Frequently asked questions

Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG)

If you are concerned about the safety of a student you are encouraged to use the Mandatory Reporter Guide.

The guide helps determine whether you should make a report to the Child Protection Helpline, or identify alternative ways to support vulnerable children in cases of abuse or neglect.

Responding to child protection concerns

What must departmental staff members do if they have concerns about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a child or young person?

All school based staff must inform their principal of these concerns. The principal, in turn, will then make a decision about whether to contact the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit, make a report to the Family and Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline or take some other action.

Other departmental staff should inform their workplace manager who has responsibility for these decisions.

If any staff member is worried that their concerns meet the threshold for reporting to the FACS Child Protection Helpline and the report has not been made by the principal or workplace manager, the staff member should make the report to the FACS Child Protection Helpline. More information about this can be found in the department's Protecting and Supporting Children and Young People Procedures (chapter 2, page 8).

What action must principals and workplace managers take when they become aware of concerns for the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a child or young person?

When a principal and workplace manager becomes aware of a child protection concern, they must identify whether the risk of harm to the child or young person is suspected to be 'significant' or not. To guide this decision and what subsequent action needs to be taken, the Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG) has been developed. Principals and workplace managers are strongly encouraged to use the MRG to assist them to determine whether a report to the Family and Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline is required. Where the concern is about suspected risk of significant harm a report must be made to the FACS Child Protection Helpline.

For risk of harm concerns that are not significant, but are nonetheless not trivial the principal and workplace manager must contact the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit. The Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG) can assist with making the most appropriate reporting decision. The Child Wellbeing Unit can also be contacted for advice about whether a report to the FACS Child Protection Helpline is required or some other action should be taken.

The FACS Child Protection Helpline will provide feedback by email, about whether the report met the statutory threshold or not.  Where a report is made to the FACS Child Protection Helpline and it has been assessed by FACS as not meeting the statutory reporting threshold the principal and workplace manager must contact the Child Wellbeing Unit. Contacting the Child Wellbeing Unit in these circumstances will assist in determining what other action might need to be taken to support the child/young person and/or their family.

What is significant harm?

The threshold for reporting to the Family and Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline is suspected risk of significant harm. This threshold assists in allowing FACS to focus on those cases that are most serious and that require statutory intervention.

Significant harm is harm that is sufficiently serious to warrant a response by a statutory authority irrespective of a family's consent.

Significant harm 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.

In the case of an unborn child, what is significant is not minor or trivial and may reasonably be expected to produce a substantial and demonstrably adverse impact on the child after the child's birth.

Significant harm can result from a single act or omission or an accumulation of these.

To assist to determine whether a report is required to the FACS Child Protection Helpline about suspected risk of significant harm, principals and workplace managers are strongly encouraged to use the Mandatory Reporter Guide. The Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit (login required) can also be contacted for advice.

Mandatory reporting

How will principals and workplace managers know if a report is required to the FACS Child Protection Helpline?

There are three main ways that mandatory reporters can know if a report to the Family and Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline is required.

By using the Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG)

The Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG) is a tool that can assist in making a decision about whether concerns for a child or young person should be reported to the Family and Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline. The MRG is one of the structured decision making tools that has been developed to improve the screening and assessment of children and young people at risk, and the support they receive from services.

The MRG does not replace professional judgement, but aims to complement and support mandatory reporters at each key decision point, using the best available evidence to guide these decisions. Principals and workplace managers are strongly encouraged to use the MRG to assist in their decision making.

Using Professional Judgement
(Protecting and supporting children and young people procedures, chapter 2, page 7)

As a mandatory reporter you may be aware of specific familial and/or contextual information that will help inform your judgement. This information is critical in assisting with decision making, including when applying the Mandatory Reporter Guide. The Protecting and supporting children and young people procedures (appendix 1, page 43) contains a useful set of indicators of abuse and neglect which can also assist in informing judgement about any concerns. However, it is important that this document is used as a guide only and read in conjunction with an understanding of the child or young person's particular context.

Advice from the Child Wellbeing Unit

When a principal and workplace manager is unsure about whether the concerns should be reported to the Family and Community Services Child Protection Helpline, the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit (login required) can assist. Child Wellbeing Unit Assessment Officers can discuss the concerns, help clarify information and help to decide if any other actions may be appropriate to meet the child or young person's needs.

