Receiving and processing reports - advice

This advice outlines additional information regarding the requirements for receiving and processing reports.

Document ID number 2018, version 5, 31 March 2017.

Introduction

See procedure Receiving, registering and classifying a report for tasks that must be undertaken.

Under the CYFA, the identity of a reporter and any information likely to lead to their identification as the reporter, cannot be disclosed by child protection unless they give written consent or by order of the court. (CYFA s. 41, s. 191.) 

In some situations it may be appropriate to discuss with reporters the possible benefits for the family to know who made the report, as this may help them to engage with services. Reporters may decide to tell the family they have made a report, or may provide written consent for this information to be disclosed.

Professional reporters may be informed that a report made in good faith does not constitute unprofessional conduct or a breach of professional ethics, and does not make them liable in respect of it (CYFA s. 40, s. 189). Reporters who are health professionals may be informed that a report made in good faith does not constitute a contravention of s. 141 of the Health Services Act 1988 or s. 346 of the Mental Health Act 2014 (CYFA s. 37 (c), s. 40(c), s. 189 (c)). See Information sharing.

Receiving a report

Before taking details

If the contact is during business hours, check that the address of the parent or caregiver with whom the child usually resides is within the division contacted. If necessary, the reporter should be referred to the correct division prior to discussing their concerns, and provided with contact details, unless there is any reason to believe the reporter would not make their report to the other division. In this situation the report is to be taken and the reporter should be informed that the report will be transferred to the appropriate division for assessment. See  procedure Transfers between divisions for tasks that must be undertaken.

Gathering information from the reporter

To inform assessment and decision-making about how the report should be managed, information is gathered about the:

  • child and siblings
  • parents and other family members
  • concerns held by the reporter and the basis for their concerns
  • social and professional network.

The reporter should be allowed to tell the story, with the assistance of open questioning. Specific questions should then be asked to assist with the collection of all relevant information. Care should be taken to distinguish between facts and assumptions or opinions.

Key information to be gathered from the reporter, as far as is available, is set out below.

Child

Where the child is under two years old, additional information is required, such as where the child was born, and at which hospital. See procedure High-risk infants.

Family

  • family composition: name, date of birth (or age) and gender of each parent and sibling (including step and de facto family)
  • cultural identity, first language, language spoken at home, need for an interpreter
  • name and address of those responsible for the care of the child
  • relationship status of parents
  • family interaction and parent-child relationships
  • any physical or intellectual disabilities for parents or siblings.

Functioning and behaviour of parents, carers and siblings

  • any efforts made by the family to address their needs or circumstances
  • parent's capability to protect the child from harm and factors that may impact on a parent and parenting (including risks posed by perpetrator of family violence)
  • parents capability to prioritise and meet the child's needs
  • any history of violence, including family violence, or other criminal behaviour.

Need for protection or significant concern for wellbeing

  • reporter's relationship to child and family
  • reporter's reason for reporting
  • whether the reporter has informed the family or is willing to inform the family they have made the report, or provide written consent to disclosure of this information
  • nature of reporter's concerns
  • specific details of any incidents or patterns of abuse or neglect, and details of all those involved and any potential witnesses
  • pattern and history of family violence including family violence risk assessments and safety plans completed where relevant
  • where family violence is present, whether the perpetrator’s behavior, frequency or severity of incidents has escalated and what the impact of the family violence is on the child/affected parent
  • what the reporter has been told, and by whom
  • disclosures by the child of harm or of incidents of abuse or neglect, including what was said, to whom and in what circumstances
  • physical or behavioural indicators of impact on the child
  • length of time abuse or neglect has been occurring and any change in frequency or intensity
  • reporter's opinion about severity of harm or significance of concern
  • name and address of those alleged to be responsible for harm to the child or the child's circumstances, their contact with the child, and attitude to the situation
  • attitude of caregivers
  • whether there is imminent or escalating exposure to harm
  • reporter's opinion about the urgency of the situation
  • reasons for the report being made at this time and what the reporter believes should happen.

