Conducting the first visit - advice

This advice provides additional information regarding the first visit to the child and family for the purposes of conducting a protective investigation.

Document ID number 2033, version 4, 25 May 2017.

Introduction

See procedure First visit for tasks that must be undertaken.

Where a decision has been made to investigate and an appropriate investigation plan has been undertaken, face-to-face contact should be made with parents and children within the required timeframes. The aim of the investigation is to establish if the child is in need of protection as set out in s. 162 of the CYFA.

The investigation commences with a first visit generally to the family home but sometimes to another location such as a school or a hospital where appropriate to the child's circumstances. The aim is to have contact in person with parents and children.

Three steps in undertaking the first visit are covered:

  • commencing the investigation – the first visit
  • interviews with all parties
  • concluding the initial visit.

Procedures following the first visit, and where there is disclosure of a crime, are also covered.

Planning the investigation

Thorough planning is the first step in undertaking a comprehensive protective investigation. See procedure Investigation plan for tasks that must be undertaken. Use the Investigation and assessment planning checklist to assist with planning the first visit.

Commencing the investigation – the first visit

CRIS and defining commencement

Two and 14 day KPI

For a protective intervention report where an urgent investigation is assessed as necessary, face-to-face contact with both the child and parents must be attempted within two calendar days of receipt of the report.

For all other protective intervention reports, face-to-face contact with both the child and parents must be attempted within 14 calendar days of receipt of the report.

The CRIS business rules for the measurement of this KPI are that if the time the report is received is before 1pm, then that day is counted as 'day one' and the 'two calendar days' concludes the next day. If the time of the report is after 1pm, then that day is counted as 'day zero' and the 'two calendar days' concludes the day after the next day.

The field titled 'First Visit' in CRIS requires a date and time to be recorded and is used to measure program performance against the two and 14 day KPIs. The intention is to record the proper actual commencement of the investigation.

Proper actual commencement of the investigation occurs when:

  • face-to-face contact with the child and parents is first attempted, provided the attempted contact is at a place and time at which it is reasonable to expect they will be found; or
  • face-to-face contact is made with a parent at the first attempt, and arrangements are made to sight the child as soon as possible; or
  • face-to-face contact is made with the child and parents at the first attempt.

In any of these circumstances the date and time that the investigation commenced can be recorded in the 'First Visit' field in CRIS. The detail of what occurred is to be recorded in an associated case note.

Where the child is part of a sibling group, the record should be created accurately for each child. This means that a group save can be used where one of the above circumstances applies to each of the group members saved to. Where the proper actual commencement of the investigation occurs at different times for different children in the group, this should be accurately recorded, so saving the same date and time to the whole group will not be appropriate.

Proper actual commencement of the investigation does not include:

  • planning or preparation for the investigation
  • a phone call to the child or their parents, whether for the purpose of obtaining information or arranging a time to conduct in person interviews
  • an attempted visit to the home address when it is reasonable to expect that the child will not be home, or is known to be at an alternate address
  • an attempted visit to the child and parents home address when it is probable that no one will be there (such as when parents could be expected to be at work and the child at school)
  • a case conference with professionals.

Where the investigation has commenced but face-to-face contact with the child and parents does not occur at the first attempt, continuing active attempts to have face-to-face contact are required.

Where the two or 14 day KPI has not been met, a case note explaining the reasons should be added to the client's file.

Introduction and information giving

It is important practitioners do not directly or indirectly divulge their professional identity or the nature of the concerns to people who are not directly involved in the investigation.

Establishing address and occupant are correct

If the first visit is occurring at the family home, on arrival at the reported address, practitioners should establish that the correct address has been located and the right people found.

If children are home alone

If a child (or children) is found unattended at home, the child must not be left, and steps must be taken to ensure their immediate safety and to locate an appropriate caregiver. See procedure Child found unattended at home for tasks that must be undertaken.

Introduction and explanation of roles

When it is confirmed they are speaking to the child's parent, practitioners should introduce themselves. If the visit has not been pre-arranged, practitioners should explain they are from the child protection service of the Department of Health and Human Services and that a report has been received about their child. Practitioners should ask to go inside to discuss the report.

