Investigation planning - advice

This advice provides additional information regarding planning and preparing a protective investigation.

Document ID number 2030, version 2, 1 March 2016.

Introduction

See procedure Investigation plan for tasks that must be undertaken.

Where a report to child protection is classified as a protective intervention report, an investigation is required. Practitioners are required to develop a plan for the investigation and to document their plan, and any decisions that may be made before the commencement of the investigation.

Investigation planning is undertaken by the practitioner in consultation with their supervisor. The practice leader or principal practitioner may be involved for complex cases.

Investigation involves a systematic, detailed approach to establishing the facts about complex situations. This involves being open minded, listening, questioning, observing, consulting with others and testing the veracity of information gathered. Detailed analysis of the information gathered is then required to reach an assessment.

Timelines for responding to protective intervention reports

Two and 14 day key performance indicator (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.

CRIS business rules for the measurement of KPIs are that if the report is received before 1.00pm, then that day is counted as 'day one.' For two day KPIs the 'two calendar days' period concludes the next day. If the report is received after 1.00pm, then that day is counted as 'day zero' and the 'two calendar days' period concludes the day after the next day.

The two and 14 day KPIs measure the commencement of investigations; this is defined as when face-to-face contact with the child and parents is attempted. Planning and preparing for the investigation does not constitute commencing the investigation.

For this requirement to be met, face-to-face contact needs to be attempted with each child identified in the report and their parents, at a time and place at which it can be reasonably expected that they will be found, within the prescribed time frames. See procedure First visit for tasks that must be undertaken.

An urgent investigation is necessary when:

  • there is clear information that a child is likely to be at risk of significant harm and
  • the intake assessment is that there are concerns for the child's immediate safety or an urgent response will be in the child's best interests.

The intake team manager (or above) is responsible for determining the level of urgency, based on the intake assessment.

Where a protective intervention report has been assessed as requiring an urgent investigation, the intake team manager will alert the investigation and response team manager. Where the investigation and assessment team does not concur with the intake assessment of urgency, the matter should immediately be referred to a more senior officer for resolution.

Investigation planning

The investigation plan is developed by the child protection practitioner in consultation with their supervisor and other senior staff as required (for example, practice leader or principal practitioner). In the case of an Aboriginal child the development of the investigation plan will involve consultation with ACSASS.

Completion of a written investigation plan helps to ensure that there is:

  • considered preparation
  • a shared understanding of investigation roles and responsibilities between supervisor and practitioner (and any other participants, such as police)
  • a methodical and sequential process
  • accountability for the actions taken.

The investigation plan is recorded in the case planning section of CRIS and needs to briefly document the key tasks to be undertaken, such as liaising to prepare for joint visit, observing or interviewing the child, interviewing each parent, contacting others who hold relevant information, and so on.

In all cases the following tasks are indicated:

  • become familiar with the current protective intervention report, and:
    • any previous child protection history
    • any previous family violence reports and parental responses to the reports and
    • any other relevant available information
  • where the reported concerns relate to physical abuse or sexual abuse ensure SOCIT has been notified and, where appropriate, develop a joint investigation plan  
  • identify potential risks to worker safety
  • make contingency plans to follow should parents refuse to cooperate with the investigation, should a medical examination be required
  • consider the need for support persons or for an interpreter to facilitate investigation
  • make face-to-face contact with the child (includes observing the child and interviewing them where their age and stage of development allows), and follow up interviews as required
  • interview parents (includes all parent figures regardless of whether they are living with the child), where the reported concerns indicate family violence, interview the parents separately where possible and conduct any follow up interviews as required
  • inform the child and the child's parents that any information they give may be used for the purposes of a protection application.
  • assess the child's living environment
  • make contact with other significant parties including other family members, and professionals such as police, ACSASS, specialist family violence services or other professionals as required:
    • to gather further information to inform the current assessment
    • as secondary consultation to inform the current assessment
    • for the purpose of information sharing in accordance with protocols and best interests case practice
  • identify family strengths and resources which may ensure the child's safety and development
  • make a determination regarding substantiation of concerns
  • assess responsibility for any harm substantiated.

See Substantiation - advice and Investigation outcomes - advice.

