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Mandatory reporters: What to report and when

Information on how to use the decision tree in the Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG) guide, when to report and what you need to report.

Deciding to make a report and using the MRG

You must make a report to Communities and Justice (DCJ) when you have current concerns about the safety, welfare and wellbeing of a child for any of the following reasons:

  • the basic physical or psychological needs of the child or young person are not being met (neglect)
  • the parents or caregivers have not arranged necessary medical care for the child or young person (unwilling or unable to do so)
  • the parents or caregivers have not arranged for the child or young person to receive an education in accordance with the Education Act 1990 (unwilling or unable to do so)
  • risk of physical or sexual abuse or ill-treatment
  • parent or caregiver’s behaviour towards the child causes or risks serious psychological harm (emotional abuse)
  • incidents of domestic violence and as a consequence a child or young person is at risk of serious physical or psychological harm (domestic or family violence)
  • the child was the subject in a prenatal report and the birth mother did not engage successfully with support services.

It’s mandatory to make a report if the child is 0 to 15 years and at risk of significant harm.
It’s not mandatory to make a report if it is an unborn child, or a young person aged 16 to 17.

If you want to report a child and family you do not have a professional relationship with, do so as an individual and not as a mandatory reporter.

The Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG)

Mandatory reporters should use the Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG) to help decide whether a child is suspected to be at Risk of Significant Harm (ROSH) and a report to the Child Protection Helpline on 132 111 should be made.

The MRG is a Structured Decision Making (®SDM) tool intended to complement mandatory reporters' professional judgement and critical thinking. It will be helpful to read Process for completing Mandatory Reporter Guide so you understand how to use it.

The MRG supports mandatory reporters in NSW to:

  • determine whether a report to the Child Protection Helpline is needed for concerns about possible abuse or neglect of a child or young person; and
  • identify alternative supports for vulnerable children, young people and their families.

The MRG works by posing specific questions that help reporters work systematically through the issues relating to the concerns they have about a child or young person. At the end of the process, a decision report will guide the reporter as to what action to take.

Child Wellbeing Unit

If the concern doesn’t reach the threshold for contacting the helpline, mandatory reporters can consult their manager or professional network. They can also seek assistance from their local Family Referral Service.

Mandatory reporters from NSW Health, NSW Police Force, and Department of Education and Training can also contact their Child Wellbeing Unit (CWU) for advice. Read about how a CWU can help.

If you disagree with the MRG outcome

The MRG does not prevent mandatory reporters from taking any course of action they believe is appropriate, or from continuing to support or respond to the needs of the child or young person who is the subject of the report in the course of their work (s.29A of the Care Act).

The MRG incorporates proven design principles that help focus on the most critical pieces of information for the decision at hand through a set of ‘decision trees’ and definitions. It works by posing specific questions in each decision tree that help mandatory reporters work systematically through the issues relating to their concerns about a child or young person. At the end of each decision tree process, a decision report guides mandatory reporters as to what action to take.

Information needed to make a report

The detail and quality of the information provided to the Child Protection Helpline by the reporter is critical to the quality of the decision making that follows. It is important to provide all relevant information when making a child protection report.

  • Prepare for making a report to Helpline by gathering all the available information together. Note that reports must still be made where only a little information is known but there is risk of significant harm.
  • Sometimes you may not have all of this information. As a minimum, Communities and Justice needs to be able to identify and locate the child or young person. Information that assists this, such as the child or young person's school or childcare centre, is also helpful.
  • The kind of information which is useful includes risk of significant harm information, as well as information about the child or young person, the family, the reporter, and the context of the report.

Helpful information

If possible please have following information ready when making a report to the Child Protection Helpline:

Child or young person

  • name
  • date of birth or age
  • address
  • phone numbers
  • cultural identity or Aboriginality
  • language barriers
  • disabilities
  • school details
  • care arrangements, legal status.

Parents, carers or other household members

  • name
  • date of birth or age
  • address
  • phone numbers
  • cultural identity or Aboriginality
  • language barriers
  • disabilities.

Reporter details

  • name, agency address, phone and email details
  • position
  • reason for reporting today
  • nature of contact with child or family
  • nature of ongoing role with child or family, include frequency, duration and type
  • if report is being made by someone else in the agency, name of the agency worker who sourced the report.

Other information

  • information about parental risk factors and how they link to child’s risk of harm, such as domestic violence, alcohol or other drug use, unmanaged mental illness, intellectual or other disability
  • protective factors and family strengths
  • non-offending carers’ capacity to protect child
  • any previous suspicious death of a child or young person in the household?
  • is the parent or carer pregnant?
  • is the parent or carer the subject of an Apprehended Violence Order?
  • description of family structure, for example, biological parents, single parent, blended family
  • name, age, gender of siblings. Do siblings live with the child or young person? Services involved with child and family if known
  • principal language of family and whether an interpreter for a spoken or signed language is required
  • if parent knows of report and their response
  • if child or young person knows about the report and their views
  • information related to worker safety issues
  • outcome of Mandatory Reporter Guide.

Harm category

Physical abuse

  • description of injuries – type of injury and location on body
  • who caused the harm?
  • medical treatment required and/or administered?
  • how did the injury occur?
  • are the circumstances suspicious? Why?
  • details of any excessive discipline used
  • did the injury result from domestic violence?
  • does the child fear for their life or safety or the safety of the non-offending parent?
  • do credible threats to kill or injure the child exist?
  • is the parent or carer’s behaviour violent and/or out of control?

