Responding to concerns in specific or unique circumstances

Guidelines for responding to concerns in specific or unique circumstances.

Concerns about risk of harm that relate to the actions of a staff member

Concerns about the actions of a staff member that constitute suspected risk of significant harm must be reported to the Child Protection Helpline. If the concerns do not reach the threshold of suspected risk of significant harm the principal or workplace manager must make a report to the Employee Performance and Conduct Directorate (EPAC) (staff only) on telephone (02) 9266 8070 without delay. In some rare circumstances, such as when the concerns relate to a staff member’s own family, contact with the Child Wellbeing Unit (staff only) may be required. The Mandatory Reporter Guide can assist in making this decision. EPAC should be advised whether or not a report has been made.

Where concerns about suspected risk of harm or risk of significant harm relate to the actions of a principal or workplace manager, staff should report these directly to that person’s immediate supervisor as well as EPAC. The supervisor is then responsible for reporting to the Child Protection Helpline if the concerns constitute suspected risk of significant harm. If the staff member has reasonable doubt that the report about suspected risk of significant harm has been made to the Child Protection Helpline, the staff member then makes the report to the Child Protection Helpline and notifies the person next senior to the supervisor. All other allegations against a staff member in the area of child protection should be reported directly to EPAC.

More information about the process to be followed can be found in Child Protection: Allegations Against Employees.

Concerns that relate to children or young people not enrolled in your educational setting

Where there are concerns identified during the course of or from the officer’s work about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a child or young person who is not enrolled in that educational setting (for example, a sibling of a student or a child or young person participating in a school-auspiced activity) the same procedures for reporting to the Child Wellbeing Unit or Child Protection Helpline are followed.

The principal or manager of the other care or educational setting should also be informed. Unless an immediate report is required, it may be helpful to do this prior to a report as further information may be obtained. A copy of the report should be provided to the principal or manager by the reporter and the report stored in the workplace of the officer who made the report.

Concerns that relate to a child or young person who is taking courses in a range of locations concurrently

Where there are concerns about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a child or young person, including a trainee or apprentice, who is participating in programs in a range of locations (e.g. TAFE college and school), the workplace manager or principal who becomes aware of the concern should discuss the situation with any other manager or principals involved at other locations and decide who is in the best position to make the report to the Child Protection Helpline, contact the Child Wellbeing Unit or provide support and assistance to the child or young person.

When concerns relate to children and young people not enrolled in your educational setting, it is helpful to inform the principal of the school in which the student is enrolled of the concerns, to ensure appropriate monitoring and support. All staff involved in the reporting process in the original setting should be informed about the provision of this information and be given the opportunity to request that their identity be withheld in the information provided. Legal Services Directorate (staff only) can provide advice on (02) 9561 8538.

The reporting officer should consider whether or not to share information about the concerns with staff in other locations. For example, where there are concerns relating to a trainee or apprentice in a workplace setting, the workplace manager or principal must provide advice about the situation to the Commissioner for Vocational Training and should consider who else, if anyone, needs to be aware to appropriately support the child or young person. The Vocational Training Tribunal can be contacted on (02) 9266 8450.

Concerns about a student who moves

Where there are ongoing concerns about the safety, welfare, wellbeing of a child or young person who leaves the school or other program, as a result of moving or transitioning from a preschool, primary school or junior secondary campus, it is important that the principal or workplace manager:

  • seeks to clarify or confirm whether they have enrolled elsewhere
  • forwards related papers under a confidential file cover to the principal or workplacemanager at the new location if a new enrolment is established in the government sector.

Note: any papers that are held which may identify the identity of the person who made a report to Family and Community Services or the Child Wellbeing Unit must not be provided without the consent of the reporter, or with all identifying information redacted or removed from the papers.

  • forwards related papers, as above, to the principal or workplace manager at the new location if a new enrolment in established in the non-government sector
  • raise the concerns with the local education officer responsible for student attendance for further investigation as outlined in the School Attendance Policy if a new enrolment cannot be established
  • considers whether information should be shared with other prescribed bodies under Chapter 16A of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998
  • where relevant, advises the Child Wellbeing Unit or Family and Community Services case manager that the child or young person has left and provides any other relevant details
  • provides information promptly to the principal of the new interstate school when it is requested by the principal using the Interstate Student Data Transfer Note.