For safety reasons, prior to entering the house, practitioners should ask the parent who is in the house.

Child protection practitioners should identify themselves and show identification. Any other parties involved in conducting the visit should either introduce themselves or be introduced and their role should be clearly explained. This may include, for example, police, ACSASS, family service worker, Crisis Assessment Treatment (CAT) team.

Explain to parents that child protection have the legal responsibility, under the CYFA, to receive and investigate reports regarding possible harm to children, and that a report has been received about their child. Explain the concerns identified in the report will be discussed in detail and that the family’s views will be heard. Convey the desire to help.

If it is intended to interview parents separately, this should be negotiated, before outlining the mandate and concerns of the report. The need for separate interviews should be determined in the planning stage of the investigation.

Parents and children must be informed of the legal mandate before any response to the allegations of harm is sought, and as early as possible in the contact. The following is an example of how this information could be presented to families:

'All the information you provide will contribute to our assessment. When the assessment is completed we will meet with you to discuss the outcome.

One outcome may be that no further action is required and we will end our involvement. Another could be that we ask you to make some changes, so your child is (children are) safe and protected from harm.

If we can't reach agreement with you on the changes that we believe are necessary, we are able to make an application for a court order to protect your child(ren), based on our assessment and the information provided by you. Hopefully that won't be necessary and we can work together to resolve any issues.'

Sometimes parents may begin to disclose information before practitioners have explained the mandate. Practitioners should explain they need to provide some information first, and then inform the parents of the mandate.

In addition to interviewing parents, it is also necessary for practitioners to interview the children named in the report and those living in the house. The mandate must also be explained to children, in a manner they will understand.

A record of this explanation of the child protection role and mandate should be recorded with details of the discussion.

Anonymity of the reporter

The identity of reporters and any persons giving information in confidence during an investigation is protected, as is any information likely to lead to their identification (s. 209(1)(a)(b), CYFA).

It is sometimes the case during a first visit that a family's focus on who may have made the report means it can make it difficult to shift the discussion to the concerns themselves.

When the identity of the reporter is raised, practitioners should explain that legally this cannot be disclosed, unless the reporter has previously provided written consent.

Practitioners should acknowledge that this is sometimes difficult for parents, but explain the legislation is designed to ensure that children are safe, and encourage adults who are concerned for children to act to protect them.

There are certain circumstances under which the identity can be provided, and these are outlined in s. 209(2) of the CYFA.

Practitioners also need to take care not to provide any information which may lead to the identity of the report, or any person who has provided information (that is, be careful in describing concerns or information which only the reporter would know).

Interviews with all parties

It is expected that during the course of the first visit face-to-face contact will occur with each subject child and with the parents. Where parents are separated, make contact with and arrange to see the other parent as soon as possible, and preferably before concluding the first visit. This also includes people that have a significant parenting role with the child, such as parent’s partners or grandparents.

Child protection practitioners need to exhaust all efforts to interview perpetrators of family violence where it is safe to do so for everyone concerned, including the child, affected parent and practitioner. Engaging with the perpetrator allows the possibility for them to acknowledge their behaviour, to understand the impact upon the affected parent and each of their children and to envisage and develop an emotionally and physically safe way of maintaining a relationship with their family.

Where there is family violence, interview the affected parent and child separately from the perpetrator and carefully consider the safety of all affected persons incluing safety requirements and when the interviews will take place. For further information see Working with adult perpetrators of family violence - advice.

Discussing the concerns and gathering information

It is important to keep an open mind during this part of the investigation. Practitioners should clearly outline each of the concerns in detail, and request the parent's response or account of particular incidents, issues or chains of events. If parents are interviewed separately, the same process should be followed, in order to compare and corroborate accounts.

Practitioners should collect further information (upon which to base their assessment) using the questions and areas for discussion (based on any previous reports) compiled in the investigation planning stage. See Best interests case practice summary guide.

