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Reporting framework

DCJ is the agency responsible for receiving and assessing reports about a child being at Risk of Significant Harm (ROSH).

Reporting a child at ROSH

Any person who has reasonable grounds to suspect that a child or class of children is at ROSH should make a report to the Helpline or a Child Wellbeing Unit (CWU) if one is available to them.

Before reporting a concern, mandatory reporters are encouraged to contextualise their concern within the child’s culture. Many cultures have child-rearing practices which differ from Anglo-Australian ways to raise children. For example Aboriginal child-rearing practices favour the child learning to be safe through exploration of their local environment.

Aboriginal cultures also view child-rearing responsibility to belong to the wider family, the kinship network and the community. Because of this, Aboriginal children may be out without a parent present whilst being supervised by the many communal eyes watching over them. It is important to consider different cultural practices when making an assessment of child safety.

What is ROSH?

Subject to section 23 of the Care Act, a child or young person is at ROSH if the circumstances that are causing current concerns for the safety, welfare or wellbeing of the child are present to a significant extent.

Concerns that may constitute ROSH include the following:

Neglect - a failure by a person to provide adequate and proper food, supervision, clothing, medical care or lodging for the child that causes or is likely to cause harm to the child. In the case of a child who is required to attend school, parents or care givers not arranging for a child to attend school can be neglect. Not providing for a child’s psychological needs can also be neglect.

Sexual abuse - any act which exposes the child to, or involves them in, contact or non-contact sexual activity that results in harm, or is likely to result in harm, to the child. Child sexual abuse can be perpetrated by an adult, another child or a group. N.B: Age or developmentally appropriate peer consensual sexual activity may not be sexual abuse. The Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG) provides further guidance on what is considered problematic, abusive or inappropriate for age and development, and what action to take.

Physical abuse - any non-accidental physical act inflicted upon a child which has the potential to injure the child, with or without the presence of external injuries.

Emotional abuse, psychological harm or ill treatment - any act by a person that results in a child suffering any kind of significant emotional deprivation or trauma.

Domestic violence - the child is living in a household where there have been incidents of domestic violence and as a consequence the child is at risk of serious physical or psychological harm.

Family violence - The term family violence (preferred in many Aboriginal communities) is broader than the usual mainstream definition. Family violence involves any use of force or coercion, be it physical or non-physical, which is aimed at controlling another family or community member and which undermines that person’s wellbeing. It can be directed towards an individual, family, community or particular group.

Concerns for risk of harm may relate to a single act or omission or to a series of acts or omissions.

For more information on child abuse and neglect and how to respond when a child or adult tells you about abuse, see What is child abuse and neglect?

For practice tips to support the detection of different types of harm and risk of harm and other topics, see Risk Specific Practice Support.

Find general resources, tools and training for child protection practitioners here Caseworker resources and tools.

Signs of abuse and neglect

There are common physical and behavioural signs that may indicate abuse or neglect. Examples of many signs can be found on the DCJ webpage on possible signs of abuse and neglect.


Signs of neglect which may be seen in children can include:

  • Low weight for age or significantly above a healthy weight, or is not receiving appropriate nutrition
  • Untreated, or inappropriately treated medical or mental health condition
  • Child appears extremely dirty, or is wearing clothing that is not appropriate for conditions
  • Parent/carer is not attending to the child/young person’s personal hygiene needs
  • Child is living in a dangerous environment
  • Inadequate supervision for the child’s age
  • Scavenging or stealing food
  • Poor school attendance or lack of school enrolment
  • A parent is indicating they wish to relinquish the care of their child
  • Isolation from other children

The parents of children experiencing neglect may show a limited understanding of the child’s needs or difficulties meeting those needs.

Physical abuse

Signs of physical abuse which may be seen in children can include:

  • Bruising or marks which may show the shape of an object (e.g. belt or hand print)
  • Lacerations and welts
  • Explanations of injuries which are inconsistent with the injury
  • Illnesses in children that are unexplained and may have been inflicted e.g. intentional poisoning

Emotional abuse or psychological harm

Signs of emotional abuse or psychological harm which may be seen can include:

  • Suicide threats or attempts
  • Persistent running away from home
  • Taking extreme risks, including being markedly disruptive, bullying or aggressive towards others.
  • The known presence of domestic violence, a parent/carer’s poor mental health and/or a parent/carer’s substance misuse or abuse with impact on the child
  • Domestic violence is suspected based on observations of extreme power or control dynamics (including extreme isolation) or threats of harm to adults in the household
  • A child is a danger to self or others as a consequence of parent/carer behaviour
  • An underage marriage or similar union has occurred or is being planned

Sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse occurs across all cultural and socioeconomic groups, genders and ages. However, several studies have shown that offenders target children and families who have certain characteristics and are already under stress, marginalised, and experiencing vulnerability. The abuse is generally perpetrated by someone the child or the child’s family knows (it can be another child, neighbour, caregiver, relative or immediate family member).

