Reporting to Family and Community Services

Steps for reporting to Family and Community Services.

What must be reported to Family and Community Services?

The Child Protection Helpline must be contacted when:

  • there are current concerns about suspected risk of significant harm and/or
  • the Mandatory Reporter Guide indicates this should be done.

All staff, when they have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child or young person is at risk of harm must inform their principal or workplace manager. The staff member should provide relevant information to assist the principal or workplace manager to determine if there is suspected risk of significant harm and a report to the Child Protection Helpline is required.

Principals and workplace managers must report concerns about suspected risk of significant harm directly to the Child Protection Helpline.

A child or young person is “at risk of significant harm” if current concerns exist for the safety, welfare and wellbeing of the child or young person because of the presence, to a significant extent, of one or more of the following circumstances:

(a) the child’s or the young person’s basic physical or psychological needs are not being met or are at risk of not being met;

(b)  the parent or other carers have not arranged and are unable or unwilling to arrange for the child or young person to receive necessary medical care;

(b1) in the case of a child or young person who is required to attend school in accordance with the Education Act 1990 - the parents or other caregivers have not arranged and are unable or unwilling to arrange for the child or young person to receive an education in accordance with that Act;

(c) the child or young person has been, or is at risk of being, physically or sexually abused or ill-treated;
(d)  the child or young person is living in a household where there have been incidents of domestic violence and, as a consequence, the child or young person is at risk of serious physical or psychological harm;

(e)   the parent or other carer has behaved in such a way towards the child or young person that the child or young person has suffered or is at risk of suffering serious psychological harm;

(f)    the child was the subject of a pre-natal report under Section 25 and the birth mother of the child did not engage successfully with support services to eliminate, or minimise to the lowest level reasonably practical, the risk factors that gave rise to the report.

Any such circumstances may relate to a single act or omission or to a series of acts or omissions.

Note: Physical or sexual abuse may include an assault and can exist despite the fact that consent has been given.

Reference: Section 23 Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998

Concerns about suspected risk of significant harm are sufficiently serious to warrant a response by a statutory authority irrespective of a family’s consent. What is significant is not minor or trivial and may reasonably be expected to produce a substantial and demonstrably adverse impact on the child or young person’s safety, welfare or wellbeing, or in the case of an unborn child, after the child’s birth. The significance can result from a single act or omission or an accumulation of these.

Reference: NSW Government Premier and Cabinet Keep Them Safe significant harm policy definition.

To assist to determine whether safety, welfare or wellbeing concerns meet the threshold for suspected risk of significant harm, principals and workplace managers can:

  • use the Mandatory Reporter Guide
  • use their professional judgement
  • consult the Child Wellbeing Unit
  • seek other specialist advice.

The Mandatory Reporter Guide has been developed to assist staff in deciding about the nature and seriousness of concerns they may have about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a child  or young person. The Mandatory Reporter Guide does not replace but assists the exercise of professional judgment by principals and workplace managers. The outcome of the Guide does not prohibit principals and workplace managers from making a report to Family and Community Services if they feel this is required. The Mandatory Reporter Guide must be used by principals and workplace managers in order make an eReport through Family and Community Services ChildStory. The section “How is a report made to Family and Community Services?” provides more information on this.

Relevant additional information obtained in relation to a child or young person who has been reported to Family and Community Services should be provided to Family and Community Services without delay. Refer to What if further information becomes known after a report to the Child Protection Helpline or contact with the Child Wellbeing Unit?

Appendix 1 “Indicators of Abuse and Neglect” sets out some information that might be helpful in identifying abuse or neglect of children or young people.

How is a report made to Family and Community Services?

Before making a report

Organising information can be very helpful in clarifying concerns and confirming that important details are not omitted. In most cases a report does not need to be made in haste and good preparation of a report can result in a more effective and timely response from Family and Community Services.

The information gathered from relevant sources should be utilised in order to reach a decision about reporting to Family and Community Services. If a staff member raised the concerns it is important that he or she is involved where practicable.

At a minimum, the following should be considered and recorded:

  • identifying information for the child or young person
  • the nature of the suspected risk of significant harm concerns (this may be the decision tree used from the Mandatory Reporter Guide)
  • the critical pieces of information that informed the decision to report, or informed answers to questions in the Mandatory Reporter Guide
  • the wishes of the child or young person about the matter, if relevant.