What is the Mandatory Reporter Guide?

The Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG) is a structured decision making tool which has been developed to assist all mandatory reporters to make decisions about whether their concerns for a child or young person's safety, welfare or wellbeing should be reported to the Family and Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline, contact made with the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit or some other action taken. The MRG does not replace professional judgement, but aims to support mandatory reporters at this key decision point, using the best available evidence to guide these decisions.

When using the MRG to help determine what action should be taken choose a 'decision tree' which most closely matches your most serious concern and be led through a series of questions. On completion of the 'decision tree' an outcome will be reached which will guide you in what action you should take. Further decision trees should also be used where there are a number of concerns held about the child or young person. Action should be taken based on the "most serious" endpoint reached by using the mandatory reporter guide (note, the order of seriousness in descending order is 'immediate report to Family and Community Services', 'report to Family and Community Services', 'refer to Child Wellbeing Unit', ‘Child Wellbeing Unit and/or consult with mental health professional/ health services', 'referral', 'document and continue relationship'/ 'document and monitor').

A useful section on the homepage of the MRG is available to help with selecting a tree. This section provides useful information about when to use a particular decision tree.

Decision trees are available relating to the following areas of concern:

  • physical abuse
  • neglect - in relation to:
    • supervision
    • physical shelter / environment
    • food
    • lack of medical care
    • mental health care
    • education (habitual absence and not enrolled)
    • hygiene / clothing
  • sexual abuse - in relation to:
    • child
    • young person
    • problematic sexual behaviour towards others
  • psychological harm
  • danger to self or others
  • relinquishing care
  • carer concern - in relation to:
    • mental health
    • substance abuse
    • domestic violence
  • unborn child

A professional learning and development resource Using the Mandatory Reporter Guide has been developed to provide additional advice about using the guide.

Where can the online mandatory reporter guide be found?

Follow this link to access the Mandatory Reporter Guide.

What possible courses of action will be recommended as a result of using the Mandatory Reporter Guide?

There are a number of possible courses of action that the Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG) will recommend including:

  • Report to Family and Community Services (FACS). If this is the outcome, you must make a report to the FACS Child Protection Helpline. You can print off the decision report which states this and keep for your records. The MRG will also provide advice as to whether a report should be made immediately or alternatively, within the next 24 hours.
  • Refer to the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit. If this is the outcome, you must contact the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit.  An Assessment Officer in the Child Wellbeing Unit will then undertake a further assessment of the concerns and needs of the child or young person. They will do this using the information you provide and any other information the Child Wellbeing Unit may have available to it. The Assessment Officer will then provide advice about what action should be taken.
  • Document and continue relationship/document and monitor. If this is the outcome, it means that the concerns do not warrant a report to the Family and Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline or contact with the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit. Usually, this would mean that any professional relationships within the school are maintained or relationships with other services that the family may be engaged with continue. If this outcome is reached and further concerns are identified the MRG should be reapplied as it is possible that the outcome will have changed. Where a 'document and continue relationship' or 'document and monitor' endpoint is reached and you are not comfortable with this the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit can be contacted for advice.

The outcome of any application of the MRG does not preclude principals and workplace managers from making a report to the FACS Child Protection Helpline or contacting the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit if they believe that this required.

Once the Mandatory Reporter Guide has advised principals and workplace managers of a course of action, is there a requirement to follow this advice?

If the Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG) advises a principal and workplace manager counsellor to report the concerns to Family and Community Services (FACS), then this advice must be followed.

If the MRG advises principals and workplace managers to contact the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit this must also occur. This will enable the principal's and workplace manager's concerns to be documented on the Child Wellbeing database, further appraised and mutual decisions made about any other actions that might be required to support the child/young person and their family.

Where the MRG does not indicate that a report to the FACS Child Protection Helpline or contact with the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit is required, but a principal and workplace manager believes that this would be in the best interests of the child/young person then a report to the FACS Child Protection Helpline or contact with the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit should occur.

Supports for students and families

What is required in terms of offering support to the child, young person or family?