Information is to be collected about the key domains of:

  • child's safety
  • child's stability
  • child's need for permanency
  • parent or caregiver capacity
  • current family composition and dynamics
  • family history
  • social and economic environment
  • community partnerships, resources and social networks.

Practitioners should observe the interactions in the family. It is important to focus upon:

  • the particular incident or pattern of behaviour and parenting, which has led to the current and previous reports
  • the effect of harm on the child's development, which may have accumulated over a long period of time, illustrated by a number of prior reports to child protection (for example, chronic low level neglect over a long period) has the potential to seriously damage a child's development and functioning, or through exposure to multiple forms of abuse
  • the effect of the situation on the child’s sense of certainty and security within the home environment
  • the parent's capacity and willingness to acknowledge responsibility for any abuse or neglect identified, and to work with child protection or other services.

Children under two years

There are specific standards and procedures for first visits with regard to infants aged less than two years. They include requirements about contact with the child for the purpose of assessing risk, viewing the child's sleeping environment and discussing SIDS risk factors with parents. See procedure High-risk infants for tasks that must be undertaken.

Observing or interviewing all children

The child is the primary client and must be directly seen and assessed (including a body check where appropriate to age and reported concerns). This should occur during the initial visit. Any delay in direct contact with and observation of the child must be discussed with a supervisor and recorded in CRIS.

Subject child

Practitioners are expected to observe and interact with the child in a manner consistent with the child's age and stage of development in order to make a preliminary assessment of the child's presentation.

A brief sighting of a child or assurance about their condition by a parent is not adequate for the purpose of this assessment. The assessment must include observation of the child's physical and emotional presentation, and the child's interaction with each parent or caregiver.

Observations of the child should include:

  • behaviour
  • responsiveness to parents and others in the home
  • child's development compared with normative milestones
  • appropriateness of behaviour
  • physical appearance and health
  • emotional presentation.

It is important that practitioners do not ask children leading questions, that is, questions, which suggest a particular answer. For example, 'Did daddy hurt you?'

Where the report relates to an infant who is asleep at the time of the visit, if the report relates to physical abuse or serious neglect, the practitioner should request that the parent wake the child so a visual examination can be conducted. In other circumstances, the practitioner should at least briefly observe the child to ensure their immediate wellbeing, and make a time with the parent to return as soon as possible when the child is awake.

Other children not named in the report

Parental permission must be provided in order for practitioners to interview other children in the home who are not named in the report.

However if in the course of the visit protective concerns are identified for other children living in the family home who were not named in the report, the practitioner should contact their supervisor regarding the appropriateness of making a protective intervention report regarding the other children.

Investigation regarding these children as subject children may then proceed. This may be during the first visit or subsequently in the course of completing the investigation.

Visual examination of the child

Where physical abuse or serious neglect is alleged or suspected, the child protection practitioner must seek to conduct a thorough visual examination of the child.

If a visual examination suggests signs of non-accidental injury or harm resulting from physical abuse or neglect, a forensic medical examination must be arranged either with the parent or guardian's consent or through a protection application.

  • Visual examination does not require physical contact but involves sighting the child in a good light with sufficient clothing removed to satisfy the child protection practitioner that any superficial signs of injury or harm as a result of physical abuse or serious neglect would be apparent.
  • The visual examination will contribute to the assessment leading to substantiation or otherwise of the report.
  • Parental permission is required if any of the child's clothing needs to be removed. A child over the age of 14 years of age may provide consent to a visual examination which requires the removal of clothing.
  • Another independent adult should witness the examination. This may be another child protection practitioner, a police officer, or a teacher. The age and gender of the child and the nature of the allegations or report should be considered in the selection of the independent adult and in how the visual examination proceeds.
  • The child's presentation and their understanding of what is happening should be taken into account. The practitioner should clearly and calmly explain the process to the child, taking care to move at the child's pace, engage and reassure the child throughout this process.
  • A detailed record of any observed injuries should be completed including a detailed description and diagram of their location on the child's body.
  • A visual examination of a child is not appropriate to investigate an allegation of sexual abuse. Child protection practitioners do not have the necessary medical training or physiological knowledge to undertake a visual examination of a child's genitalia or anus. If information indicates there may be physical evidence of sexual abuse, a forensic medical examination should be arranged. See procedures Consent for medical examination and treatment and Medical and forensic examinations for tasks that must be undertaken.