Note: The most vulnerable children and young people may change address or schools frequently and risk of harm can escalate in a new situation where they are not known and may have no support networks. It is important that communication occurs with the Child Wellbeing Unit in any cases where concerns are held for the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a child or young person who has moved and with Family and Community Services where concerns about suspected risk of significant harm have been recently reported.

Concerns where physical abuse is the result of the actions or behaviour of a child or young person

If a student, trainee or apprentice of any age engages in behaviour that, in a staff member’s view, constitutes physical assault, they should report those concerns to their principal or workplace manager.

If the student, trainee or apprentice who is alleged to have perpetrated criminal behaviour is under the age of 18, consideration should be given to whether there are concerns for that child or young person that require a report to the Child Protection Helpline or contact with the Child Wellbeing Unit. If the principal or workplace manager is uncertain whether a report is required in this instance, they can seek specialist advice, for example from the Child Wellbeing Unit telephone (02) 9269 9400 or use the Mandatory Reporter Guide where applicable.

It is the responsibility of the principal or workplace manager to decide whether or not the actions or behaviours constitute a reportable incident per the department’s Incident Notification and Response Policy (staff only). If so, the appropriate areas within the department should be notified as soon as practicable but within 24 hours of the incident occurring according to the Incident Reporting Procedures (staff only).

The principal or workplace manager must also decide whether to notify the police of any alleged criminal. behaviour. Principals should consult with the department’s Incident Support Unit (staff only) on 1800 811 523 if they do not know if they should notify the police of a matter. Other workplace managers should liaise with Legal Services Directorate (staff only) who can also assist if a principal or workplace manager is uncertain about their legal obligations.

An assessment of the risk posed by this behaviour and risk management strategies must be put in place in the educational setting to ensure the safety of any child or young person or any staff member who may have been harmed or has the potential to be harmed by the behaviour of the alleged perpetrator. The risk assessment and management process must be consistent with departmental policies and health and safety legislation and any strategies should be regularly reviewed and monitored.

In circumstances where the behaviour of a student, trainee or apprentice is of concern in an educational setting, disciplinary procedures (staff only) must be considered.

It is also important to respect the rights to privacy of the individual students involved and to restrict the sharing of information to circumstances where it is necessary to ensure the safety of students or staff and comply with any other legal obligations.

Concerns about problematic or harmful sexualised behaviours from children and young people

If a staff member identifies problematic or harmful sexualised behaviours in children and young people, they should report the matter to their principal or workplace manager.

It is then the responsibility of the principal or workplace manager to decide on the response.

Assistance in distinguishing between age-appropriate and problematic or harmful sexualised behaviours is found in the NSW Mandatory Reporter Guide – Child/young person problematic sexual behaviour towards others.

Reports of problematic or harmful sexualised behaviours must be treated seriously, dealt with promptly and with respect.

In an emergency a call should be made to 000. If the police have been called the Incident Support Unit should be notified on 1800 811 523. If it is clearly a matter which meets the suspected risk of significant harm threshold or involves a student known to be in out of home care – a report should be made to the Family and Community Services Child Protection Helpline on 132 111.

All other concerns about problematic or harmful sexualised behaviours between children must be referred to the Child Wellbeing Unit on (02) 9269 9400.

When problematic or sexualised behaviours between students are identified during school activities after hours an eReport can be made to the Child Wellbeing Unit and an Assessment Officer from that Unit will contact the reporter the next business day.

If Police or an ambulance have been called, or immediate after hours advice on how to manage the situation is needed, the department’s Incident Support Unit should be contacted on 1800 811 523.

Both the Child Wellbeing Unit and the Incident Support Unit will inform the relevant director educational leadership of the situation.

Parents of students affected by the behaviours must be promptly notified of what has occurred, unless exceptional circumstances apply.  If Family and Community Services or Police are likely to be involved, the advice of these agencies should be sought before communicating with the parents of the child who has engaged in the behaviour.

The Director, other areas of the Department such as the Child Wellbeing Unit, Incident Support Unit or Media unit, and other agencies (if involved) should be consulted in the development of a communication strategy for the school community.

Disengagement in education is a major predictor for poor educational and social outcomes. The educational interests of all students involved must be optimised to the extent it is reasonably practicable to do so when responding to problematic or harmful sexualised behaviours between students. It is important to support all students who demonstrate, are exposed to, witness or are affected by these behaviours.

Avoid stigmatising or isolating the child who has engaged in problematic or harmful sexualised behaviours to the extent it is practicable to do so without compromising the safety of the child, other students and staff. The development of a risk management plan can assist with this.