Where matters fall below the risk of significant harm threshold principals and workplace mangers should consider whether it is appropriate to discuss with the family the need for and benefits of referral or support services. If this is deemed appropriate, consideration should also be given to who may be the most appropriate staff member to discuss these matters. Given the positive relationships between families and schools that are often developed over time such discussions with families can greatly increase the likelihood of support being provided and accepted. Where support services are discussed and accepted this course of action should also help in reducing any ongoing risks for the child or young person and the need for more intrusive intervention in the future.

After a report has been made to the Family and Community (FACS) Child Protection Helpline, staff should continue to respond to the needs of, and fulfil any duty of care and support responsibilities to, the child or young person who was the subject of the report.

There are legislative requirements about coordination of service delivery and decision making to facilitate the provision of services to children and young persons by agencies that have responsibly regarding the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children and young people. Under Chapter 16A of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 agencies are required to take reasonable steps to co-ordinate the provision of services with other agencies.

Note, the Protecting and Supporting Children and Young People Procedures set out procedures regarding interviews of children and young people in the education setting (chapter 6 page 15).

How do I find appropriate services to support a child, young person or their family?

Schools may already have established relationships with local services which could be considered when identifying appropriate supports and services.

The Child Wellbeing Unit can assist in locating appropriate supports and services for children young people and their families.

Family Referral Services can assist children, young people and families by addressing current support needs.  These services are particularly useful when the child, young person or family has a number of different needs.

The Human Service Network (HSNet) database - servicelink is another useful resource and contains a database of 75,000 government and non-government services within NSW.

In addition, specialist school and regional staff (such as School Counsellor or Learning and Support Teacher) may be able to assist.

Contacting the Child Wellbeing Unit and Child Protection Helpline

What is the role of the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit Assessment Officers?

The Department's Child Wellbeing Unit Assessment Officers have expertise in child protection. Assessment officers undertake a number of functions including:

  • discussing concerns about a child or young person's safety, welfare or wellbeing
  • assessing any risks to the child or young person and advising on follow up actions to respond to these risks and identified needs
  • identifying and advising about any further action that may be taken or who else to talk to about the concerns
  • documenting calls made to the Child Wellbeing Unit and providing feedback to callers
  • reviewing the Child Wellbeing data base to ascertain information about previous contacts or contacts made to other Child Wellbeing Unit in relation to the child or young person.
  • providing advice about the types of assistance/supports (both internal and external) that may be appropriate
  • providing referral information about such support services
  • assisting with the application of the Mandatory Reporter Guide
  • obtaining information from prescribed agencies under Chapter 16A of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 or assisting with providing appropriate information to prescribed bodies under the provisions of Chapter 16A
  • help in deciding whether Family and Community Services should be contacted and if so, what information they will need
  • assisting, where required, in communicating with Family and Community Services Centres (CSC) when a matter is open at a specific CSC
  • clarifying the Department of Education policy and procedures as they relate to child protection and wellbeing
  • conducting cumulative risk appraisals where necessary.

What happens when contact is made with the Child Wellbeing Unit?

The Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit will appraise all available information and if necessary assist with the application of the Mandatory Reporter Guide to determine what action should be taken. This includes checking to see if there are any other concerns documented for the child/young person on the child wellbeing data base.

Where a report to the Family and Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline is required the Assessment Officer will discuss this with you and can transfer the call to the FACS Child Protection Helpline if appropriate.

Where some other action is required, for example a referral to another service or information exchange with another agency the assessment officer will discuss this with you to help ensure that appropriate actions are identified and agreed.

Can a teacher/school counsellor be with a principal or workplace manager when contact is made with either the Child Wellbeing Unit or the Child Protection Helpline?

Yes, and this is encouraged wherever possible. Sometimes questions will be asked that may be best answered comprehensively by the person who has most contact or relevant contact with the child or young person such as a teacher or school counsellor.

What happens after a report is made to the Child Protection Helpline?

Family and Community Services (FACS) staff will assess the report that has been made using the information in the report and any other information that may be available to its staff to decide if the report meets the threshold of suspected risk of significant harm.