Parental refusal to cooperate or allow access to the child

Where a parent refuses to cooperate with the investigation or to provide permission for a medical examination or obstructs access to the child for the purposes of assessment, contact should be made with the supervisor or team manager.

Where there is sufficient information to indicate the need for further assessment of the child in their parent's care, an application for a temporary assessment order (TAO) to enable further assessment should be made unless information or observations indicate there is need to remove the child to ensure their safety, in which case a warrant should be sought. See procedures Temporary assessment order – without notice and Warrants for tasks that must be undertake and advice Immediate removal of a child.

Parent or child's refusal to allow the visual examination

While practitioners should attempt to encourage compliance with the examination to fully assess the risks to the child, the parents' and child's wishes as to how the check occurs must be respected.

Child protection practitioners should not remove a child's clothing against their wishes or those of their parents. The police if in attendance may have power to enforce compliance.

In situations where a child and or their parents are adamant the visual examination should not proceed, practitioners should consult their supervisor. This process should also be followed where a young person (aged 14 years or over) agrees to the visual examination against the wishes of their parent or vice versa.

Concluding the first visit

Risk assessment and safety plans

Following the information gathering process (for example, completion of interviews with parents, observation and interaction with the child and visual examination of the child if required), practitioners will make an assessment of whether the child is:

  • at immediate risk of significant harm
  • at unacceptable risk of harm as a result of cumulative patterns of harm to the child's development and the unwillingness or inability of parents to take actions to meet their child's needs.

On concluding the information gathering process, practitioners should find a place to speak privately or step outside the home, to discuss their assessment with their colleague, and if necessary with their supervisor by phone.

Where it is considered the child has been or is likely to be at risk of significant harm, but there are sufficient protective factors within the family and extended family to ensure the child’s safety in the short term, a safety plan should be formulated to ensure the child's safety in the immediate future. A decision that a safety plan is required, indicates some or all of the protective concerns have been substantiated, and the case plan process commences. It is important to advise the child and parent of the case plan process.

The safety plan could form the first version of the actions table as it will become an attachment to the case plan when it is developed. The actions table, at this stage, will focus on the immediate actions that need to occur to ensure the child’s safety over the next 24 hours.

The actions table can be further revised when the case plan is developed over the next 21 days to incorporate the details about the goals, tasks and timelines.

Any plan must include the perspectives of the family members. It is not appropriate to describe the safety plan as an undertaking. The willingness of all parties to implement the actions table will contribute to the assessment of whether it will provide sufficient safety for the child.

Safety plan examples include:

  • arranging for a parent who has made threats or been violent to leave the family home for a designated period while further assessment occurs
  • arranging for a parent to take a child to a service for follow up, such as a maternal child health service, and confirming the outcome
  • an intensive support and monitoring role by an extended family member who acknowledges the risks to the child
  • temporary voluntary placement of a child by child protection, for example, two days with a family member (kinship placement) or via a voluntary child care agreement with a community service organisation (CSO) while specific issues are addressed. For example, time out for parent, development of a support plan, and further assessment.

Family violence

Safety plans may be developed with the affected parent or young person either by child protection or by a specialist family violence or other support service.  How the plan is developed and what is included in the safety plan depends on the family’s situation and the type and level of risk posed by the perpetrator.

The perpetrator may be involved in the development of a safety plan identifying their role in making their family safe. However, this would be undertaken separately from the safety plan for the affected parent and be dependent on the level of responsibility the perpetrator is taking for their behaviour. See Working with adult perpetrators of family violence – advice.