Additional goals or tasks may be indicated, depending on the circumstances.

Key considerations

Key matters to consider in planning the investigation:

  • Pay particular attention to the potential for cumulative harm from even low level abuse or inadequate parental attention to the child's needs over time, from family violence or from multiple abuse types.
  • Identify services that have been or are involved with the family and where possible, the family's likely response to a child protection investigation.
  • Identify any information which suggests the practitioner may be at risk themselves (for example, the parent owns a firearm, owns a dangerous dog or has a history of previous assaults). Where this is the case, a national police history check should to be undertaken. See procedure National police history checks for worker safety for tasks to be undertaken.
  • Photographs may provide useful evidence where the report alleges environmental neglect, particularly where the concerns are serious or there is a previous history of such neglect. See Photographs - advice.
  • Preview information relating to ages and stages of development to ensure a sufficient focus upon normative developmental stages during the investigation (Sheridan MD, 2008, ‘From birth to five years: Children’s developmental progress’ is a good reference).
  • Identify sources of reliable information about the child and family and the concerns, through which information from the child and family may be confirmed or disproved. This may include a previous practitioner, an immediate or extended family member, family doctor, school or kindergarten teacher, child care worker, previous counsellor or any service provider who knows the family. Where people are contacted during the investigation they must be informed prior to providing information that it may be used in a protection application.

Preparing a genogram will assist the investigation. It can be updated and added to and will inform case planning, and placement options if required. See Genograms - advice.

Consult with relevant specialist practitioners

Review CRIS and consult with any previous practitioners, and relevant specialist practitioners, preferably prior to contact with families.

High-risk infants

Consultation with a practice leader is mandatory for reports on high-risk infants where the child is under two years of age and the child's parents present with factors including mental illness, intellectual disability, family violence, substance abuse and or serious parenting deficits. The assessment of the child being a high-risk infant should have occurred during intake. Further consultation should be considered as required. Provision of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) information and sighting sleeping arrangements for children under two is also mandatory. See procedures High-risk infants and SIDS safe sleeping assessment for tasks that must be undertaken.

High-risk youth

When a report involves a child aged between 12 and 17 years with severe risk taking behaviours or life threatening behaviours, practitioners should seek advice from a practice leader or principal practitioner regarding planning the investigation, the potential need for a protection application, advice regarding available support services and the development of intervention strategies. See procedure High-risk youth for tasks that must be undertaken.

Aboriginal children

See procedure Additional requirements for Aboriginal children for tasks that must be undertaken.

Recording the identifying details of reporters or confidential sources

Where it is necessary to recontact the reporter to obtain further information (or to inform them of the outcome of the report), or others who provide information in confidence, child protection practitioners should ensure they clearly identify in the title of the case note that it contains discussions with the reporter or a person who gave information in confidence. This ensures the case note is easily identifiable and the reporter's or confidential source's anonymity is protected in future, for example if file notes are requested through Freedom of Information or released to third parties.

Information sharing

There are legislative requirements in the CYFA regarding the sharing of information. See Information sharing.

Joint visits

ACSASS

Where an Aboriginal child is the subject of a protective intervention report ACSASS must be consulted. See procedure Additional requirements for Aboriginal children for tasks that must be undertaken.

If arranging the first visit with the parents, advise them that ACSASS may be available to attend the first visit to assist parents and child protection to discuss and clarify the issues of concern. Where the family objects to ACSASS involvement, ACSASS should be informed, and may continue to offer secondary consultation regarding cultural issues only.

Police

Where there are concerns related to possible sexual abuse, physical abuse or serious neglect, the police protocol requires the practitioner must inform the Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT). See Joint visits with the police - advice.

Where practitioners require assistance from the police due to worker safety issues, uniform police will generally assist with the visits.

Joint planning and engagement with other services

Joint planning for the investigation and interviews should occur at the earliest possible time. Contact ACSASS, police or other professionals to consult about the timing and structure of the interviews and respective roles.

Where a child has been injured and is in hospital, the Social Work Department should be advised and involved in the investigation planning. See Royal Children's Hospital protocol.

