Victoria, Australia

Introduction

Children have the right to be physically and emotionally safe at all times. Children are the most vulnerable members of our community. They do not have the power to stop abuse. They rely on others to help them. The responsibility for making sure that children are safe and that their needs are met is shared between the family, the community and the State.

Child abuse damages children physically and emotionally. The initial effects and the long term consequences of child abuse impact on the individual, their family and the community at large.

Early identification and effective intervention can lessen the initial and long term effects of child abuse and promote recovery of the children and families concerned.

In recent years, the overall number of child abuse cases reported in Victoria has increased. However reports of sexual abuse are fewer than in other Australian States where mandatory reporting has been introduced. Interstate research indicates that an increase in sexual and physical abuse notification occurs with the introduction of mandatory reporting.

The Victorian Government has introduced legislation which will require many professionals to notify Protective Services if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a child has been physically or sexually abused.

What This Site Is About

This Site has been developed to assist those whose work brings them into contact with children and young people and who are required by law to report child sexual and child physical abuse.

It contains information about legislation; definitions and indicators of abuse; how to report abuse and how to help and protect children.

While the reporting of emotional abuse and neglect will not become mandatory, it is important that children are also protected from these forms of abuse. For this reason, this site includes some information about emotional abuse and neglect, as well as physical and sexual abuse.

The Law

If you are a mandated notifier, failure to notify your belief, when you have reasonable grounds, is an offence under the Mandatory Reporting amendment to the Children and Young Persons Act, and incurs a penalty of $1,000.

Under Section 64 (1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1989, any person may notify any instance of possible or known child abuse.

However, Section 64 (1C) lists those professionals who are or will be obliged to notify Protective Services if they form a belief, based on reasonable grounds, that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm as a result of physical injury or sexual abuse and the child’s parents or caregivers have not protected or are unlikely to protect the child from harm of that type.

Not all of these professionals have been gazetted. Gazettal, with regard to mandatory reporting, is the formal mechanism for officially and publicly announcing those professionals legally responsible to make a notification in the above mentioned circumstances.

Professionals gazetted and legally required to report child physical injury and sexual abuse are:

  • Legally qualified medical practitioners, registered nurses and members of the Victorian police force (as of November 1993).
  • Primary school and secondary school teachers and principals (as of 18 July 1994).

The above people are referred to as mandated notifiers.

Those professionals not currently gazetted but listed in Section 64(1C) for future gazettal are:

  • Registered psychologists.
  • The proprietors of children’s service centres to whom part XIA of the Health Act 1958 applies.
  • Employees of children’s service centres who have post-secondary qualifications in the care, education or minding of children.
  • Persons working as youth workers and welfare workers who work in the health, education, welfare or community services field.
  • Persons working as youth and child care officers for the Department of Human Services.
  • Parole officers and probation officers.

As a mandated notifier:

  • It is your responsibility to report a belief, based on reasonable grounds, that a child or young person is in need of protection from physical injury or sexual abuse, when you form this belief in the course of practising your profession. In other words, you will not be legally obliged to report if you encounter abuse in your private life or when you are working in a capacity that is not directly related to the professional affiliation under which you are mandated.
  • You must make a report without delay.
  • You are required to report each time you become aware of any further reasonable grounds for your belief.
  • You do not have to be able to prove the abuse has occurred.

It is your personal responsibility to report your belief, it is not the responsibility of your supervisor, principal, senior or boss. If you are one of a group of mandated notifiers who share the belief, based on reasonable grounds, that a child or young person is in need of protection from physical or sexual abuse, then only one mandated notifier needs to make the report. However, you must be satisfied that the report was made promptly and that all of the reasonable grounds were included in the notification.

Your identity as a notifier will remain confidential under the Children and Young Persons Act unless:

  • You choose to inform the child and/or family of the notification yourself.
  • You consent in writing to your identity as the notifier being disclosed.
  • The court decides it needs this information in order to ensure the safety and well being of the child.
  • The court decided that it is satisfied that the interests of justice require that the evidence be given.
  • At the time of writing this booklet, it is not general practice for the Children’s Court to seek information regarding identification of the notifier.