Social and professional network

  • name, date of birth (or age) and gender of relevant extended family members
  • details of any others in the household
  • social and cultural functioning of the family, including informal supports, or issues of isolation
  • the nature and extent of involvement of any other services or agencies with the child or family, including universal, secondary and tertiary services.

Gathering further information

Check CRIS for the subject child and siblings

As part of gathering information at intake, any information already held by child protection is to be considered. The child protection practitioner is able to undertake the following searches in CRIS:

  • a search by name using any family or given name details known (including aliases) and possible similar spellings which may have been used by practitioners in the past
  • a search by address using current and any known past addresses for the subject child and any known siblings or parental figures.
  • a search of 'person responsible for harm' to determine if the alleged perpetrator has care of or contact with other children not linked to the child/family group subject to the report.

Any records identified in a search of CRIS should be reviewed and used to contribute to the intake assessment.

Note should be taken of any alerts and a review of the common client layer should occur.

The number of previous reports and their outcomes must be noted, and the practice requirements regarding re-report must be met. See Re-reports - advice.

Details of previous reports, the action taken and the outcome of any intervention should be considered. The identity of any previous reporters should be noted.

Any indication that the child or family may have resided interstate in the past should lead to inquiries of other state child protection services as appropriate.

In addition to the subject child and any siblings, consideration should be given to whether there may be other associated records that should be accessed and considered at this stage, for example, relating to parents, or other children for whom a parent has cared.

If, at the conclusion of gathering information from the reporter and considering the Victorian child protection history, it appears that the reporter's concerns for the child's wellbeing or protection do not meet the threshold for further action of any kind by child protection - that is, no follow-up is required - providing advice to the reporter only may be an appropriate outcome of the report - refer to 'Completing the intake assessment' below.

Criminal history check to ascertain current and past police contact

A criminal history check at intake is not routine. Checks should only be undertaken if critical to assessment, as a clear criminal record does not negate the possibility of criminal activity.

Contact with other agencies or professionals

Informing police (SOCIT) of physical or sexual abuse or serious neglect

Child protection and the police both have statutory responsibilities as protective interveners pursuant to the CYFA. Child protection is responsible for assessing the child or young person's safety development and wellbeing, and police are responsible for investigating crimes.

When child protection receives such a report under s. 183 or 184 of the CYFA from a source other than police regarding a child in need of protection due to sexual abuse, physical abuse or serious neglect, child protection must notify police at the point of intake and undertake joint planning of an appropriate response. Police must be notified prior to child protection visiting any parties or directly commencing their investigation.

Aboriginal child

When services such as school, childcare centre, hospital, medical professional or police officer are contacted during the course of an intake assessment, and the reporter does not know if the child is Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, ask the question. These services, and others, routinely identify if a child or family is Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in the course of their work. Remember though that 'no' response at this stage may only indicate that the information has not been collected or recorded accurately.

Where the child is identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, the Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice and Support Service (ACSASS) is to be consulted.

  • Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (Lakidjeka) ACSASS (entire state except for the Mallee area) - (03) 9388 2488
  • Mallee District Aboriginal Services ACSASS (Mallee area only) - 0429223833 (daytime), 0427474863 (after hours)

Child under two years

Where the child is under two there are specific standards to be met requiring contact with other agencies. See procedure High-risk infants for tasks that must be undertaken.

To assess risk or service provision          

If there is uncertainty about the level of concern for the child, or how the report should be responded to based on the information available to this point, it may be appropriate to contact other agencies or professionals to obtain further information or, where relevant, to confirm and clarify existing information.

It may be appropriate to arrange or participate in a case conference during the intake phase.

Where a child or a family member has a disability, including an intellectual disability, consultation should occur with Disability Services in a manner consistent with the Disability Services Operating Framework (2012).

Where a child or a family member is known to be of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background there should be consideration of the significance of this when assessing the report.

Where family violence has been reported as a concern, consideration must be given to contacting Victoria Police and any known specialist family violence services to obtain further information about the pattern and history of family violence and any support and safety plans in place.  

Completing the intake assessment

Having gathered sufficient intake information the intake assessment continues, consistent with the best interests case practice model, with analysis of that information. The aim at intake is to make a professional judgement of risk and needs to determine whether the child may be in need of protection, and how urgent the matter is, or whether there are significant concerns for the child's wellbeing.