‘Grooming’ is often used to describe behaviour by the offender towards the child, their family and their community. The behaviour is focused on increasing opportunities for sexual abuse to occur, reducing the child’s ability to tell others what is happening, and creating barriers to the child being believed if they do disclose.

Disclosure in child sexual abuse is rarely a spontaneous event and it is more likely to occur slowly over time as part of a process. Sexual abuse against children is a crime.

Signs of sexual abuse which may be seen in children can include:

  • Disordered eating or preoccupation with body
  • Change in dress and/or a desire to cover up
  • Excessive compliance or a desire to be overly obedient
  • Poor self-image, poor self-care, or lack of confidence
  • Persistent sexual themes in drawing, stories and play
  • Regressive behaviours (e.g. soiling or urinating in clothing)
  • Running away, recklessness, suicide attempts or self-harm
  • Sexual behaviour or knowledge that is advanced or unusual
  • Sleep disturbance, fear of bedtime, nightmares, or bed wetting
  • Not wanting to be left alone with a particular individual/s
  • Unexplained accumulation of money or gifts
  • Unusual or repetitive soothing behaviours (e.g. hand-washing or pacing)
  • Difficulty concentrating, memory loss or decline in school performance
  • Inappropriate sexual play with themselves, other children, dolls or toys.

Problematic sexual behaviour and harmful sexual behaviour

Sexual knowledge or behaviour that is inappropriate for a child or young person’s age may be a possible sign of sexual abuse.

Problematic sexual behaviour (PSB) describes behaviour of a sexual nature outside the range accepted as ‘normal’ for a child’s age and level of development. Harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) is when a child may use their power, authority or status to engage another child in sexual activity that is unwanted or where the other person is not capable of giving consent. Harmful sexual behaviour may also be a possible sign of sexual abuse, and may also be an indicator that the child exhibiting the behaviours have themselves been the victim of violence, abuse or neglect.

Determining “harm” experienced by any child must always encompass a broader consideration of all children’s overall emotional, physical, psychological, and relational, development and wellbeing.

The spectrum of harmful sexual behaviours and the diversity of children’s backgrounds and circumstances mean that no one response or intervention is suitable for all children displaying problematic or harmful sexual behaviours. A range of interventions is needed, from prevention and early identification, through to assessment and therapeutic intervention. For a small group of children, a child protection or criminal justice response may be necessary.

The True Traffic Lights resource provides a guide to assist those working with children to identify the characteristics of a child’s sexual behaviour, and then to understand and respond to the behaviours in a way that is appropriate and supportive based on the behaviours identified.

New Street Services provide therapeutic services for children and young people aged 10 to 17 years who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviours. New Street Services work with the young person to assist them to understand, acknowledge, take responsibility for, and cease, the harmful sexual behaviour.

Children under 10 years who display problematic or harmful sexual behaviour can be referred to NSW Health Sexual Assault Services for therapeutic intervention.

NSW Health Sexual Assault Services provide a response to children under the age of criminal responsibility who have engaged in problematic or harmful sexual behaviours. This response may involve delivering therapeutic supports, or may involve case management and warm referrals into another service delivering these supports.

See, understand and respond to child sexual abuse - A practical kit gives practitioners a broad understanding of child sexual abuse, including the impact of sexual abuse on children. It also provides practical guidance for practitioners to see, understand, and respond to, child sexual abuse where abuse is disclosed or suspected, but not confirmed.

Helping to Make it Better, is a user friendly information package addressing the questions commonly asked by parents, and provides information about the nature of child sexual assault and some possible effects on children and families. Also included is practical information about how parents can assist and support their children in the aftermath of sexual abuse. Information is provided about the services that are involved after child sexual assault is reported to the Department of Communities and Justice Services. It explains ways in which sexual assault services can assist parents and children. The updated edition includes two new information sheets. One is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. The other is for when your child has been sexually assaulted by a child.

Nothing But the Truth, is a resource that is designed to provide workers with the information they need to ensure victims of sexual assault receive accurate and accessible legal information through a process that is empowering, culturally safe and supportive.

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Last updated: 04 May 2021