Follow up of concerns

Guidelines for follow up of concerns.

What if further information becomes known after a report to the Child Protection Helpline or contact with the Child Wellbeing Unit?

On occasions, further information relevant to the suspected risk of harm may come to light after a report to the Child Protection Helpline or contact with the Child Wellbeing Unit has been made. Staff should inform their principal or workplace manager of any further information they become aware of as soon as practicable. The principal or workplace manager must make further contact with Family and Community Services or the Child Wellbeing Unit depending on the situation.

When further information is obtained, it is important for the principal or workplace manager to re-examine the previous decision about whether the matter met the threshold for suspected risk of significant harm, in light of the new information. A different decision about how to respond may be reached using professional judgement, specialist advice or re-application of the Mandatory Reporter Guide. If the new information combined with the prior concerns, amounts to suspected risk of significant harm, a report must be made to the Child Protection Helpline.

After further information is obtained, the combination of concerns may not constitute suspected risk of significant harm. If the principal or workplace manager is aware that there is an open case plan for the child or young person with Family and Community Services, a non-government agency providing out of home care, or Brighter Futures services, the new information should be provided to the local community services centre or the non-government agency that is involved. Information may also be provided to other agencies identified as ‘prescribed bodies’ which are involved with the child/young person and/or family under Chapter 16A of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998. See Exchange of information (below) for further information about information exchange between prescribed bodies.

If further information is obtained after contact with the Child Wellbeing Unit and the combination of the new information with the previous concerns still does not meet the threshold for suspected risk of significant harm, the principal or workplace manager must inform the Child Wellbeing Unit of the new information.

Where a staff member becomes aware of information that relates to a matter being assessed or investigated by Family and Community Services, a Joint Investigation Response Team, or the NSW Police that information is to be provided to that agency as soon as possible by the principal or workplace manager. Where the staff member has reason to believe the information that relates to an assessment or investigation has not been provided by the principal or workplace manager, or will not be provided within a reasonable time, it can be provided directly by the staff member him or herself.

If serious concerns remain for the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children and young people and there is no follow up by Family and Community Services, consideration should be given to escalating the matter. Refer to Escalation of concerns.

What follow up is needed after making a report to the Child Protection Helpline or contacting the Child Wellbeing Unit?

The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 requires all staff to take reasonable steps to coordinate decision making and the delivery of services to effectively meet responsibilities in relation to the safety, welfare or wellbeing of children and young people.

A staff member’s responsibilities regarding the safety, welfare or wellbeing of children and young people do not cease once a report is made to the Child Protection Helpline or once contact is made with the Child Wellbeing Unit. It is the responsibility of all staff to use their professional resources and capabilities to provide support appropriate to their role, and identify and respond to any concerns for the child or young person.

Where contact has been made with the Child Wellbeing Unit, an assessment officer may suggest that particular support is offered to the child, young person or their family. This support could be provided by the school or other education setting or it may involve wider departmental support. It could also include referral to another agency or service. The principal or workplace manager usually has overall responsibility for coordinating the provision of support to children and young people in their educational setting and to, where needed, take reasonable steps to coordinate the provision of those services with other agencies. The implementation of this responsibility may be delegated. In some matters, such as when the child is in out of home care, support may be coordinated by learning and wellbeing officers or by Family and Community Services.

Child Wellbeing Unit assessment officers will discuss any suggestions for support with the principal or workplace manager. Agreed actions should then be developed by the principal or workplace manager and the assessment officer which are initiated locally to support the child, young person or their family. This should be done to help ensure the department is meeting its responsibility to offer early assistance to children, young people and families in need of support.

Where agreed actions cannot be implemented, for example, the child, young person or their family declines an offer of support or the suggested support is not available or is ineffective, the principal or workplace manager should consider whether this increases the level of risk to the child or young person and, if so, what action should be taken. The Mandatory Reporter Guide can assist with this decision and further advice can also be sought from the Child Wellbeing Unit regarding the level of risk and any further actions that might be required.

See also What if a family does not want support and Working with other agencies (below).

Talking to children, young people and families about child protection concerns

Where concerns about a child or young person arise in the course of discussions with the child or young person, it is particularly important for the staff member to continue to play a support role or to ensure that the child or young person is encouraged to link with available support. It is also important for the staff member to reassure the child or young person in this situation without making promises that cannot be kept, such as promising that no one else will be told.

When the concerns relate to a young person aged 16 or 17 years, he or she should be involved in the decision and process of reporting to the Child Protection Helpline or contacting the Child Wellbeing Unit (staff only) except where to do so would escalate risks to the young person, or the young person is not capable of being consulted or involved in the process. If the young person does not wish a report or contact to be made; this does not necessarily mean that a report won't be made but, if so, the view expressed must be conveyed to Family and Community Services or the Child Wellbeing Unit. Family and Community Services will consider the young person’s wishes in undertaking any assessments and investigations. The Child Wellbeing Unit will also consider the young person’s wishes when providing advice about appropriate actions.