Where there is family violence , the affected parent should not be responsible for stopping or addressing the offender’s violent or controlling behaviours If the parents are separated, practitioners need to avoid placing the responsibility on the affected parent to supervise contact between the child and the perpetrator. A victim/survivor of family violence cannot be expected to exert control over a situation to protect their child during contact if they have been subject to violence themselves or are fearful of the perpetrator, especially where separation or changes to contact arrangements are recent.

Completed safety plans for the affected parent and the child should be scanned and attached to a case note in CRIS titled family violence safety plan – < name of adult or child victim/survivor>( not to be provided to <name of perpetrator>). If completed with the perpetrator attach to a case note titled family violence safety plan - <name of perpetrator>.

Goals and tasks for the perpetrator to address their coercive control behaviour can be detailed and recorded in the actions table, along with actions to address the other protective concerns and needs of the child.

For advice on what to consider when developing a safety plan involving family violence, see Planning for children’s safety where there is family violence – advice and Working with families where an adult is violent (pdf, 1.17 MB) .

As well as ensuring that a child is not at immediate or unacceptable risk of harm, consider evidence of future risks to the child's safety, development and wellbeing. While conducting the first visit, information should be gathered that assists with a broader understanding of a child's development and wellbeing and plans to address these issues within the case plan.

Placing a child in emergency care

It may be necessary during the course of a first visit to place a child in emergency care. This decision may be reached at any time from very soon after the visit commences until after an extensive assessment process has been completed. It will be based on an assessment that the child has been harmed or is at significant risk of harm and there is no alternative to ensure the child's safety. This decision should be discussed with the supervisor and endorsed by the team manager or more senior officer.

A protection application should be issued with the child being placed in emergency care.

Consideration should be given to:

  • ensuring the child's safety during the process
  • ensuring the personal safety of the practitioner and others as the child is placed in emergency care
  • substantiating all or some of the protective concerns
  • relevant legislative requirements, standards, and practice advice.

Circumstances and reactions of families vary widely, however usually this will be an upsetting situation for them. The family may accept the child protection practitioner's authority to place the child in emergency care. However sometimes resistance or aggression is encountered and police attendance may be required to assist with containing the situation. If this kind of reaction is predicted, call police and wait for them to arrive before informing the child and family of the decision to place the child in emergency care. See advice Immediate removal of a child.

Consultation with the direct supervisor

Investigation planning should have included the timing of a consultation with the supervisor regarding the practitioner's assessment and proposed action. The consultation may take place by phone while practitioners are still at the child's home, or upon return to the office.

It may be necessary to consult with a supervisor, team manager or a more senior officer during the visit, for example, to discuss aspects of a safety plan and the decision to substantiate some or all of the protective concerns, or endorse the issuing of a protection application by emergency care.

If the consultation needs to occur while practitioners are still with the family this discussion should occur away from the family in order that risks and options can be discussed frankly. Family members should be informed that the consultation is required, and that practitioners will then explain the outcome and the next steps.

Explaining what will happen next to the family, including children

After the practitioners have:

  • completed the interviews
  • gathered relevant information
  • observed and interacted with the child
  • visually examined the child (if appropriate – see requirements)
  • sighted sleeping arrangements and discussed SIDS risk factors (for under two’s)
  • provided the relevant information forms including Privacy notices.
  • developed a preliminary assessment and safety plan (as appropriate)
  • consulted with the supervisor as appropriate,

parents and children should be informed of the outcome of the preliminary assessment.

Practitioners should provide a clear explanation to parents and children of:

  • the harm or risks to which this preliminary assessment indicates the child has been or is exposed
  • what will happen next. For example, the requirement for a medical assessment, contact with others who know the family, further interviews (for children who are interviewed without parental permission, this is particularly important, so that they are aware of when and how their parents will be informed).
  • what further action will be required to complete the investigation, for example, the likely length of the assessment period, likely need for further visits, contacts with relevant professionals and extended family – see below
  • how the family will be involved and informed about the outcome
  • the decision-making process and the process for requesting a review of decisions. See advice Internal review of decisions.