At-risk behaviour

  • homelessness – What are the current living arrangements? What are the risk factors?
  • are the whereabouts of the parents or carers known? Are they behaving protectively? How?
  • are the parents or carers able and willing to address the risk taking or serious self-harming behaviour?

Sexual abuse

  • provide details of disclosure in the child’s own words
  • when did the alleged abuse occur?
  • what was the context of the disclosure?
  • is there a witness?
  • is there medical evidence?
  • information on the alleged offender (age, name, etc)
  • is the language and/or behaviour of the child extremely sexualised? Is this uncharacteristic of their age?
  • are the sexual behaviours reflective of the age group?
  • does a highly suspected perpetrator of sexual abuse have access to the child?
  • does the child require immediate medical treatment and was it administered?
  • is the child extremely fearful of being in the home?
  • does the non-offending parent believe the child and are they supportive?


  • are there any parental risk factors (substance abuse, mental health, disability, homelessness)?
  • are the parent or carer behaviours likely to seriously impact the child once it is born?
  • is there a birth alert with NSW Health?
  • is the anticipated due date within 14 days?


  • has the child suffered an injury or illness as a direct result of neglectful behaviour by the parent or carer?
  • has the parent or carer failed to provide adequate supervision?
  • detailed description of child’s appearance
  • did hazardous conditions in the home result in the injury or illness?
  • describe any relevant household conditions and/or state of the home
  • did parent or carer fail to obtain necessary medical and/or mental health care?
  • was the child diagnosed with malnutrition?
  • are the parents or carers behaviours a factor in the child not attending school (educational neglect)? What actions has the school taken?
  • is there a substance exposed newborn? Have the parents made preparations for the infant?
  • is there a severe condition or pattern of parent or carer behaviour that presents an imminent risk?

Psychological harm

  • detailed information on the child’s emotional state. What have you observed?
  • do the child’s symptoms relate to a persistent pattern of parent or carer behaviour, such as domestic violence?
  • how does the parent or carer behave towards the child?

Once a report is made to the Child Protection Helpline no further report needs to be made unless new information comes to hand.

Informing the family of a report

It is good practice to discuss concerns with the parent or carer and to advise them of your legal or professional obligations to report your concerns to Communities and Justice (DCJ). This is especially the case for mandatory reporters who have an ongoing relationship with the parent, such as family support services, drug and alcohol services, counsellors or health care professionals.

Professional judgement

The decision to inform the family of a report should be guided by professional judgement and the principles of working in partnership with families and involving children and young people in decisions that affect them.

Stating obligations

Practitioners can prepare for this by dealing with the issue of mandatory reporting obligations early in the relationship between the parent and the service or agency. However, there may be circumstances because of the urgency of the situation or the perceived risk to the safety of the child or even to the reporter themselves, where the matter is reported prior to telling the parent or without informing the parent or carer.

If the child or family is Aboriginal

Aboriginal people are over-represented in the child protection system for a variety of reasons. As a result of the policies, practices and actions of previous government agencies, there is often mistrust of welfare and other government agencies in Aboriginal communities.

Respect and sensitivity

Consultation, respectful relationships and cultural sensitivity are needed in order to work effectively with Aboriginal people to ensure the safety of children and young people.

Right to participation

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ right to participate in the care and protection of their children is included in the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998. This includes the promotion of self determination. Consultation and participation in decision making about Aboriginal children and young people are strategies that promote self determination.

Focus on the child's safety

The Act also recognises that the safety, welfare and wellbeing of a child or young person are the paramount consideration for a reporter or a worker. Consequently, while being aware of cultural sensitivities, the reporter’s focus must remain on ensuring the safety of the child or young person.

If behaviours are occurring that could cause risk of significant harm to a child or young person they should not be minimised or dismissed on cultural grounds.

Cultural practices

Likewise, behaviours or practices culturally unfamiliar to a reporter should not be reported if they do not place the child or young person at risk of significant harm. Consultation with community elders – without revealing identifying information - may be needed to clarify whether unfamiliar practices are culturally acceptable to the Aboriginal community.

Any cultural information that may assist in the assessment of a case should always be included in a report to the Child Protection Helpline.

If the child or family belongs to a culturally and linguistically diverse community

Culture and experience do influence parenting practices, however it’s critical that reporters maintain a focus on the impact or effects on the child or young person of parental or carer behaviours. Where there are grounds to suspect risk of significant harm from parent or carer behaviours, reporters must take the necessary reporting actions.

Risk of significant harm

Behaviours that are suspected of causing risk of significant harm should not be minimised or dismissed on cultural grounds. Workers must focus on the impact of the behaviour or practice on the child or young person and ask “does this cause or threaten significant harm”?

Different or unfamiliar practices

However, it is important to note that behaviours and practices that are influenced by culture should not be reported simply because that they are different or unfamiliar to the reporter. Practices should not be reported where they do not cause significant harm or place the child or young person at risk of significant harm.

Providing information

Reporters with information about the possible bearing of cultural, linguistic, refugee, migration or settlement factors on the case are encouraged to provide this information as part of their report to the Child Protection Helpline. It can assist in the subsequent assessment and appropriate follow up of the case.

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Last updated: 24 Sep 2019