Unidentified abandoned child - advice

This advice provides additional information regarding managing reports concerning unidentified abandoned children.

Introduction

Refer to the procedure Unidentified abandoned child for tasks that must be taken.

An abandoned child is defined as one who is left unattended and without arrangement, by a person or persons unknown. For example an infant left near the entrance of a hospital with no identifying details.

There may be a high demand for information regarding an abandoned child from the media and public. In response to any inquiries, the department has a legal responsibility to act in accordance with the information disclosure provisions of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (CYFA) and the principles contained in the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 and the Health Records Act 2001.

Core key decision makers

A core key decision-making group should be established to manage the high level of media and public interest. This group includes a range of people not usually associated with direct case management and may include senior divisional managers, staff from Statutory and Forensic Services Branch, Legal Services, Media Unit and the police. The core group of decision makers should be kept to a minimum and despite wider interest, others should be involved on a need to know basis only.

This group needs to have clarity around their roles and responsibilities for tasks, to support consistency in decision making. This will avoid confusion in the event of an overlap in responsibilities, for instance between the department and the police. The group should also decide who will liaise with senior police.

It is critical that the decision-making group and the police have a clear understanding about who is leading the media coverage and how this should occur.

All decisions made by the group must be communicated to the case manager in a timely manner.

The application to release identifying information can be made either separately or at the same time as the protection application, or later. The purpose of seeking such an order is to allow for publication of details to assist with locating a parent or other family of the child to assess their potential to care for the child, to participate in decision-making about the child's care, or to provide information that can be passed on to the child in due course about the circumstances of their birth, their family, cultural heritage and health.

Once the divisional Director Child Protection has given approval to seek an order of the President of the Children's Court, consult with the Child Protection Litigation Office (CPLO) as soon as possible for specific information about seeking such an order.

If an order allowing publication of information identifying a child has being subject to child protection proceedings is granted, the decision-making group must decide the most appropriate way to proceed in regard to media coverage, including who will be the public face for the department in any media coverage. See procedure Publication of identifying details for tasks that must be undertaken.

A initial photo of child will, in most instances, be provided to media outlets. However, it is not recommended that updated photos be provided as this increases the likelihood that the child may be recognised as they grow up.

Arrangements for the media release will be made by the Media Unit.

Placement

A decision about placement with foster carers needs to be made as soon as possible if no family comes forward. Initially an infant will usually be cared for in hospital. The decision about an interim placement can be critical to the child's long term best interests. A placement with pre-adoptive foster carers is recommended, as these carers will be have the experience to manage the issues and uncertainties faced while enquiries continue into the whereabouts of the family. It may be appropriate to consult with an Adoption and Permanent Care team.

Managing the public response

As a result of media coverage, child protection can expect to receive a great number of calls.

Care must be taken not to release information about the child when responding to such calls. Staff should be briefed about who takes the calls and appropriate responses to make.

All media inquiries must be directed to the Media Unit on 9096 7710. No comment is to be made without the approval or guidance of the Media Unit. This includes all forms of print, electronic and online or social media where the comment will or could be associated with, or attributed to, the department.

File restriction

Access to the child's file should be restricted to people who need to access the file only. The team manager should restrict CRIS access to the child protection practitioner and their line management and the AHCPES.

Dedicated phone line

An abandoned child will result in an influx of calls to child protection, Adoption and Permanent Care teams, foster care agencies, the hospital and others.

The core key decision-making group should consider the establishment of a dedicated phone line (preferably a 1800 number). The line can be set up by contacting Telstra directly to request a 1800 number. Alternatively, the decision may be made with the police to use the existing Crime Stoppers phone line.

An established phone line will allow callers to receive consistent information and be told how offers of care and/or gifts are dealt with. The Media Unit can disseminate the phone number publicly.

Child protection reception and other staff need clear guidance about where to direct calls regarding the child and what information they are permitted to give out.

A record of all calls should be kept, as these are important for the child's file and may also be important for the police investigation. All calls need a record of the date, caller's details and brief details of enquiry and outcome.

Offers of care and gifts

The core key decision-making group should make a decision about how offers of care and gifts are to be responded to. These offers represent the community's care and concern and need to be recorded on the child's file as they may assist the child in later life to understand what happened to them.

Offers of care will not be accepted, as the child will be placed with existing approved carers. However, when a person offers to care for the child they should be redirected to contact foster care agencies in their area, the Foster Care Hotline (number 1800 013 088), or Adoption and Permanent Care teams, if they are interested in assessment and approval as a foster carer, permanent carer or adoptive parent.

If callers wish to donate a gift, they should be advised how to do this.  Where possible, gifts should be carefully recorded, stored and preserved for the child. Gifts that are part of a link to the child's discovery or circumstances are important to preserve for the child.

Consideration may need to be given to redirecting public generosity. For example, recommending callers make their donations to children's charities or foster care generally. Where a decision has been made that gifts will be forwarded to either foster care or charity organisations, callers should be advised of this. Where gifts arrive unbidden, a decision must be made about what to do with the gift and the decision recorded on the child's file.

Records

Aside from possible use in the investigation, every piece of information about the child's discovery and early care will be important in the child's development and later life. Such information will assist the child in later years in coming to terms with their circumstances and forming an identity.

Practitioners should take particular care to identify, record and safely store anything that was located with the child, all belongings of the child, all newspaper clippings, any electronic media coverage recorded, cards and gifts from the public for the child later in life.

Naming

A public name will have been assigned to the child very early on, perhaps by the person initially finding the child or by hospital staff. As soon as possible the care team need to agree on a name that the child will be known by in private. The public name will be used for all media publicity and the private name will be kept for private use only and one the child will 'take with them'. The care team should not disclose the 'private name' to anyone other than the core key decision-making group.

A record needs to be made of the person/s who chose both the public and private names and why the names were chosen.

Registration of birth

Where an unidentified infant has been abandoned and no parent comes forward, the care team will consider how and when to register the child's birth. Legal advice should be sought from Legal Services and senior staff from the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages before registering the birth.

The care team needs to agree on the details that will be recorded on the birth certificate, including the child's ‘private name’ and the informant's details.

Medicare

To access Medicare, evidence of Australian citizenship is required.  Under section 14 of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, a person is an Australian citizen if the person is found abandoned in Australia as a child, unless and until the contrary is proven. This provision applies to children where there are no known details about them or their parents.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship is able to determine an abandoned child is an Australian citizen if the Director, Child Protection or Assistant Director, Child Protection completes on behalf of the child an ‘Application for evidence of Australian citizenship’.

Future placement considerations

See advice Adoption.

If no family members are identified, a timely decision should be made to place the child with applicants approved and available to be permanent carers or adoptive parents. They will need to be carefully matched, as the needs of a child who has been abandoned will have lifelong impacts.

Considerations for good practice

Abandonment may raise strong reactions in people. Practitioners must keep in mind the highly emotive response likely from professionals they are working with and within themselves. It is important to acknowledge the response but maintain a professional focus on the child's best interests. It is also important for the practitioner to have the opportunity to debrief. The practitioners may chose to use the professional services of the department's Employee Assistance Program.

Additional information

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