Note:Where there are urgent concerns for a child or young person’s health or safety, then it is important to immediately contact the police using the emergency line ‘000’. Suspected imminent risk of significant harm concerns need to be reported to the Child Protection Helpline immediately by telephone. Concerns identified as suspected risk of significant harm must be reported to the Helpline within 24 hours of becoming known.

Making the report

  • Centralised reporting enables better management of information relating to child protection concerns within education settings. Reporting to a single person of authority reduces duplication of reporting, including of siblings, assists in providing more detailed information to Family and Community Services and better management of support to the children and young people involved.
  • The responsibility for making a report rests with the principal. In some circumstances it can be delegated, with approval of the director educational leadership, to an appropriate senior executive to ensure the above principles are maintained. When the principal, approved delegate or workplace manager is absent or uncontactable, the next most senior position at the school or workplace has responsibility for reporting.  In all circumstances, the principal or workplace manager must be informed that a report has been made and a record of the report should be provided to the principal or workplace manager.
  • Principals or workplace managers need to register for the Family and Community Services ChildStory Reporter Community, in order to make an eReport.
  • The principal or workplace manager contacts the Child Protection Helpline by:
    • eReporting
    • telephoning 132 111.
  • Where possible, the staff member should be available to assist in answering questions when the report is made to the Child Protection Helpline by the principal or workplace manager.
  • Record the recommended decision of the Helpline case worker about action to be taken, if known, and the contact reference number.
  • The principal, approved delegate and workplace manager must complete their details and sign the record of the report to be filed centrally in the workplace.
  • If the Mandatory Reporter Guide was used attach a copy of the final decision report toForm A or other record of the report.
  • Further guidance on how to make a child protection report is available from the ChildWellbeing and Child Protection NSW Interagency Guidelines.

Will my identity be protected when making a report?

Generally any person who makes a report in good faith to Family and Community Services, or to a person who has the power or responsibility to protect the child or young person, is afforded protection by law as set out in Section 29 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act, 1998.

The reporter’s identity must be kept confidential unless the person who made the report has given consent for their identity to be disclosed. However, disclosure of a reporter’s details to a law enforcement agency is allowed if their identity is needed in connection with the investigation of a serious offence alleged to have been committed against a child or young person. The request must come from a senior law enforcement officer and the reporter must be informed that their identity is to be released, unless doing so will jeopardise the investigation.

The department will provide support to assist any staff member who is concerned about his or her safety as a result of making a report. Further advice is available from Health and Safety Directorate and Legal Services Directorate in relation to these matters. Confidential counselling is also available through Benestar, the Employee Assistance Program which can be contacted on 1300 762 989.

Refer to Incident Reporting Policy and Incident Reporting Procedures (staff only) , Legal Issues Bulletin no 54 – Unauthorised Entry onto Departmental Premises - update (staff only) and Legal Issues Bulletin no 44 – Apprehended Violence Orders (staff only).

What should I expect when a report is made to the Child Protection Helpline?

When a report is received by the Child Protection Helpline, case workers are required by law to make an assessment and determination about whether the child is actually at risk of significant harm. The information provided will inform what further action is needed. Other considerations include the child or family history held by Family and Community Services.

The Child Protection Helpline caseworker will seek to verify that the concerns being reported meet the threshold for risk of significant harm. The caseworker will ask a number of questions, which may include whether they have applied the Mandatory Reporter Guide or have spoken to the Child Wellbeing Unit (staff only) prior to contacting the Child Protection Helpline.

At the Child Protection Helpline, caseworkers apply additional specialised structured decision making tools, to determine whether a matter is above or below the threshold of risk of significant harm, if a statutory response is required by Family and Community Services, and its priority.

Information provided by the reporter will be recorded by the Child Protection Helpline caseworker on the Family and Community Services’ ChildStory database.

The Child Protection Helpline caseworker will provide the principal or workplace manager with a Contact Reference Number (CRN). This should be recorded at the top of the first page of the report records.