If you are a mandated notifier, failure to notify your belief, when you have reasonable grounds, is an offence under the Mandatory Reporting amendment to the Children and Young Persons Act, and incurs a penalty of $1,000 fine.

Although only mandated notifiers have a legal responsibility to report physical and sexual abuse, everyone has a moral responsibility to report all types of possible or known child abuse.

What Is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is an act by parents or caregivers which endangers a child or young person’s physical or emotional health or development. Child abuse is not usually a single incident, but takes place over time.

In Victoria, a child or young person is a person under seventeen years of age.

Child abuse includes:

  • Physical injury which results from abuse or neglect.
  • Physical abuse refers to a situation in which a child suffers or is likely to suffer significant harm from an injury inflicted by a child’s parent or caregiver. The injury may be inflicted intentionally or may be the inadvertent consequence of physical punishment, or physically aggressive treatment of a child.

Physical injury and significant harm to a child may also result from neglect by a parent or caregiver. The failure of a parent or caregiver to adequately ensure the safety of a child may expose the child to extremely dangerous or life threatening situations which result in physical injury and significant harm to the child.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse refers to a situation in which a person uses power or authority over a child to involve the child in sexual activity, and the child’s parent or caregiver has not protected the child. Physical force is sometimes involved. Child sexual abuse involves a wide range of sexual activity. It includes fondling of the child’s genitals, masturbation, oral sex, vaginal or anal penetration by a penis, finger or other object, or exposure of the child to pornography.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse refers to a situation in which a child’s parent or caregiver repeatedly rejects the child or uses threats to frighten the child. This may involve name calling, put downs or continual coldness from the parent or caregiver, to the extent that it significantly damages the child’s physical, social, intellectual or emotional development.

Neglect

Neglect refers to a situation in which a child’s parent or caregiver fails to provide the child with the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, medical attention or supervision, to the extent that the child’s health and development is, or is likely to be, significantly harmed.

How Can Abuse and Neglect Be Recognised?

Behavioural or physical signs which assist in the recognition of child abuse are known as indicators. The presence of a single indicator does not always prove that a child has been abused. The repeated occurrence of one indicator or the presence of several indicators raises the possibility that the child may be experiencing abuse.

A child’s behaviour is likely to be affected if they are under stress. There can be many causes of stress, including child abuse, and it is important to find out specifically what is causing the stress you observe.

Physical Abuse

Physical indicators include:

  • Bruises, burns, sprains, dislocations, bites, cuts.
  • Fractured bones, especially in an infant where a fracture is unlikely to occur accidentally.
  • Poisoning.
  • Internal injuries.
  • Female genital mutilation.
  • Possible behavioural indicators include:
  • Showing wariness or distrust of adults.
  • Wearing long sleeved clothes on hot days (to hide bruising or other injuries).
  • Demonstrating fear of parents and of going home.
  • Becoming fearful when other children cry or shout.
  • Being excessively friendly to strangers.
  • Being very passive and compliant.
  • Child telling someone that physical abuse has occurred.

Sexual Abuse

Physical indicators: Sexual abuse is not usually identified through physical indicators. Often the first sign is when a child tells a trusted person that they have been sexually abused. However, the presence of sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, vaginal or anal bleeding or discharge may indicate sexual abuse. Possible behavioural indicators:

  • Child telling someone that sexual abuse has occurred.
  • Complaining of headaches or stomach pains.
  • Experiencing problems with school work.
  • Displaying sexual behaviour or knowledge which is unusual for the child’s age.
  • Experiencing difficulties in sleeping.
  • Showing behaviour such as frequent rocking, sucking and biting.
  • Having difficulties relating to adults and peers.

Emotional Abuse

Physical indicators:

There are few physical indicators, although emotional abuse may cause delay in physical, emotional or mental development.