For more information, refer to the Guidelines for Problematic or Harmful Sexualised Behaviours between Children (staff only).

Concerns about children before or after their birth

Section 25 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 allows reports to be made about a child before his or her birth. The Mandatory Reporter Guide can assist principals and workplace managers in determining whether the concerns for the unborn child constitute suspected risk of significant harm and should be reported to the Child Protection Helpline.

Prenatal reporting is not mandatory. However, it is recognised that this action may be helpful to provide early assistance to prevent the likelihood of there being risks to the safety, welfare or wellbeing of the child when he or she is born. If a principal or workplace manager is unsure whether or not to report a matter relating to an unborn child, they can seek specialist advice, for example, from the school counsellor, use the Mandatory Reporter Guide or contact the Child Wellbeing Unit (staff only) on (02) 9269 9400.

It is a mandatory requirement to report to the Child Protection Helpline if an infant is suspected to be at risk of significant harm after birth and it is known that a prenatal report was made. There also needs to be reason to believe that the mother has made no meaningful engagement with support services, or the prenatal report has not been successful in mitigating the risk to the child after birth.

Concerns about children and young people who are, or are at risk of being, homeless

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1989 Report of the National Inquiry into Homeless Children defines homelessness as where a child or young person is living without any family support in any of the following circumstances:

  • no accommodation at all, that is ‘roofless’
  • only temporary or transient accommodation, e.g. staying with friends
  • emergency, refuge or crisis accommodation
  • other long term supported accommodation for homeless people, such as hostels or transitional accommodation.

A child or young person who is living in accommodation where they do not have access to basic utilities (such as power and running water) may also be regarded as homeless. Homelessness will usually increase a child or young person’s vulnerabilities and pose additional risks to their safety, welfare and wellbeing and their capacity to remain engaged in learning during this period of instability.

The Department acknowledges the link between disengagement from education and a child or young person’s increased vulnerability to long term homelessness. Maintaining engagement with and participation in school can provide a source of stability, predictability and purpose. It can also provide a supportive network of peers and adults.

Schools are well placed to intervene early in youth homelessness. School counsellors may work with students and parents to facilitate their return to the family home, to help students find other appropriate accommodation, or refer them to community supports or programs.

The factors which can cause children or young people/ family members to become homeless can include high levels of family conflict or stress, sexual, physical or psychological harm, domestic violence, and alcohol or substance abuse. Staff may already be responding to child protection concerns about students, prior to them becoming homeless and have taken appropriate action. Alternatively, staff may not be aware of these factors and it may only be the child or young person’s homelessness which comes to staff member’s attention.

Where staff become aware that a child or young person is homeless or at risk of homelessness this should raise concerns about their safety, welfare or wellbeing which must be reported to the principal or workplace manager as set out in What do I do if I have child protection concerns?

Principals and workplace managers may report homelessness of a child or young person under 18 years of age to the Family and Community Services Child Protection Helpline or contact the Child Wellbeing Unit. The Mandatory Reporter Guide can assist in making decisions about responding to concerns about homelessness of children, young people and their families by using the decision tree Neglect: Physical shelter/ environment.

Permission to report a young person aged 16 or 17 years of age as being homeless must be obtained from the young person. However, if a young person refuses to give permission for a report of homelessness to be made and there are concerns that the young person may be at risk of significant harm, a report must be made to Family and Community Services or contact made with the Child Wellbeing Unit, regardless.

Missing children and young people

A missing person, as defined by the NSW Police Force, is a person whose whereabouts are unknown and there are concerns for his or her safety or wellbeing. Children and young people can go missing for a range of reasons, including child protection and wellbeing concerns.

Where a principal or workplace manager becomes aware that a child or young person is missing the parent or carers must be contacted unless providing this information to a parent or carer would breach legal obligations (such as where a court order has restricted the information that can be provided to a parent or carer about the child or young person).  Advice can be obtained from the Legal Services Directorate if a principal or workplace manager is unsure about what legal obligations may exist. The principal or workplace manager should check whether the child has been reported missing to the police. If the matter has not been reported to the police, the principal or workplace manager should ensure that this occurs. The police will take all details and, if necessary, liaise with the NSW Police Missing Persons Unit.

Where there are concerns that the family is missing, or their whereabouts is unknown, and there are concerns for their safety or wellbeing or that of their children, this should also be reported to the police.