FACS will provide written feedback advising the outcome of the report such as:

  • The report has been assessed by FACS and the following action has been taken.
  • The risk of significant harm report has been forwarded to (specified) Community Services Centre for triage and assessment.  Note, the letter will include contact details of the Community Services Centre involved.
  • The information provided has been assessed and a decision has been made that it does not meet the statutory reporting threshold of 'risk of significant harm'.

Where a report has been forwarded to a Community Services Centre, principals/workplace managers are encouraged to contact the Community Serves Centre to determine what, if any, action will be taken concerning the report.

Where a local Community Services Centre determines not to take any action about a report and serious safety concerns remain, the matter can be escalated (chapter 6, page 16, Protecting and Supporting Children and Young People Procedures (PDF 341.47 KB)).

Where a report has been made to the FACS Child Protection Helpline and it has not met the risk of significant harm threshold the Department’s Child Wellbeing Unit must be contacted.

It is also important to remember that staff have a duty, within their role to provide appropriate supports to students and this duty does not cease when a report has been made to FACS. Often children/young people will react positively to supports offered by people they trust such as school staff.

Following up with Family and Community Services

How does a principal/workplace manager know if a Community Services Centre will be following up a matter that has been screened in as reaching the risk of significant harm threshold?

A 'Triage and Assessment' system is now in place in all Community Services Centres.  When a report is referred to a local Community Services Centre by the Family and Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline decisions are made by that Community Services Centre about what action, if any, will be taken. The outcomes of these decisions may include allocation for a safety and risk assessment, an interagency case discussion or no action. All Community Service Centres should provide written feedback when they receive a report about what action they will take.

Following up directly with the Community Services Centre is a helpful way of obtaining timely feedback, discussing and determining what action might be undertaken by FACS staff.

If a principal and workplace manager has contacted the Family and Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline about a concern for a child or young person who was assessed as being at risk of significant harm but the report has not been followed up by FAC Sand serious concerns are held about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of the child or young person, the matter can be escalated. Initially the principal and workplace manager should ask to speak to the manager, client services at the local Community Service Centre. If this contact is unsuccessful in resolving the issue the matter must be escalated to the next level. Protecting and Supporting Children and Young People Procedures (PDF 341.47 KB) (chapter 6 page 16) provides further information about escalation.

When can/should a principal and workplace manager talk to the Community Services Centre or Joint Investigation Response Team directly?

Where there are concerns that a child or young person is at suspected risk of significant harm the Family and Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline should always be contacted. However, there will be times when it is appropriate to contact the local Community Services Centre. These times might include:

  • Where a report has been made to the FACS Child Protection Helpline and advice has been received that it is has been transferred to a local Community Services Centre or Joint Investigation Response Team.
  • Where the child or young person has a case worker and you wish to discuss the case, including a discussion about concerns that do not meet the threshold of suspected risk of significant harm, requiring a report to the FACS Child Protection Helpline.
  • Where the child is in out of home care and is being case managed by FACS and you wish to discuss the case, including any concerns that do not reach the threshold of suspected risk of significant harm (requiring a report to the FACS Child Protection Helpline).

Child protection training for staff

What training in child protection and wellbeing is available for staff?

There are a number of training courses /activities available to departmental staff, these include:

  • All departmental staff are required to participate in an annual child protection update. Principals and Workplace Managers must keep a list of all staff attending and ensure that all staff complete the update each year
  • Training on use of the mandatory reporter guide (MRG) is also available.

There are external courses that are available through agencies such as the Centre for Community Welfare Training (CCWT) including, for example, Child Protection Dynamics, Navigating the Child Protection System in NSW, Parental Co-factors and Child Protection Risk, Continuum of Neglect, Domestic Violence the Impact on Children, Interagency Case Management. These courses usually cost about $200 or $220. Find more information on the Centre for Community Welfare Training calendar.

The NSW Health Department's Education Centre Against Violence delivers a number of courses relevant to child protection, mental illness, domestic violence including Aboriginal specific courses. These courses vary in cost. Information regarding the calendar for these courses can be found on the Education Centre Against Violence website.

Finally, on occasion, the Child Wellbeing Unit is available to assist with the development or presentation of short courses related to specific issues. Any such requests should be negotiated through the Director, Child Protection Services by contacting the Child Wellbeing Unit (login required).

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