Where a child must be interviewed at school, the school principal should be contacted by the practitioner and involved in the planning of this component of the investigation. A member of the school staff may be present during the interview to support the child. See Interviewing without parental permission - advice for additional information

Where a child is currently engaged with an agency, consideration should be given to a joint first visit to enhance engagement of the family and assist them in understanding the concerns. If conducting a joint visit with a community service worker, it is critical that roles and responsibilities of each party during the interview are agreed.

Children and parents with hearing impairments

Where it is established that a child or parent has a hearing impairment, the practitioner must organise an interpreter to be present for the interview. Where interpreters are used in interviews with the family, they are privy to confidential information arising from the investigation and must be authorised by the practitioner.

Cultural considerations

It may be appropriate to consult specific ethnic welfare agencies (keeping the family's identifying details confidential) for information that may assist in planning the investigation. This could include cultural beliefs and practices, the family's likely experiences of statutory bodies, likely understanding of Australian parenting practices and law, the family's likely experiences as refugees, gender beliefs, attitudes towards family violence, discipline and parenting, the possibility of a support person should the family want this and possible support networks.

When the cultural identity of a child or family members is not known at the planning stage, this should be established as part of the investigation. When the cultural identity of a child or family members has been provided at the intake stage the practitioner should confirm the information provided with the family.

Prior to commencing the investigation, where possible, the family's English language skills should be established to ensure that an interpreter is arranged where necessary. See advice Use of interpreters - advice.

Parents or children with a mental illness

Consultation with mental health services regarding planning a visit to either a parent or child with a known or suspected mental illness is recommended. The consultation should cover the appropriateness of a joint initial visit (particularly if it is likely the parent or child is experiencing an acute episode) and what ongoing consultation is required, and gather information about the reported illness and its impact upon parenting and the child. See Child, youth and adult mental health services.

Family violence

Where the reported concerns indicate family violence, child protection practitioners should consult specialist family violence resources to assist in planning the investigation in a manner cognisant of the dynamics and impact of family violence on the child and the parent. The investigation plan should consider the specialist family violence supports available to the child and parent, referral processes to access these supports and safety planning for the child and parent. See Family violence services (including men’s behaviour change) and Working with families where an adult is violent (pdf, 1.17 MB) .

Parents or children with a disability - secondary consultation

Secondary consultation harnesses the expertise of specialist areas to provide information and support to respond to needs, such as disability support needs or the needs of children and young people for safety or wellbeing or the needs of parents with a disability for support with their parenting. Secondary consultation can be considered at any stage when working with a child and their family.

Disability services can provide advice and support about:

  • working and communicating with people with a disability
  • the nature of a disability
  • the impacts of disability
  • accessibility issues
  • the disability service system
  • target group assessments
  • priority processes.

Disability services can be contacted for secondary consultation whenever there are any concerns about the child’s disability related support needs, for which disability services knowledge and expertise could assist child protection to deliver improved outcomes for the child.

Secondary consultation can occur through discussion about the issues, attending a case planning meeting, or by undertaking a joint family visit or meeting with the family’s permission. Where secondary consultation is being considered, disability and child protection workers should decide the best approach depending on the circumstances. See Disability protocol.

Plan interviews with parents and contact with children

All members of the family and other residents in the house should be interviewed during the course of the investigation.

Parents, regardless of whether they are living together with the child or separately should be interviewed. Other caregivers should also be interviewed and included in the assessment.

Using the list of questions from the review of the intake assessment, any prior reports on the child and the outcomes of consultations with relevant specialist practitioners, develop a plan for the interviews.

The plan should address:

  • which adults will be interviewed
  • whether parents or caregivers will be interviewed separately – for example where family violence is an issue
  • whether it would be beneficial to have a support person present
  • roles and responsibilities of practitioners or others
  • timing and location of interviews, it may be necessary to plan for the supervision of children during the interview
  • whether an interpreter will be required.

Timing of interviews is critical where it is anticipated that the situation is serious and court action may be required, where a child is at school and there is concern they cannot return home safely or where it is likely a medical examination will be required for the child. If the police, ACSASS or other professionals are involved in the investigation, consult with them about the timing and structure of the interviews. See advice Interviewing without parental permission - advice.