Possible behavioural indicators:

  • Displaying low self esteem.
  • Tending to be withdrawn, passive, tearful.
  • Displaying aggressive or demanding behaviour.
  • Being highly anxious.
  • Showing delayed speech.
  • Acting like a much younger child, for example, soiling or wetting pants.
  • Displaying difficulties in relating to adults and peers.

Neglect

Physical indicators:

  • Frequent hunger.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Inappropriate clothing, for example, summer clothes in winter.
  • Left unsupervised for long periods.
  • Medical needs not attended to.
  • Abandoned by parents.
  • Possible behavioural indicators:
  • Stealing food.
  • Staying at school outside school hours.
  • Often being tired, falling asleep in class.
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs.
  • Displaying aggressive
  • behaviour.
  • Not getting on well with peers.

The presence of indicators such as those described above may alert us to the possibility that a child is experiencing abuse. It is important that anyone who has concerns that a child or young person is in need of protection contacts the local Protective Services office for assistance and advice.

Why Notify?

Notifying your belief that child abuse is occurring can be the first important step in stopping the abuse and protecting the child from further harm.

All people delivering services to children and families have a responsibility to ensure the safety and well being of children.

The purpose of imposing a legal obligation to notify cases of child physical and sexual abuse is to uncover serious hidden abuse to enable:

  • An investigation and assessment of the situation.
  • The protection of the child where necessary.

Planning for long term help and protection of the child and their family. This may include liaison, joint decision making and resource provision with other agencies such as:

  • Police.
  • Health services.
  • Family and children services.
  • Child care centres, kindergartens and schools.
  • Community-based self-help groups and others

Failure to notify child abuse may result in the continued abuse of a child. Abused children may carry the trauma associated with their experiences into adulthood unless treatment, assistance and support are provided.

Child abuse rarely stops without intervention occurring and help being offered. You can help stop the cycle of abuse by notifying Protective Services when you believe that a child is being abused.

When To Notify

Under the new legislation, as a mandated notifier you are obliged to notify Protective Services when you believe, based on reasonable grounds, that a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm as a result of physical or sexual abuse, and the child’s parents have not protected, or are unlikely to protect, the child from such harm.

It may help you to think of a ‘ belief ‘ as an inclination to accept rather than reject the proposition that a child has been abused and to think of ‘reasonable grounds’ as the observations, opinions, or facts which induce the belief in you.

Reasonable Grounds

  • You have reasonable grounds to notify when:
  • A child tells you they have been physically or sexually abused.
  • A child tells you that they know someone who has been physically or sexually abused (often a child is talking about themself).
  • When someone else tells you, such as a relative, friend, acquaintance, sibling of the child, that they know or believe that the child has been physically or sexually abused.
  • Your observations of the child’s behaviour or development leads you to believe the child has been physically or sexually abused.
  • You observe physical signs of physical or sexual abuse.

Important Points

  • You do not need to prove that abuse has taken place you only need reasonable grounds for your belief.
  • You do not need permission from parents or caregivers to notify, nor do you need to inform them that you are notifying.
  • You do not need permission from your department, agency or hospital to notify, but there may be procedural guidelines or protocols to assist you in making a notification.
  • If you make a notification in good faith, that is, you believe you have reasonable grounds for your belief, then you cannot be held legally liable regardless of the outcome of the notification.
  • If you are unsure whether you have reasonable grounds to notify, contact your local Protective Services office and discuss your concerns with a protective worker.

How To Notify

To make a notification of child abuse, contact your local Protective Services office as soon as possible. You will find a list of these offices at the back of this booklet.

If you need to notify after hours or at the weekend contact the Child Protection 24 Hour Line: 131 278 (toll free).

This service provides an outreach crisis response to all areas of Victoria.

When making a notification, the protective worker at the local office will ask:

  • The child’s name, age, and address.
  • Your reason for believing that the injury or behaviour is the result of abuse.
  • Your assessment of immediate danger to the child or children (information may be sought about the whereabouts of the alleged abuser/s).
  • Your description of the injury or behaviour observed.
  • The current whereabouts of the child.
  • Any other information you have about the family.
  • Even if you do not have all the information you are still legally obliged to notify Protective Services of your concerns.