The Child Protection Helpline will also provide feedback about whether the report has met the threshold of risk of significant harm, (i.e. has been ‘screened in’) and if so, to which Community Service Centre or Joint Investigation Response Team the report has been transferred. While this feedback may occur during the telephone contact with the Child Protection Helpline, it is generally supplied later in writing by email. If the Child Protection Helpline determines that the report does not meet the threshold for risk of significant harm, (i.e. has been ‘screened out’) case workers should provide the principal or workplace manager with that feedback within 24 hours of the report.

If the staff member who has reported the concern to the principal or workplace manager was not present when the report was made, the principal or workplace manager must advise the staff member that the risk of significant harm report has been made by providing them with the contact reference number (CRN) as soon as practicable. The staff member should also be informed of the feedback provided by the Child Protection Helpline

Note: A staff member who has raised concerns of suspected risk of significant harm should report directly to Family and Community Services if there is any reasonable doubt that the report has been made by the principal or workplace manager. This may be if, for example, the principal does not advise the staff member that the report has been made or the principal or workplace manager declines to make the report.

If the principal or workplace manager has declined to make a report that a staff member believes meets the threshold for suspected risk of significant harm, the director educational leadership or the supervisor of the workplace manager must be informed of this without delay, and the reasons why the report was not made by the principal or workplace manager.

What happens when Family and Community Services screens in a report?

The Child Protection Helpline will decide whether the matter meets the criteria for a referral to the Joint Referral Unit. The Joint Referral Unit will then determine whether a response by a Joint Investigation Response Team is required.

If a report is determined by the Child Protection Helpline caseworker as requiring further assessment through allocation to a community services centre, Family and Community Services will determine what, if any, action will be taken in response to the report, which can include case management.

Reports are triaged at each community services centre. Some reports may be allocated immediately to a caseworker for a secondary assessment, others may reviewed at weekly allocation meetings where they are prioritised for allocation. Unallocated cases are closed after 30 days. If schools have concerns about children and young people who are the subject of reports that are screened in but are unallocated or closed, the Child Wellbeing Unit should be contacted for advice.

Family and Community Services will appoint a case manager where a matter has been allocated for a secondary assessment which involves interviewing the child or young person and/or parents, and others as necessary. Family and Community Services, as case manager, may also convene a case meeting or teleconference with key interagency partners if it has been determined that a child or young person is in need of care and protection following a secondary assessment.

Family and Community Services or another agency with casework responsibility for a child or young person may seek approval from a school principal or workplace manager to collect the child or young person from school location. This might be removal of the child or young person as part of a statutory child protection intervention. It may also be collection of the child or young person for matters related to their being in out of home care. (Refer to section 20 Responding to concerns in specific or unique circumstances.)

After a report has been made to the Child Protection Helpline, mandatory reporters who have registered with ChildStory can access their dashboard on the ChildStory website to get updates on the progress of reports. Staff should continue to respond to the needs of, and fulfil any duty of care and support responsibilities for, the child or young person who was the subject of the report.

Interviews of children and young people in the education setting

The principal or workplace manager should permit an interview in an education setting only

where he or she has been assured by officers from Family and Community Services, a Joint Investigation Response Team or the NSW Police Force that it is not appropriate for the child or young person to be interviewed at home. Officers from Family and Community Services, Joint Investigation Response Team or the NSW Police Force should provide the principal or workplace manager with the reasons why it is not appropriate for the interview to take place at the home.

Parents or care givers should generally be notified and requested to attend prior to the interview taking place. However, Family and Community Services, a Joint Investigation Response Team or the NSW Police Force may advise the principal or workplace manager that this is not appropriate. For example, this might occur where the allegations involve a family member and/or where there are significant concerns that notifying the parent or caregiver may increase the risk to the child or young person or negatively impact the investigation. In these circumstances if the principal or workplace manager is satisfied that parental or carer contact is inappropriate the interview can proceed without contact being made. Officers from Family and Community Services, a Joint Investigation Response Team or the NSW Police Force have an obligation to inform parents or carers after the interview has occurred.