Practitioners should provide their written contact details to the family, so parents and children can make contact if they have questions or to provide further information. It is critical that practitioners inform families as soon as possible of any changes to plans for action, for example, decision to close a case, not to proceed with medical or other appointments and so on.

Where an assessment is made that a protection application is required to ensure the safety of the child, the family must be clearly informed about their rights, and the legal and placement process. See advice Court action.

Informing the family about contact with others

As part of the investigation child protection will need to speak with professionals who know the child and family and often with extended family, in order to corroborate or clarify information provided by family, and collect further information relevant to the protection and development of the child.

Before the conclusion of the initial visit the family should be informed that it may be necessary to discuss any concerns about the safety and wellbeing of the child with professionals and members of the extended family, consistent with the legal obligation child protection has to conduct the investigation in the best interests of the child.

Practitioners need to be sensitive to the possibility that the family may have strong feelings about others being made aware of the report. It may be useful to ask if there is anyone (in addition to the professionals or others who must be contacted) that they would like the practitioner to speak with. See Information sharing.

Planning timely second and subsequent visits

Prior to concluding the initial visit, the family should be advised that it is likely further contact will be necessary in order to continue the assessment of the risk to the child.

It may be possible that a plan for subsequent visits may not be developed until discussion occurs with a supervisor or team manager, as this will focus attention on what further information is still required or what follow up is necessary.

Provision of relevant information sheets

The following information sheets must be provided to parents and children over 10 years of age. Practitioners should consider the child's ability to understand and comprehend the information when leaving forms with children under the age of 10 years. For parents or children with a disability, or where proficiency with written English may be relevant encourage and facilitate appropriate support for the family.

  • When protective workers visit – information for parents/information for young people (for all first visits).
  • Child Protection and your personal information- information for parent/information for young people (for all first visits).
  • The Children’s Court – information for parents/information for young people (where a protection application is issued).

Following the first visit

Further consultation and debriefing

Following the first visit, further consultation with a supervisor will occur regarding the practitioner's risk assessment and future planning, including plans for subsequent visits, contact with other professionals or family members and further interviews. This may occur in the form of a scheduled supervision meeting or directly after the visit.

Depending on the circumstances of the first visit, debriefing with the supervisor may also be necessary. Debriefing provides practitioners the opportunity to review the emotional impact of issues which arise in the course of investigations, including intimidation or threats from family members or personal responses to situations and practice issues.

Additional goals or tasks should be included in the investigation plan.

Recording the details of the investigation

The record of the first visit is one of the case documents that is recorded contemporaneously. This is also required for any subsequent disclosure interviews. Other case notes about the investigation are to be recorded as soon as practicable.

It is important to make a clear record of when the child was seen, or where there is more than one child in the family, when each child was seen, in the case notes recording the investigation. See Case recording.

Other considerations

Disclosure of a criminal matter - police involvement

If during the course of an interview a disclosure is made of physical or sexual abuse or serious neglect, and police are not present, the matter is to be reported to police and a decision made to either continue with the interview or suspend it until police arrive - this should be based on what is considered to be in the best interests of the child.

When this occurs, parents should be informed of the requirement for the matter to be reported to police although child protection should avoid informing the alleged perpetrator where possible.

Where the child has made a disclosure of physical or sexual abuse in an interview to which parents have not consented, parents should not be informed of this disclosure until the police have been informed and an investigation plan developed.

Contact with the police and the development of a plan must take place as soon as possible and should not detract from the responsibility to properly inform parents.

Serious neglect includes situations where a parent has consistently failed to meet the child's basic needs for food, shelter, hygiene or adequate supervision and the consequences for the child are severe. For example:

  • the child's home environment is hazardous in the extreme and poses a threat the child's immediate safety or development and is characterised by the presence of animal or human faeces or urine, decomposing food, syringes or other drug paraphernalia
  • where the child is provided with consistently insufficient or inadequate food or nourishment for the child's healthy development
  • where a child has a serious medical condition for which the parent has consistently failed to obtain treatment or dispense prescribed medication
  • where a parent consistently leaves a child unattended, exposed to or in the care of strangers who may harm the child.
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