Where the reported concerns suggest there may be a need to remove the child, consult with the team manager as their endorsement will be required, and the placement coordination unit regarding placement availability in the event no appropriate kinship placement is available. If time permits, also consult the local solicitor, court officer or the Child Protection Litigation Office (CPLO) regarding the strength of the legal basis for such an action. See Immediate removal of a child - advice and Early legal advice.

Plan the likely sequence of events where it is anticipated that the child may need to be removed, including the possible need for police assistance, medical examination, attendance at court, arrangements for bail hearing and placement actions. See procedure Bail justice hearings for tasks that must be undertaken.

The practitioner should ensure that all members of the family are seen and interviewed during the course of the investigation, particularly each child about whom the report was made.

Visual examination

Ensure the plan includes the opportunity for practitioners to observe and interact with all children who are subject to the report in a manner that reflects their age and stage of development, or as soon as possible thereafter if the child is not present at the time of the visit.

Where the alleged harm relates to physical abuse or serious neglect practitioners are required to visually examine the child.

Planning the best way to contact the family

Where appropriate to the protective concerns, visits should be arranged by phone with the family. The range of options includes:

  • arranged visit
  • unannounced visit
  • office appointment

A visit will usually be to the home, but may take place or commence at another location such as a school, hospital or police station.

Unannounced visits

An unannounced visit should be considered for:

  • visits in response to allegations of sexual or physical abuse or serious neglect

or where:

  • the family may flee if they are aware of the visit, or 
  • there are worker safety issues, or
  • a non-offending parent is unlikely to act protectively.

Arranged visits

Arranged visits can facilitate engagement and collaboration with the family. Arranged visits can be useful in rural locations where the family lives in a remote location or is difficult to contact.

Contact can be made with the family in advance of the visit by phone.

Practitioners may give their name, but should ensure they are speaking to the child's parent before disclosing the call is from child protection or the nature of any concerns.

If the parent is not available, practitioners should ask if the parent is contactable by mobile phone or when they are due to return home and call back rather than leaving their contact details. Where it is necessary to leave a phone number, that is, where reasonable attempts to contact the parent at home have failed, only the practitioner's name and a number should be provided.

Families should be invited to have a support person or advocate with them during the visit.

Deciding need for two practitioners

Generally two practitioners conduct first visits for urgent cases. The factors listed below should be considered for first and subsequent visits:

  • The complexity of the situation as outlined in the report. An example would be sexual abuse or family violence investigations where power and secrecy play an important part in the abuse. Sending two practitioners enables the non-offending parent and the perpetrator to be interviewed separately. Also, having two practitioners can reduce the risk of collusion and help to maintain objectivity.
  • Paired visits can be useful where the allocated practitioner is less experienced. The additional input of a second worker both in interviewing and assessment can provide role modelling and feedback.
  • Paired visits should occur where it appears likely that a protection application will be issued and a child removed.

Where two practitioners conduct a visit the primary practitioner takes the lead. The secondary practitioner is frequently responsible for recording and supporting the interview through supplementary questions and reviewing that all allegations and concerns have been raised.  It is important to note that the role of the primary and secondary practitioner is often interchangeable and dependent on who the child or parent may more readily engage with.

Worker safety requirements

See Staff safety in the workplace.

Whenever a home visit is conducted there should be a plan in place to ensure the practitioner's safety that has been endorsed by the supervisor. 

Child protection practitioners should view the alert screen and file notes in CRIS prior to any contact with the family and if there is any information to suggest a history of violence, a national police history check should be conducted. See National police history checks for worker safety.

Where a risk to staff safety is indicated in the current report or past records, local police should be asked whether they know the family or the address as they may hold information in addition to the criminal record relating to threatening behaviour, family violence or the presence of firearms.

Where a practitioner believes they will require protection during the investigation, this should be discussed with a supervisor and, if appropriate, a joint visit with police should be arranged.

The practitioner is required to update and cease alert information in CRIS in a timely manner.  These actions are required to enable all staff to be alerted to critical safety information and the need to develop a safety plan to address safety risks when intervening with the family.

Contingency planning

Parent's refusal to cooperate with investigation

Plan for the possibility that parents may not cooperate or may not allow access to the child.