Helping the child

When a child or young person tells you they have been abused, they may be feeling scared, guilty, ashamed, angry, and powerless. You, in turn, may feel a sense of outrage, disgust, sadness, anger and sometimes disbelief.

However, it is important for you to remain calm and in control of your feelings in order to reassure the child that something will be done to keep him or her safe.

You can show your care and concern for the child by:

  • Listening carefully to what they are saying.
  • Telling the child you believe them.
  • Telling them it is not their fault and they are not responsible for the abuse.
  • Letting the child know that you will make a report to the appropriate authorities so that they can help stop the abuse.
  • Telling the child you are pleased they told you.
  • If you suspect abuse, but the child has not told anyone, be aware of the emotional distress that the child may be experiencing.

Approach the child in a caring and sensitive manner and assure them that you are willing to listen and to help if there is a problem.

You will not be helping the child if you:

  • Make promises you cannot keep, such as promising that you will not tell anyone.
  • Push the child into giving details of the abuse. Your role is to listen to what the child wants to tell you and not to conduct an investigation (beware of asking any direct questions of the child as this may prejudice any subsequent investigation).
  • Indiscriminately discuss the circumstances of the child with others not directly involved in helping the child.

What Happens Next?

After you have discussed your concerns with a protective worker at the local office they will let you, as a mandated notifier, know if the matter is going to be investigated further. If Protective Services initiates an investigation, you as a mandated notifier, will also be informed of the outcome of the notification.

Protective Services role is to:

  • Provide advice where there is concern that a child or young person may be abused or neglected.
  • Investigate matters where child abuse and neglect is suspected.
  • Ensure that support is offered to the family to minimise the risk of harm to the child.
  • Take matters before the Children’s Court if the child’s safety cannot be ensured within the family.
  • Supervise children on legal orders granted by the Children’s Court.
  • In all cases of sexual abuse and serious physical abuse, protective workers must consult with the Police.

The role of the Police is to:

  • Deal with criminal matters which arise in child abuse and neglect investigations.
  • Investigate and enforce Intervention Orders under the Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987. Intervention Orders remove abusers from the home, which allows children to remain safely at home.
  • Assist protective workers where there are concerns about the safety of workers and family members.
  • Activate a criminal investigation whenever reasonable grounds exist for believing that a child has been physically or sexually abused.

Human Services Protective Service Units

Child Protection Crisis Line – 131 278, 24 Hours, 7 Days

Metropolitan Regions
Eastern
Box Hill: 9248 7248

Northern
Fitzroy: 9412 5333
Glenroy: 9300 2155
Preston: 9479 6222

Southern
Cheltenham: 9581 2222
Dandenong: 9213 2111
Frankston: 9784 0777

Western
Footscray: 9275 7000
Moonee Ponds 9370 5099

Rural Regions
Gippsland
Bairnsdale: (03) 5152 6244
Leongatha: (03) 5662 4163
Morwell: (03) 5136 9400
Sale: (03) 5144 4166
Traralgon: (03) 51762500
Warragul: (03) 5623 5411

Grampians
Ballarat: (03) 5333 6669
Horsham: (03) 5381 9555
Stawell: (03) 5358 4374

Hume
Seymour: (03) 5792 1755
Shepparton: (03) 5832 1500
Wangaratta: (03) 5722 0555
Wodonga: (03) 6055 7777

Loddon Mallee
Bendigo: (03) 5430 2333
Mildura: (03) 5022 3111
Swan Hill: (03) 5032 4545

Barwon-South Western
Geelong: (03) 5226 4540
Portland: (03) 5521 7569
Warrnambool: (03) 5561 9444

Child Protection Crisis Line
131 278, 24 hours, seven days a week.

http://hna.ffh.vic.gov.au/yafs/cis/reportin/contents.htm


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