If there is a disagreement between the principal or workplace manager and Family and Community Services, a Joint Investigation Response Team or the NSW Police Force about whether or not parents or carers should be notified prior to the interview, the principal or workplace manager should contact the department’s Legal Services Directorate for advice on (02) 9561 8538. Where parents and carers have issues about an interview of their child at school, they must be referred to Family and Community Services, the Joint Investigation Response Team or the NSW Police Force, as appropriate.

All children and young people should be given an opportunity to have a support person of their choice with them when interviewed by Family and Community Services, officers from a Joint Investigation Response Team or the NSW Police, including when the interview is video or audio taped.

Principals and workplace managers should be aware that some students may not be comfortable having a member of staff who they identify as being in a position of authority or who they have a poor or limited relationship with, as a support person. In determining who may be the suitable support person, principals and workplace managers should have regard to the student’s wishes, their age, maturity, developmental level and any relevant cultural issues of the student together with their own knowledge of the student’s individual circumstances.

More information can be found in Legal Issues Bulletin No 13 – Interviews of Students and Staff by Police and Officers from DOCS in Schools and TAFE NSW Institutes (staff only).

Note: It is not appropriate that another student act as a support person. It is also not appropriate for a staff member who received the first disclosure of suspected abuse or neglect, to be the support person. The support person should be neutral person who has not seen, heard or observed anything that might assist a court in deciding a case (as a small number of cases may progress to a court hearing.)

What if Family and Community Services screens out the report?

Principals and workplace managers must inform the Child Wellbeing Unit of their concerns for the child or young person if the Child Protection Helpline has screened out a report that was suspected to be about risk of significant harm. This is done by contacting an assessment officer on telephone (02) 9269 9400.

The Child Wellbeing Unit assessment officer can then assist them in determining an appropriate course of action or referral to help ensure the safety, welfare or wellbeing of the child or young person involved. This will usually involve staff in schools and other educational settings identifying supports within the education system, such as learning and wellbeing resources, or external supports, such as family support services, that may help address current risks. Family Referral Services can assist in assessing risks and identifying appropriate external services.

The Child Wellbeing Unit can also conduct a cumulative risk appraisal for the child or young person and may also discuss the circumstances of the situation with Family and Community Services.

Escalation of concerns

If a principal or workplace manager has contacted the Child Protection Helpline about a concern for a child or young person who was screened in as being at risk of significant harm but the report has not been followed up by Family and Community Services and serious concerns are held about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of the child or young person, the matter can be escalated.

When escalating a matter, the principal or workplace manager can telephone the local community services centre and ask to speak to the manager client services.

If this contact is unsuccessful in resolving the issue, the matter must be escalated for referral to the next level of Family and Community Services management by the director educational leadership or the officer responsible for learning and wellbeing, and in AMES by the AMES regional manager.

If this further contact is unsuccessful, the matter can be brought to the attention of the executive director who should contact the regional director or director, child and family in Family and Community Services for further assistance.

Record keeping after the report is made to Family and Community Services

Well kept records are important in ensuring effective management and follow up of reports relating to suspected risk of significant harm or concerns about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a child or young person. These records can be required or requested under various legislation.

There must be a record that a report has been made.  For reports made to Family and Community Services a copy of Form A, the Mandatory Reporter Guide final decision record, the Risk of significant harm fax form or a printed copy of the eReport form may be kept as a record.

Principals and workplace managers (or approved delegates) must file the record of the report in a central, secure place so that it is kept accessible to only the principal or workplace manager or anyone relieving in these positions. It should not be placed on a school counsellor’s file.

Principals are no longer required to send a confidential copy of a report to the director educational leadership.

Any further documentation sent or received from Family and Community Services or other agencies in relation to follow up of the report should be attached to the record in the school or workplace. Child protection record keeping should be oversighted by the principal or workplace manager and maintained in an indexed, logical and secure manner.

These records should be provided to any successor. Principals and workplace managers should remove the names of any staff involved in the mandatory reporting process from retained records. Records must be retained for a minimum of 70 years after action has been completed.

A report may be exempt from production under the Government Information (Public Access)Act 2009. More information or advice can be obtained from the department’s Information Access Unit on 9561 8151.

See also s ‘What if further information becomes known after a report to the Child Protection Helpline or contact with the Child Wellbeing Unit?’ if further information is obtained by the principal or workplace manager after a report has been made to Family and Community Services.

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