Practitioners should be prepared to:

  • acknowledge the parent’s decision not to cooperate
  • explain that child protection is legally obliged to assess children's safety and wellbeing
  • identify aspects of the investigation where parents may be offered choice in the way they participate, for example, time of the interview, support persons present
  • explain what is not negotiable, for example, the need to interview parents, have in person contact with or interview children, interview extended family or professionals
  • explain the implications of refusal to participate. Child protection is required to make an assessment of the child’s situation, to ensure they are safe from harm. If they are unable to do this, it is likely the matter will proceed to legal action, such as seeking a temporary assessment order (TAO).

Where parents continue to refuse to cooperate or allow access to the child, a TAO or warrant will be required. See advice Temporary assessment orders (TAO) - advice.

Legal advocates

Parents and children may wish to have a legal representative present during an interview. The child protection practitioner should make reasonable attempts to accommodate the request as long as the immediate safety of the child is not compromised. Information should also be provided to the family about accessing legal services.

Ensure the investigation plan is endorsed

The investigation plan should be added to and updated in CRIS as the investigation progresses to accurately reflect the planning undertaken, and should be endorsed by the team manager.

Outreach kit

A kit should be prepared with all documents required for investigation visits. This should include:

  • identification card
  • information sheets for parents and children regarding child protection, court processes
  • release of information forms
  • legal documentation, such as protection applications, possible conditions
  • contact numbers for key professionals, including police, medical practitioners, community service organisations, contact details regarding emergency placement agencies, or hospitals
  • information regarding services, to give to parents or caregivers or children
  • SIDS information
  • mobile phone, direct and after hours numbers for supervisors or other practitioners, and After Hours Child Protection Emergency Service number
  • camera for photos in serious neglect cases, if required.

Considerations for good practice

The practitioner's role in the investigation

The initial visit lays the groundwork for other visits that will follow, and influences the nature of the interaction that the family will have with child protection.

Be mindful of applying the decision making principles into practice as you plan the investigation. Think about how you will:

  • establish whether there are times when the abuse or harm does not occur, and what is different for the family at these times
  • find out about family strengths and their capacity to protect the child and strengthen relationships
  • engage the child, taking into account their age, functioning and development
  • ensure all family members are given the opportunity to safely provide their perspective regarding the reported concerns
  • assess their views about the reported concerns
  • assess the impact of the abuse or harm on family functioning and relationship dynamics.

Child-centred, family-focused practice

Each report will indicate different issues, however the approach taken should be consistent with the principles of child-centred, family-focused practice.

The principles emphasise:

  • a primary focus on the child's safety and healthy development
  • the importance of acknowledging the mutual significance of the child and family to each other
  • the value of working in partnership with families to build on existing strengths and capacity to care safely for children
  • recognising and using the knowledge and experience of other professionals and services and their existing relationships with families.  

Family violence

It is not uncommon for children to feel that they are responsible for the violence. This needs to be kept in mind by the child protection practitioner as this may impede any verbal disclosure of abuse by a child and is why verbal disclosures alone should not be solely relied upon when making an assessment of risk.

To effectively support children who have been exposed to family violence, partnerships with community-based services need to be developed at the practitioner and catchment level to ensure there is an adequate and targeted network of support available for children experiencing family violence. Knowing the services available for children and families greatly increases the practitioner's capacity to engage in and develop effective plans utilising mainstream, statutory and specialist service interventions to address violence with and for the child and their family.

When a child or parent engages with a specialist family violence service, child protection practitioners will work with the client and specialist family violence services in ongoing risk assessment and risk management to achieve safety and wellbeing outcomes tailored to the individual client. Use of the family violence common risk assessment framework (CRAF) supports the practitioner and client to jointly establish an understanding of the risks to the client and, from this, the joint development of a safety plan and the case management response.

All professionals working with children and their families share the responsibility of protecting children. Child protection and family violence services share the aim of keeping children safe, reducing the level of family violence and responding to its impact on the children, women and men involved. 

Case conferences

Where there are a number of professionals involved with a family, and a FLDM meeting would not be appropriate, it may be useful to hold a case conference during the investigation to facilitate information gathering.

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