The decision about whether a report to the Child Protection Helpline or contact with the Child Wellbeing Unit is discussed with a child needs to be carefully considered in consultation with Family and Community Services, the Joint Investigation Response Team (where they are involved) or the Child Wellbeing Unit. Consideration should be given to:

  • the immediate needs and safety of the child
  • the type of concern that is being reported
  • the age and capacity of the child to make sense of the information
  • the additional stress that may be placed on the child or the family, which in turn may increase the risk of further abuse to the child
  • the impact of doing so on any investigation that might be undertaken by Family and Community Services or a Joint Investigation Response Team.

Involvement of children and young people in decisions about actions and interventions that affect them can increase their effectiveness.

Staff should not inform the parents/carers of a report to the Child Protection Helpline. Family and Community Services generally advise parents or carers that a report has been made. Any person making an enquiry or complaint to a staff member about a Helpline report or an interview with a student, must be referred to Family and Community Services, the Joint Investigation Response Team or the NSW Police Force, as appropriate.

Communication by staff about a report with a family that is the subject of a report to the Child Protection Helpline can take place if advised or requested by Family and Community Services or the Child Wellbeing Unit, or if advised by the Employee Performance and Conduct Directorate where the report involves a staff member.

For matters that fall below the threshold of risk of significant harm, principals and workplace managers may but are not required to, inform parents/carers that advice will be, or has been, sought from the Child Wellbeing Unit about support that may assist the family; except where to do so would increase the risks to the child or young person or staff member involved.

Discussing with the family the need for, and potential benefits of, referral or support services is particularly important if it has been identified that these will ensure the safety, welfare or wellbeing of the children or young people involved. This can greatly increase the likelihood of families taking up these services.

Consideration should be given to who may be the most appropriate staff member to liaise with the family. In general this will be the person with whom the child, young person or family members have the best relationship. If a principal or workplace manager is unsure about whether or not to talk to a family about concerns that fall below the threshold of risk of significant harm, they can contact the Child Wellbeing Unit for advice. See also Working with other agencies (below).

What if a family does not want support?

A small number of families that are the subject of concerns below the threshold of risk of significant harm may not require additional supports. There may be times when a family declining a referral or offered support is entirely appropriate and does not escalate the suspected risk to the child or young person.

However, there will be situations when a family declining or not engaging in a service or support will raise further concerns for the child or young person involved. Should a family decline to accept a referral or support service, consideration should be given to whether this changes the required response to the situation. For example, concerns may escalate to suspected risk of significant harm requiring a report to the Child Protection Helpline. Family and Community Services has the statutory power to compel the family to take up services, or to otherwise intervene.

A staff member should consult with their principal or workplace manager if an offer of referral or support has been declined. The principal or workplace manager will determine if further action is required to address the concerns by reapplying the Mandatory Reporter Guide, using their professional judgement and/or seeking specialist advice (including from the Child Wellbeing Unit) (staff only) or information from other agencies that know the family to determine what, if any, further action may be required.

Follow up with a family where concerns are about education neglect should be consistent with the School Attendance Policy however, if there are underlying child protection concerns these need to be managed according to child protection procedures. For example, if there are safety or wellbeing concerns for a student, schools should contact parents as soon as possible following an unexplained absence and not wait the prescribed days.

Where a family has not engaged with support or services and there are concerns that a child or young person is at suspected risk of significant harm, a report must be made to the Child Protection Helpline. Where a family has not engaged with support or services and concerns remain about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a child or young person, but these are not significant or trivial, the Child Wellbeing Unit must be contacted.

If a principal or workplace manager is uncertain about what to do if a family refuses a referral or other support service, they can contact the Child Wellbeing Unit on (02) 9269 9400 for assistance.

Cooperation and collaboration with Family and Community Services

When Family and Community Services decides to take action in relation to a report that has been screened in by the Child Protection Helpline as risk of significant harm, staff should work cooperatively and collaboratively with officers from Family and Community Services where this is required and in accordance with the department’s responsibilities. This might involve consulting with Family and Community Services, participating in case conferences or requesting or providing information relating to the child, young person or family involved.

Where a case has been screened in by Family and Community Services, principals and workplace managers can seek general advice from the local Family and Community Services manager casework. Where the principal or workplace manager is aware that Family and Community Services is involved with a child or young person it is good practice to liaise with Family and Community Services to ensure appropriate coordination, information exchange  and support in relation to the child or young person.

Note: When a report made to the Child Protection Helpline has been screened in, the community services centre will provide feedback to the person who has made the report if he or she requests it and has an ongoing role with the child, young person or family and feedback will enable that work to continue. Contact might be by letter or email.  The onus is on the reporter to seek this feedback.

Family and Community Services may also consult with interagency partners who have a role in the case plan prior to a decision to close an allocated case.

