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Understanding the reporting framework

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Reporting risk of significant harm

Everyone in the community should be alert to signs of abuse or neglect in children and young people. Their safety, welfare and well-being are a community responsibility. An injury, concerning behaviour or a disclosure may be a trigger to consider whether you should report a child or young person, or whether you or your agency can offer support to prevent significant harm from occurring or continuing.

Any member of the community, including mandatory reporters, who suspect, on reasonable grounds, that a child or young person is at risk of significant harm should report their concerns to the Child Protection Helpline by calling 132 111.

Mandatory reporters can also make an online report through the ChildStory Reporter website.

Non- English speaking reporters

Reporters who cannot speak English can make a report to the Child Protection Helpline using a professional phone interpreter.  Reporters requiring the assistance of a translator are advised to contact the Translation and Interpreting Service on 131 450. The reporter will need to indicate the language they speak and that they wish to contact the Child Protection Helpline. There is no cost to the reporter for this service.

Mandatory reporters

Mandatory reporting is the legislative requirement for selected classes of people to report suspected child abuse and neglect to government authorities. Mandatory reporters are defined under section 27 of the Care Act.

Mandatory reporters are guided by the NSW Mandatory Reporter Guide. In NSW, mandatory reporting is regulated by the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (the Care Act).

Mandatory reporters are people who deliver the following services, wholly or partly, to children as part of their paid or professional work:

  • Health care (e.g. registered medical practitioners, specialists, general practice nurses, midwives, occupational therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, dentists and other allied health professionals working in sole practice or in public or private health practices)
  • Welfare (e.g. psychologists, social workers, caseworkers and youth workers)
  • Education (e.g. teachers, counsellors, principals)
  • Children’s services (e.g. child care workers, family day carers and home-based carers)
  • Residential services (e.g. refuge workers)
  • Law enforcement (e.g. police)

Mandatory reporters should note that the legislation requires that they continue to respond to the needs of the child or young person (within the terms of their work role) even after a report to the Child Protection Helpline has been made (s.29A of the Care Act).

Note that while it is mandatory to report children aged 0 to 15 years at risk of significant harm, it is not mandatory to report young people aged 16 to 17 years or unborn children. Professional judgement should be used in deciding whether concerns about the safety, welfare or wellbeing of an unborn child or a young person warrant a report to the Child Protection Helpline.

What constitutes significant harm

A child or young person is at risk of significant harm if the circumstances that are causing concern for the safety, welfare or well being of the child or young person are present to a significant extent.

This means the concern is sufficiently serious to warrant a response by a statutory authority (such as NSW Police Force or Family and Community Services) 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.

Who to report

The Care Act provides for reports being made about:

  • children and young people at risk of significant harm
  • unborn children at risk of significant harm
  • homeless children and young people.

This includes children who were the subject of a prenatal report under section 25 of the Act and whose birth mother has not engaged with support services to eliminate or minimise the risk that gave rise to the report.

The Mandatory Reporter Guide

The NSW Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG) is intended to decision making by complementing mandatory reporters' professional judgement and critical thinking. 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 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.

Allegations involving agency employees

Special procedures are in place to deal with allegations of reportable conduct or convictions against employees of all government and certain non-government agencies in NSW.

The Ombudsman Act 1974 requires these designated agencies to notify the Ombudsman of allegations against employees that constitute sexual offences, misconduct, assault, ill-treatment, neglect and behaviour that causes psychological harm to children.

There are two groups of people who are considered to be employees:

  • any employee of the agency, whether or not employed in connection with any work or activities of the agency that relate to children, and
  • any individual engaged by the agency to provide services to children

(This includes contractors, subcontractors, foster carers, volunteers and kinship carers where the Minister holds parental responsibility for a child in their care).

Some matters are notifiable to the Ombudsman as an allegation of reportable conduct, but are only reportable to the Child Protection Helpline if there are also current concerns that a child or young person is at risk of significant harm.

The responsibility for conducting investigations into allegations against employees lies with the employing agency. In some circumstances statutory agencies may undertake a parallel investigation for other purposes - such as assessing risk and care issues or conducting a criminal investigation.

See NSW Ombudsman for further information.

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Last updated: 24 Sep 2019
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