At all stages of child protection involvement, including intake, the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration. Therefore assessment at intake will always involve consideration of protection of the child from harm, protection of their rights, and promotion of their development.

The definitions in s162 of the CYFA  regarding when a child is in need of protection should be used in deciding whether a child may be in need of protection.

Intake analysis of risk and protective factors and current assessment

Analysis of the information gathered, including both risk and protective factors, will lead to a decision about whether the matter should be investigated by child protection because the child may be in need of protection, or whether other interventions are required to safeguard the wellbeing of the child.

Critical reflection and analysis of the meaning of the information gathered and consultation with a supervisor supports balanced, well informed and child centered assessment of the report.

Recording the analysis and current assessment

The following prompts may assist in articulating the intake assessment:

  • Given all the information gathered, how do you make sense of it? What does it mean in relation to the vulnerability of each child in the family?
  • In your professional judgement, what is the likelihood of future harm if nothing changes?
  • From the point of view of each child and family member, what needs to change to create safety and promote the healthy development of the children?
  • If circumstances were improved within the family, what would you notice was different? What would there be more of? What would there be less of?

Child under two years

Where a report is received for a child aged less than two years and identified as a high-risk infant the child protection practitioner must consult a practice leader (or more senior practitioner) to inform the course of action.

Prior to closure of a case involving a high-risk infant the practitioner and their supervisor must consult with a senior practitioner, practice leader or principal practitioner to confirm the decision to close is appropriate, and that the closure plan is appropriate. The agreed rationale for closure and associated planning is to be recorded on CRIS prior to closure occurring. See procedure High-risk infants for tasks that must be undertaken.

Threat to kill a child

Where a threat has been made against the life of a child, parent or carer, the child protection practitioner must consult with their supervisor. See procedure Threats to kill for tasks that must be undertaken.

Classification of intake

The intake child protection practitioner, in consultation with their supervisor, needs to classify reports and other types of intakes. Where possible, this classification should be determined within three working days.

The first step is to determine whether, based on the information provided in the intake contact itself, follow-up is required. In most instances it will be necessary to gather further information from other sources – so follow-up will be required.

In some instances, it will be clear based only on the intake contact itself and consideration of any Victorian child protection history that the reporter’s concerns do not meet the threshold for further action of any kind by child protection. Alternatively there may be insufficient identifying information upon which to base any further inquiries. The various pathways the intake may follow are set out below.

Follow-up required – intake reports

Protective intervention report

Where a child may be in need of protection from significant harm (either immediate or cumulative), or as a result of abandonment or a parents death or incapacity (s. 162, CYFA), the report is to be classified as a protective intervention report (s. 30(1)(d) or s. 187(1)(b), CYFA).

Child wellbeing report

Where the issues relate to significant concern for a child's wellbeing, the report is to be classified as a child wellbeing report.

Unborn child report

Where the report relates to significant concern for the wellbeing of an unborn child after the child is born the report is to be classified as an unborn child report.

New allegations regarding a current client

Where a contact at intake relates to an existing client and contains new allegations, the matter should be referred to the allocated practitioner or team and the procedures for recording and investigating a new allegation regarding a current client should be followed.  See procedure New allegations.

Therapeutic treatment report

Where the report relates to a child aged 10 years or above and under 15 years exhibiting sexually abusive behaviours it is to be classified as a therapeutic treatment report.

See procedure Allegations of sexually abusive behaviour (TTR) for tasks that must be undertaken. This type of report may be recorded as a second intake type concurrently with other child protection involvement.

Follow-up required – other intake types

Child protection receives and processes other types of intakes, which do not constitute reports, and should be classified as appropriate as follows:

  • Requests from interstate and New Zealand
  • Requests under the Hague convention
  • Applications for conciliation counselling (irreconcilable difference)
  • Court report requests
  • Streetwork Outreach Service voluntary clients

Follow-up not required

Wellbeing – advice to reporter only

Where the reporter held significant concern for a child’s wellbeing or believed a child was in need of protection but, following consideration of the information they provided and any Victorian child protection history, the reported issues do not meet the threshold for further action of any kind by child protection the report should be classified as a wellbeing report – advice to reporter only.