Working with other agencies

The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act, 1998 requires staff to take reasonable steps to coordinate decision making and the delivery of services to effectively meet responsibilities in relation to the safety, welfare or wellbeing of children and young people.

Effective referral and support networks need to be established by schools and educational settings so that children, young people and their families can be connected to the right services, which include services within the department and local external agencies, where these are required.

Where contact is made with the Child Wellbeing Unit (staff only), assessment officers will assist with identifying support services, where appropriate. This could be a departmental service or a service external to the department. School or other departmental staff will need to implement the referral. This could mean approaching the appropriate service and discussing the matter with the family. The Child Wellbeing Unit can provide advice on this.

Principals and workplace managers may need to nominate an appropriate staff member to arrange the referral and to be the contact person for consultation and any coordination of involvement as necessary. If this occurs, the principal or workplace manager should ensure that there are systems in place to receive feedback regarding the outcomes of service provision or support to the child, young person or family in question.

It is helpful when staff in schools know about the role of local services and the availability of other services. If staff talk with families about services and encourage attendance, families are far more likely to engage with support. Communication, collaboration and information sharing with other agencies can enhance the effectiveness of the work of those services with families. (See also Exchange of information - below).

Case meetings can be initiated at the local level by other agencies, services or designated departmental staff. They can be initiated without Family and Community Services involvement for matters that do not meet the threshold for risk of significant harm.

When more than one agency is involved with a child, young person or their family and coordination of services is required, consideration should be given  to which agency is best positioned to lead the coordination of support to the child, young person or their family. In determining which agency this might be, consideration should be given to:

  • which agency provides services most directly related to the primary safety, welfare or wellbeing concern (for example, where the primary concern is about a parent’s mental health it may be most appropriate that a health service lead coordination)
  • the child, young person or family’s view about which agency they prefer
  • which agency is having or has had the most success in supporting the child, young personand/or their family.

In schools, staff time should be allocated for developing and maintaining communication channels with agencies that are working with students and their families and incorporating case meeting time into staff workloads.  Offering to hold interagency meetings in schools can assist other agencies to be more familiar with school operations and staff and strengthen general interagency relationships.

School staff, in consultation with principals, can initiate meetings in the school between families and services. Learning and support teams should invite relevant service providers working with families to meetings where the support needs of those students are discussed.

Exchange of information

Because the protection of children and young people from risk of harm is deemed to be more important in some situations than an individual’s right to privacy, there are statutory provisions that override restrictions on disclosure of personal information in certain circumstances.

Chapter 16A of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 allows government agencies and non-government organisations who are “prescribed bodies” to provide and receive information that relates to a child or young person’s safety, welfare or wellbeing, whether or not the child or young person is known to Family and Community Services and whether or not the child or young person consents to the information being provided and received. Prescribed bodies include the department, government and non-government schools, police, public health organisations, TAFE establishments, registered medical practitioners (such as doctors), nurses, registered midwives, registered psychologists and registered occupational therapists and speech pathologists.

Chapter 16A allows information to be exchanged between agencies working with children and young people where it relates to the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a child or young person. It provides for information sharing to assist decision making, assessment, investigation, planning and/or service provision. It allows for information sharing in relation to concerns that are below the statutory reporting threshold.

Local services working with children and family members may approach schools for information. Officers and workers in other government and non-government agencies may also approach schools or other education settings seeking information about children and young people.

Providing information in good faith, including a response to requests for information and requests for a service, is not a breach of professional ethics or standards of professional conduct and does not carry liability for defamation or constitute grounds for civil action.

Principals and workplace managers, or their delegates, should be the point of contact for information exchange with contacts from other schools, agencies or organisations. Roles in information exchange may be delegated to other staff.

More information and copies of the forms to be used to request and respond to requests for information can be found in Legal Issues Bulletin No. 50 Exchanging information with other organisations concerning the safety, welfare or wellbeing of children or young people (October 2009) (staff only).

Providing information to and requesting information from Family and Community Services under section 248

Family and Community Services has the authority under Section 248 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 to direct prescribed agencies (including the department) to provide information relating to the safety, welfare and wellbeing of a child or young person. Family and Community Services can also provide information to these agencies. Such exchanges of information may occur at any stage in a child protection investigation or assessment. Family and Community Services must be a party to Section 248 information exchange.

Before providing information to Family and Community Services, reasonable steps should be taken by principals and workplace managers to confirm that the person to receive the information is the appropriate Family and Community Services officer including that he or she has the authority to make the request. It should be supplied promptly in writing or by phone and a record made of the information that was provided. The record should be filed centrally in the workplace with the report record.

Section 248 also enables prescribed agencies (including the department) to request information from Family and Community Services during the follow up or investigation of a child protection report. Principals, workplace managers and directors should request information in writing from Family and Community Services and make reference to Section 248.

More information about Section 248 requests for information can be found in Legal Issues Bulletin No. 47 Requests for Information from other Government Agencies (November 2008) (staff only).

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