Reporting and responding to child wellbeing and safety concerns
Protecting children from harm is a responsibility shared by everyone in the community. Making a report about suspected child abuse or neglect is an important part of this responsibility.
Practice advice and resources
Understanding trauma and resistance
When a person experiences persistent fear, terror and feelings of helplessness, they can experience trauma. The causes can be physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse, or exposure to domestic violence or neglect.
When reporting and responding to child wellbeing and safety concerns, it is important to remember that families who are involved in child protection or out-of-home-care work may have experienced trauma.
Considering the concerns you have for a child’s safety and wellbeing in the context of possible trauma may help you to view the responses and actions of the child and their parents differently.
When reporting and responding to safety and wellbeing concerns, it is important we are transparent and inform parents of our role and actions wherever possible.
Understanding vicarious trauma
Vicarious trauma is the transfer of trauma that can occur through engagement with those who have experienced trauma. This is a risk for all practitioners working with children and families who have come into contact with the child protection system in NSW.
If practitioners feel emotional or impacted in the course of their work, they are encouraged to contact a support person to discuss their personal experiences in a helpful and constructive way. These support people may include:
- a supervisor
- a workplace health and safety officer
- private counsellors
- a general practitioner
- the Employee Assistance Program
Responding to a disclosure of abuse
Since disclosure from a child is a significant event in their life, it is important that we listen, be engaging and show our support. We know that disclosure takes time and is not always a straight forward disclosure, but may be communicated in various ways, such as through a change in behaviour. For many children, disclosure is a process. Your role is to listen when children tell you about what is happening in their lives. The role of the person hearing a disclosure is not to interview or gather evidence. This is the responsibility of DCJ practitioners and/or police officers.
It is appropriate for a person hearing a disclosure to clarify information provided by the child, but they should not add information to the child’s story or ask leading questions. For example, it can be extremely helpful before completing an MRG to know the relationship between the child and alleged ‘perpetrator’ and when they are likely to see that person next.
You should respond to a disclosure by being calm and listening carefully. Let the child tell their story freely and in their own way. Acknowledge how difficult it may have been to disclose and reassure the child that telling someone what happened was the right thing to do and that you believe them.
Children who have experienced abuse need us to notice their distress, recognise when they are telling us about the abuse, and show them that we are interested, concerned and capable of listening to their story.
As soon as possible after hearing a disclosure, it is important to document the information you heard, as close as possible to the child’s exact words, so you are able to provide that information to DCJ and/or the police as needed.
Additional resources are available at:
- The National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
- Office of the Senior Practitioner, Child Sexual Abuse and Disclosure Literature Review
Focus on the experience of the family
Your focus should remain on how the child is experiencing the parental or carer behaviours, their particular risk and protective factors and any ROSH. The obligation to report current concerns exists regardless of a parent’s remorse or their stated intention to seek help.
It is important to suspend personal judgments or assumptions when considering child safety and wellbeing.
Working with Aboriginal families and communities
When reporting and responding to safety and wellbeing concerns, it is important to understand the history of colonisation and traumatisation of Aboriginal people as a result of previous Australian Government policies, legislation and actions. The effects of trauma are intergenerational and continue to impact Aboriginal people today. Due to previous policies and legislation in Australia, Aboriginal people were disempowered, disenfranchised and not allowed to participate in decisions that involved themselves, their children or their families. It is important that we do not repeat these mistakes when working with Aboriginal families and communities today. It is important to be respectful, sensitive and work in partnership with Aboriginal families and communities. All work with Aboriginal families must prioritise Aboriginal children’s cultural permanency.
Working with culturally and linguistically diverse families (including migrant and refugee families and asylum seekers)
Culture and experience influences parenting practices. While it is important to recognise and respond to the influences of cultural factors, it is critical that harmful or neglectful behaviours are not labelled and dismissed as 'cultural practice'. A focus on the impact of the behaviour on the child is your priority.
It is important to note that cultural practices that seem different or unfamiliar but do not place the child at suspected ROSH should not be reported but responded to in a way which aims to address the level of risk and increase supports. Wherever possible, ask parents/carers if they wish to use translators where English is their second language.
Working with people with a disability
Disability is any condition or impairment that impacts a person's daily activities or communication. Some children may experience more than one disability and some conditions can lead to others.
There are many different kinds of disability and they can result from accidents, illness or genetic disorders. A disability may affect mobility, ability to learn things, or ability to communicate easily, and some people may have more than one. A disability may be visible or hidden, may be permanent or temporary and may have minimal or substantial impact on a person’s abilities.
Types of disability
As described by the Australian Network on Disability, the impairments and medical conditions outlined in the Disability Discrimination Act, include:
- Physical —affects a person's mobility or dexterity.
- Intellectual —affects a person's abilities to learn.
- Mental Illness —affects a person's thinking processes.
- Sensory —affects a person's ability to hear or see.
- Neurological —affects the person’s brain and central nervous system.
- Learning disability
- Physical disfigurement
- Immunological —the presence of organisms causing disease in the body.
See more at Raising Children Network’s Guide to Disabilities.
Disability is more than just a health issue. A child's experience of disability is a combination of their age, developmental stage, how they experience their mind and body, and the society they live in. Part 3 provides further advice and resources for engaging with children with a disability, including ensuring children with a disability are afforded all rights and opportunities to participate in decision making.
Not all children with disability will identify as having one. Use the language they use to describe their experiences. Some children will act out rather than be seen as having a mental illness or intellectual disability.
Various cultures may have beliefs about disability. Seek cultural consultation to help you explore beliefs and understandings of disability with the family.
It is not the child’s disability that creates a barrier to their participation —it is our society that does. Consider how you change environments and communication styles to create equity for people with disability. For more information see Social model of disability.
Parents with a disability may experience additional parenting challenges and barriers in accessing support. When reporting and responding to safety and wellbeing concerns for children with a parent who has a disability, it is important that we don’t further compound the barriers and judgements faced by the family. Working with parents who have a disability requires a creative and flexible approach without the burden of labels and assumptions, particularly about the experience of a child or the parent. Ensure that staff take the time necessary to listen and understand what the issues parents with a disability are experiencing.
Supporting a positive gender and sexuality identity
All children, including those who may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning and other diverse sexual orientations and gender identities (LGBTIQ+), have a right to:
- be safe
- live in accepting, supportive and caring homes
- be treated as an equal member of a family and a community.
It is important to support a child who identifies as LGBTIQ+ by respecting and accepting them as they are, providing age appropriate information about available services, support, events and celebrations.
Parents and carers who identify as LGBTIQ+ also have the right to be treated with respect and as equal members of a family and community.