Insufficient information

This classification should only be used where there is insufficient information to take any action, such as making enquiries to establish the identity or address of the child, and therefore the report cannot be classified in any other way.

General calls regarding existing or previous clients

Where an intake practitioner takes a call regarding an existing or previous client that does not constitute any other intake type, a case note should be recorded in the client file.

Re-reports

Where child protection has received two consecutive reports in 12 months, neither of which has been investigated, irrespective of classification, any subsequent report received in that 12 month period must be investigated unless the area manager or their delegate reviews the case and assesses that an investigation is not warranted.

If it is assessed an investigation is not warranted, the decision-maker must record an explicit rationale for this decision in CRIS. See Re-reports - advice.

Intake action following classification of intake

Protective intervention reports

The case is moved to the investigation and assessment phase using the process appropriate to the location.

Note that the key performance indicators (KPI) for response for urgent (two day) and non-urgent (14 day) reports apply from the time of first contact regarding the report.

Once the decision is made to classify a report as a protective intervention report, information sharing provisions under the CYFA regarding investigations apply.

Child wellbeing reports

Please note that during contact with the reporter or other sources of information, additional information may be disclosed which indicates risk to the child or young person. On that basis the child protection practitioner can, in accordance with s. 34 of the CYFA, reclassify the report as a protective intervention report.

After a report is classified as a child wellbeing report the possible intake responses are:

  • providing advice to the reporter
  • providing advice or assistance to the child or their family
  • referring for service provision.

Wellbeing - advice to reporter only

Where a child wellbeing report has been received, and it has been determined that no follow-up is required because the reported issues do not meet the threshold for further action of any kind by child protection, the intake child protection practitioner may provide advice to the reporter, including where the reporter is a child or family member. The reporter may be in a position to take some action to assist or support the child and it is considered that this will be a sufficient response in the circumstances. It may be appropriate to provide the reporter with general information to assist them with understanding why the issues they are raising would not constitute a basis for child protection involvement.

Providing advice or assistance to the reported child or their family.

Where there is no need for protective intervention it may sometimes be possible to promote the child’s wellbeing by providing information or assistance the child or their family. For instance, it may be helpful to provide information about the availability and contact details of local services that may assist in promoting family functioning and the child’s wellbeing either now or in the future.     

Referral

Where significant concern for a child's wellbeing exists and some action needs to be taken to ensure that the concern is addressed, the matter should be referred to the Child and Family Information Referral and Support Team (Child FIRST) in consultation with the senior child protection practitioner (community based) following local procedures.

In some instances Child FIRST may not be the most appropriate referral option and an alternative service, such as a specialist family violence service, may be identified as being more beneficial to assist the child and family. Referrals made by child protection to any service (other than Child FIRST) require the consent of the parent. The child protection practitioner needs to work in a collaborative way with the parent and service provider to make sure that:

  • all parties are clear of the basis for the referral
  • how and when to re-report to child protection if concerns regarding significant risk to the child arise or
  • how and when to refer to Child FIRST if significant concerns for the child's wellbeing arise.

Unborn child report

Where the report is classified as an unborn child report the possible intake responses are:

  • providing advice to the reporter, or
  • referring to Child FIRST or another service, or
  • providing a direct service to the mother.

See procedure Unborn child reports for tasks that must be undertaken.

Recording the report

In accordance with the provisions of s. 39 and 188 of the CYFA, an intake record must be created in CRIS for each report received by child protection

See procedure Receiving, registering and classifying a report for tasks that must be undertaken.

Feedback to reporters

The reporter may have an important role in protecting a child and should generally receive timely feedback about the report they have made, unless this would be contrary to the child's best interests.

Child protection intake must inform each professional reporter of the outcome of their report, unless this would not be in the best interests of the child, or there are exceptional circumstances.

Where appropriate, non-professional reporters may be informed of the outcome of their report.

