child Wellbeing Units have been established in key government departments to support this change.
The Child Wellbeing and Child Protection – NSW Interagency Guidelines provide the framework for a coordinated and comprehensive response to child protection and wellbeing and sets out, in practical terms, the ways that agencies should collaborate in their work with children and young people.
These procedures set out the actions necessary for compliance with the Child protection policy: Responding to and reporting students at risk of harm.
All staff have a duty to recognise safety, welfare or wellbeing concerns for children and young people that arise from or during the course of their work. It is the responsibility of principals and workplace managers (including senior executive and directors) to report suspected risk of significant harm to the Department of Communities and Justice and help ensure early support and assistance are offered and implemented for children and young people and their families in need of assistance outside of the statutory system.
Principals and workplace managers must report to the Department of Communities and Justice when there are current concerns about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of children and young people that constitute suspected risk of significant harm.
All staff must inform their principal or workplace manager when they have reasonable grounds to suspect any risk of harm to a child or young person that arises from or during the course of their work.
What steps must I take?
- All staff, other than principals and workplace managers, must inform their principal or workplace manager when they have reasonable grounds to suspect any risk of harm to a child or young person. School counsellors, home school liaison officers and Aboriginal school liaison officers also inform the principal in this situation. The staff member should provide relevant information to assist the principal or workplace manager in decision making.
- Principals, workplace managers should use the Mandatory Reporter Guide, professional judgment and/or seek advice to assist them in decision making about whether a situation is one of suspected risk of significant harm. Except in cases where suspected risk of significant harm is clear, it is recommended and reporters are encouraged to use the Mandatory Reporter Guide.
- The principal or workplace manager may find it helpful to seek further advice from or involve other staff members who may have helpful information, when considering what action is to be undertaken.
- In some situations where concerns have arisen during a conversation with a child/young person, parent/carer or community member, it may be appropriate to ask clarifying questions during the conversation or later, to assist in making decisions or in using the Mandatory Reporter Guide. Clarification is separate from investigation and should be undertaken with open ended questions (for example: ‘What happened then?’, ‘tell me about that’, ‘what do you mean by…?’) to establish enough information about the concerns to determine an appropriate course of action. The Child Wellbeing Unit (staff only) can be contacted on (02) 9269 9400 for further advice on obtaining information about safety, welfare or wellbeing concerns. Investigating concerns that have been identified as meeting the threshold for suspected risk of significant harm is the responsibility of the Department of Communities and Justice and the NSW Police Force.
- Principals and workplace managers can seek advice from the Child Wellbeing Unit about what actions to take in relation to safety, welfare or wellbeing concerns for a child or young person.
- Principals, workplace managers and delegated staff members can seek information relating to safety, welfare or wellbeing concerns for children and young people from local agencies that have contact with the child, young person or family pursuant to Chapter 16A of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998. See also the section on Exchange of Information.
- Principals and workplace managers must provide the Contact Reference Number if the matter was reported to the Child Protection Helpline or the Child Wellbeing Unit to the staff member who drew the concerns to their attention. They should also provide feedback to the staff member and any other member of staff as deemed appropriate by the principal or workplace manager.
Note: If a staff member has reasonable doubt that the report about suspected risk of significant harm has been made within the required reporting time to the Child Protection Helpline, the staff member then makes the report to the Child Protection Helpline and notifies the director public schools or the supervisor of the workplace manager.
Concerns about young people
The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 does not make it mandatory to report suspected risk of significant harm to young people aged 16 or 17 to the Department of Communities and Justice. However, under the Department’s Protecting and Supporting Children and Young People Policy all staff have a responsibility to report risk of harm concerns about young people.
Where a staff member has concerns about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a young person aged 16 or 17 they should discuss their concerns, where possible with the young person’s agreement, with the principal or workplace manager. Some concerns must be discussed regardless of agreement.
Some issues common among young people, such as mental health concerns, may lead to child protection concerns. The Mandatory Reporter Guide decision tree ‘Danger to self and others’ may assist in decision making when these concerns arise.
Where there are concerns that a young person aged 16 or 17 is at suspected risk of significant harm a report must be made to the Child Protection Helpline by the principal or workplace manager.
Where a staff member has concerns about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a young person that do not meet the threshold of significant harm but are not trivial, the Child Wellbeing Unit (staff only) must be contacted by the principal or workplace manager. The Child Wellbeing Unit can assist when reports to the Child Protection Helpline about young people do not receive a response from the Department of Communities and Justice.
It is appropriate to treat concerns about young people differently from risks related to children. Where risk factors in young people’s lives are balanced by protective factors such as a stable place to live, support from parents or other adults, strong peer networks or participation in a counselling program, risks are usually reduced. Risks may increase if the protective factors change. Consideration should also be given to vulnerabilities of the young person having regard to their maturity, developmental level, health/wellbeing and any relevant cultural issues of the student.