Gathering information from other sources - advice

This advice provides additional information regarding the gathering of information from other sources during the protective investigation.

Document ID number 2035, version 2, 1 March 2016.

Introduction

See procedures Investigation plan and Completing the investigation following the first visit for tasks that must be undertaken.

The purpose of contacting sources other than the family to collect information during an investigation is to:

  • verify, clarify or corroborate information which has been provided by the family (or other sources) on the first or subsequent contacts
  • gather further specific and comprehensive information to inform an assessment of safety and development.

A primary source of information, (which should be reviewed prior to the first visit) is any existing child protection file that relates to the reported child, their siblings, or parents.

Verifying, clarifying and corroborating information

Investigation involves a systematic, detailed attempt to learn the facts about complex situations. It involves listening, questioning, observing, consulting with others and careful analysis.

During a child protection investigation, there is considerable incentive for worried parents to provide responses to questions they believe will be viewed most favourably by child protection. For parents who are themselves experiencing family violence, their responses may also be impacted upon by their fear of the alleged perpetrator of the violence.

Information provided by parents in initial and subsequent home visits may or may not be accurate, and on its own is generally not sufficiently comprehensive for the purposes of investigation to ensure the protection of the child.

Information regarding police involvement, existing court orders (for example, parenting orders made by the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court) should be verified with the relevant sources. See advice Verifying orders - advice.

Sources who know the child or family well and have regular contact with them including extended family and professionals can assist in clarifying and corroborating information about significant events or issues that has been provided by parents and children.

It is important to note that individuals contacted by child protection will provide information from their vantage point only. Professionals and agencies are sometimes able to provide a more objective view than members of extended family. Conversely extended family are often more able to provide information over an extended period. Both are useful sources of information.

Decisions based on information provided by parents that is not verified or corroborated by other sources, may leave children vulnerable to further harm.

Gathering information to inform the best interests assessment

When developing an assessment, information is collected from the child, parents and a range of sources in eight distinct categories:

  • child's age and stage of development
  • child's safety
  • child's permanency
  • parent/caregivers capability
  • family composition and dynamics
  • child's culture
  • social and economic environment
  • family's networks and resources.

In addition to clarifying and corroborating observations and information obtained from the child and parents, gathering information from other sources at initial investigation should:

  • have a clear purpose
  • be guided by these categories
  • be directly related to the assessment of safety and development.

The information is then analysed to identify:

  • the harm to the child (incorporating - age, development, pattern and history, severity, vulnerability of the child)
  • future risk to the child (incorporating - vulnerability, pattern and history, family composition and dynamics)
  • sustainability of protective factors (incorporating parental strengths/capabilities, available supports)
  • child's needs (developmental needs and cultural identity).

A judgement is then made regarding the most appropriate course of action to ensure the child's safety and wellbeing.

Note: Each stage of the assessment process is as important as the other. Collecting the most relevant information and verifying its accuracy, provides the basis to analyse and weigh up one factor against another, and finally to make a judgment about how best to ensure children are safe.

Consultation with agencies who have been involved with the family

Professionals who are or have been involved with the child or family, such as schools, kindergarten teachers, childcare centres, maternal and child health centres, family doctors, community health centres, family services, specialist family violence services and drug and alcohol services should be considered for contact to:

  • gather information regarding specific incidents and the cumulative impact of ongoing issues
  • clarify their current role with the child and family and their current plan for working with them
  • clarify their future commitment and envisaged role with the family.

Where the family is from a non-English speaking background, contact with an appropriate culturally specific welfare service should be considered, to clarify culturally accepted practices and availability of supports or plan the most appropriate intervention. Where the agency is not currently involved, care should be taken to avoid divulging information which may identify the family within their cultural community.

Wherever possible, contact should also be made with professionals with whom the family are involved.

Contact with the child's extended family

In situations where members of the parent's extended family have had active involvement with the child, their comments regarding the child's emotional and physical wellbeing and behaviour patterns should be sought. They may also be able to contribute information relevant to an assessment of the parent's capacity to care for and protect the child.

While family members can provide a rich source of information for the purposes of assessing risk, they may also feel compromised and disloyal if they provide details, which verify the concerns, identified in the report. Information left unsaid due to family loyalty may leave children unprotected.

Contact with substitute caregivers

Where a child is not living with a parent at the time of the report (for example, an adolescent living with a grandparent or family friends) the child's caregiver should be consulted to obtain an understanding of the child's current level of functioning, factors which may influence this (for example, school, contact with parents) and to clarify any concerns the caregivers may have.

Contact with parents who do not live with the child

Where parents are separated and a child is living with one parent at the time of the investigation, the other parent should be contacted if their whereabouts are known with the aim of advising them of child protection involvement and gathering/corroborating information provided by the parent with whom the child lives. Wherever possible, child protection should seek to verify the legal arrangements between separated parents.

Where there is evidence the relationship between the parents was abusive (and possibly continues to be abusive), further consultation with a supervisor is required regarding the decision to contact the parent who does not live with the child, in a way that protects the child and adult victim from harm.

Contact with significant others

The child or parents may have indicated significant relationships with other people, such as a school teacher, families of school friends, close family friends or neighbours who may provide observations of the child's presentation, relationships and development. This contact should be made with the family's knowledge and, preferably, with agreement to determine their understanding of their relationship with the child or family, to determine their plans for future relationships and their willingness and capacity to offer support. Consent is not required for child protection to contact other parties where this is necessary for the investigation of a protective intervention report.

Children less than two years of age

When investigating protective intervention reports involving children under two years of age who are high risk, there are mandatory standards and requirements including consultation with the practice leader, contact with the child's birth hospital regarding antenatal care and interstate welfare departments. See procedure High-risk infants and advice SIDS and safe sleeping arrangements.

Aboriginal children and families

Child protection is required to consult with ACSASS in respect of all reports and investigations on Aboriginal children and young people. See advice Responding to Aboriginal children.

Considerations for good practice

Negotiating the family’s agreement to contact other sources

Some families will be reluctant to provide details of other professionals and extended family. In their planning for the first visit and review of intake material, practitioners should identify family members and professionals who will add the most value to the investigation and be prepared to discuss the need for this contact and the reasons with parents on the first home visit.

Professionals who see children on a regular basis, such as schools, childcare centres, maternal and child health nurses, have the ability to draw comparisons over time, comment upon behaviour, parent/child/peer interactions and should routinely be considered for contact.

Maximising parental involvement in making safe choices and decisions in statutory work is one way of engaging families in the task of protecting children.

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