Consideration should also be given to whether the child or young person may be at risk of harm. Where the child or young person is suspected to be at risk of significant harm a report must be made to the Child Protection Helpline. The Child Wellbeing Unit (staff only) can also be contacted for advice about whether a report to the Child Protection Helpline is required.

If the child or young person is in the care of the Minster and is missing this information should be provided to the Child Protection Helpline regardless of the level of concern.

No member of staff should arrange to meet with or otherwise contact children or young people who have been reported missing from home before discussing the matter with a Family and Community Services case worker and/or NSW Police. The staff member must not proceed with any such meeting if, following such a discussion, officers advise against it.

If principals are uncertain whether to report a missing person to the police, or are concerned about the response made by the police to a report, they should contact the Health and Safety Directorate (staff only) for advice.

Concerns where staff become aware of a matter that might warrant a report to the Child Protection Helpline or the Child Wellbeing Unit in the course of providing advice about a matter that has been referred to them for action.

Issues may be brought to the attention of staff in the course of providing advice about a matter that has been referred to them for action that they believe requires a report being made to the Child Protection Helpline or the Child Wellbeing.

If after advising the person that a matter might warrant a report to the Child Protection Helpline or the Child Wellbeing Unit, the staff member has concerns that a report has not or will not be made by the person requesting advice, the staff member should inform the principal or workplace manager of their concerns as set out in What do I do if I have child protection concerns? or What if further information becomes known after a report to the Child Protection Helpline or contact with the Child Wellbeing Unit?

Collection of a student by Family and Community Services or an agency with case management responsibility

There are a number of reasons why officers from the Department of Family and Community Services, or a designated agency with case management responsibility, may seek approval from a school principal to collect a student from a government school. These include the following:

  • removal of a student by Family and Community Services as part of a statutory child protection intervention
  • collection of a student who is in statutory out of home care for matters related to their being in care by Family and Community Services or the agency with case management responsibility
  • collection by Family and Community Services of a student not in statutory out of home care for whom a family has requested short-term assistance.

The principal must be the person to collect the student for the Family and Community Services officer. If the principal is unavailable he/she must nominate an executive staff member to collect the student. In those cases where there is no school executive member for example, a small school, the principal should nominate a member of the teaching staff to perform this duty. On each occasion that a student is collected by Family and Community Services the Collection of a student by the agency with case management responsibility form must be completed.

Only after the principal is confident that the correct student has been identified should he/she release the student.

Removal of a student as part of statutory child protection intervention

A student may be removed from a government school by Family and Community Services officers as part of a statutory child protection intervention under Section 234 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998. This would apply, for example, where the student has been the subject of a risk of harm report, and following investigation, the child or young person is deemed to be at risk of harm if allowed to return home at the end of the school day.

The Family and Community Services officer carrying out this responsibility is required to provide the following information to the principal, and if the student is over the age of 10 years, to the student - the officer’s name and the nature of his or her authority, the student’s name, date of birth and usual place of residence, the fact that the law authorises the Family and Community Services officer to remove the child or young person from the school, the reasons for which the child or young person is being removed from the premises or place and what is likely to happen in relation to the care and protection of the child or young person as a consequence of his or her being removed from the premises or place.

The legislation also requires that, if the student is over the age of 10 years, the officer must:

  • inform the child or young person that he or she may choose to contact any person, and
  • ensure that the child or young person is given reasonable opportunity and appropriate assistance to contact any such person.

Collection of a student who is in statutory out of home care

There are occasions when a Family and Community Services officer, or an officer from the agency with case management responsibility for the student, may seek to collect a student from a government school, eg medical appointment, private counselling or visit with their birth family.  The Collection of a student by the agency with case management responsibility form must be completed when students are collected.

Circumstances when the school principal is given little prior notice of a request to collect a student may occur when:

  • the officer/s has obtained an appointment or meeting related to the student’s health, wellbeing or care circumstance
  • the care arrangement has broken down and the child is not to return to their present care setting
  • there is an approved arrangement between the principal and carer with Family and Community Services or the agency agreeing to collect a student if the carer is unavailable. This mostly relates to student behaviour. A record of the agreement should be held by the school, the carer and Family and Community Services or the agency.

Collection of a student not in statutory out of home care for whom a family has requested short-term assistance

Parents may seek assistance from Family and Community Services when encountering problems that affect their ability to care for their children. The family may obtain temporary care for their child/children while they resolve accommodation, financial or other difficulties. The temporary care arrangement is usually short-term with the plan being to restore the student to their family.

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