Feedback to reporters would usually be provided verbally (by phone) rather than in writing, and should not be provided to another party, as this may jeopardise the reporter's confidentiality. If it is considered appropriate to provide feedback in writing to a professional reporter, care should be taken to ensure that the reporter's confidentiality is not breached. For example, wording should be carefully considered, and any letter should be addressed directly to the professional concerned and marked 'private and confidential'.

Information provided to a reporter should be restricted to the intake outcome (that is the classification of the report). It may be appropriate to provide general information regarding the way family services or child protection may work with families.

The reporter should not be informed of any further details, unless the child or their parent consents or where the sharing of this information would be covered by the information sharing provisions of the CYFA. See Information sharing.

Considerations for good practice

Information gathering at time of intake

When receiving a report respond to the reporter sensitively and respectfully and make sure that the information they provide is recorded accurately and in sufficient detail.

Engaging reporters

The child protection practitioner should support the reporter and emphasise that the action of reporting is an important step in protecting children.

People who report concerns regarding abuse or neglect are a rich source of information. They may also have a relationship with the family which can be invaluable in the future.

It may be useful to say something like "as adults we all have a responsibility to ensure children are safe and well cared for. Where we are concerned that the parent or caregiver is unable or unwilling to protect the child, we need to act to ensure this occurs".

It may help to reassure reporters that it is the role of child protection to determine what to do in response to the concerns they have expressed.

It is also important to provide clear information regarding the role of the child protection service, the legislative requirements which underpin our role, and the possible course of action for reports made to child protection. Occasionally people reporting concerns regarding abuse and neglect can have unrealistic expectations about what child protection can do.

Family Violence

Assessing the risk posed to a child by a family member committing family violence at the point of intake can be difficult as often the reported information is limited to a single incident and little may be known about the nature, pattern or severity of the family violence. In many circumstances it will also be unclear what safety and support plans, if any, are in place to support the family and minimise the likelihood of future violence. Gathering this information is necessary to inform a risk assessment and, ultimately, the classification of the report.

When responding to a report indicating the presence of family violence child protection practitioners, in consultation with their managers, must determine what further information, if any, is required to determine the level of risk the perpetrator’s behaviour poses to the child. Where it is relevant to your risk assessment, obtain further information about the pattern and history of family violence, any recent risk assessments and safety plans in place from sources such as Victoria Police, specialist family violence services and men’s services. If you are aware a family violence intervention order (including any applications or safety notices) has been made, contact the Registrar of the Magistrates Court closest to where the family resides to obtain the outcome. Where there are Family Law Act orders in place, consider requesting a copy of the order from the relevant court to inform your risk assessment.

Record in the safety, stability and development statement your risk assessment, including the pattern and history of family violence, giving attention to any patterns of escalation in the perpetrators behaviour. Consider the impact of the perpetrator’s behaviour on each child individually and the affected parent. 

Malicious reports

See Malicious reports - advice.

Reviewing child protection history

How to look

Consider the dates, length of involvement, and outcome of previous contacts (includes s. 38 consults). Check the details of previous intakes to reveal previous reporters, alleged abuses and intake outcomes. The source of previous reports may reveal a pattern in itself.

Scan file entries to check for relevance, and then read in detail any you identify as pertinent. Look for information that is credible and as original, firsthand or relating to actual events as possible providing:

  • evidentiary information
  • examples of strengths or things that have worked
  • psycho-social history.

Keep an open mind

While it is appropriate to note earlier assessments (by child protection or others) it is important to keep an open mind and gather factual information to contribute to a fresh intake assessment.

Cumulative harm

  • The client record will be a significant source of information relevant to assessing cumulative harm and preventing continuation of any inappropriate pattern of episodic intervention.
  • See specialist practice resource Cumulative harm.

Consulting with supervisor or a team manager

Consultation should be sought as soon as all relevant information is available to inform a decision regarding further action. Keep in mind that further information may be required and that the consultation process allows you to review your assessment.

Patterns evident through history of harm

Analysis of a carefully researched and considered file review and other history to identify patterns of past behaviour will assist significantly with the assessment of harm, and in particular, cumulative harm and is well worth the time and effort.

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