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When is a prevention and early intervention response appropriate?

There is no general; one-size fits all answer. Ultimately, whether a prevention and early intervention response is appropriate can only be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending upon individual circumstances and whether, in light of the identified need(s), a particular program or service is the best way of achieving positive outcomes.

Many prevention and early intervention programs or services have an eligibility criteria, which are a set of characteristics or requirements which must be satisfied before someone will be considered suitable for the program. It should be noted that meeting the eligibility criteria does not guarantee receipt of a service. There are other factors, such as program capacity, which affect access.

The NSW online mandatory reporter guide (MRG) has been developed to promote consistent child wellbeing and child protection reporting. The MRG provides a common platform for decision making to determine whether or not concerns meet the threshold of risk of significant harm and further consideration by the Child Protection Helpline about whether statutory intervention is required.

Where a matter does not appear to meet the statutory threshold, the MRG will provide guidance about possible actions. This could include:

  • Consult with a professional – for assistance with determining what actions, if any, might need to be taken you may liaise with your supervisor or a colleague. Alternatively, you may liaise with another organisation to seek additional information under exchange of information provisions.
  • Refer to a Child Wellbeing Unit (CWU) – CWUs operate within the Departments of Family and Community Services ( Ageing, Disability and Home Care and Housing), Education and Communities, NSW Health and NSW Police.
  • Referrals – when there is no suspected risk of significant harm, but the family may benefit from services and appears open to service involvement.
  • Document and continue relationship – where you only need to document the information and continue your professional relationship, where appropriate.

The MRG supports but does notreplace workers’ professional judgement. Not all cases will involve suspected risk of significant harm and there may be no need to use the MRG where it is clear that a prevention or early intervention program or service is required. In these cases it may be appropriate to refer the family directly to a service.

However, workers should always be mindful of potential cumulative harm and that there may be past instances of concern, or other current issues, that may inform decisions about what supports a family requires or the nature of risk to the child or young person.

The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (the Act) has a number of provisions that allow children, young people, as well as parents and any other persons, in some restricted circumstances, to ask for assistance before a problem becomes more serious.

Requests for assistance

In 2008 the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in NSW reviewed the request for assistance provisions in the Act and noted that the scope of such assistance should be expanded and could play a role in providing a ‘soft entry point’ for families needing help rather than statutory intervention.

Under Sections 20 and 21 of the Ac, a child, young person, their parent or a non-government organisation in receipt of government funding can seek assistance from Community Services. The matters on which a child or young person can seek assistance are not limited by the Act. A parent can request assistance in order to obtain services that will enable the child or young person to remain in, or return to, the care of his or her family.

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