Obligations under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic).
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Do you need to comply?
Yes – Schools have a key responsibility in the prevention and reporting of child abuse and neglect under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic).
Conditions of compliance
Child abuse is an act by parents or caregivers that endangers a child or young person’s physical or emotional health or development. Child abuse can be a single incident, but usually takes place over time. Child abuse includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse or neglect. In Victoria, under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic) a child or young person is a person under seventeen years of age.
Under sections 28 and 31 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic), any person may make a report to the Department of Human Services or to family services such as Child FIRST and Child Protection. However, section 182 of the Act lists those professionals who are 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, or if the child’s parents or guardians have not protected or are unlikely to protect the child from harm of that type. Information is available in the Protecting Children Protocol.
Professionals who are legally required to report child physical and sexual abuse are:
registered principals and teachers (including pre-service and visiting teachers)
registered medical practitioners and psychiatrists
registered nurses including school nurses
members of the police force.
If you have to comply, what do you have to do?
A key feature of the Act is that mandated notifiers are able to share information, without legal or professional consequences, with family services such as Child FIRST and Child Protection to help protect vulnerable children.
Principals and teachers can share information and make a referral to Child FIRST when they have significant concern for a child’s wellbeing, but do not believe that the child needs protection.
If a reasonable belief is formed that a child is in need of protection, then the teacher or principal that formed the belief must make a report to Child Protection.
It is mandatory for registered teachers in Victoria to notify Child Protection if they form the belief that a child has been physically or sexually abused.
Additionally, Child FIRST and Child Protection can now consult Victorian teachers and principals when they are deciding how best to respond to a referral or a report they have received. The legislation allows you to share relevant information with family services about a vulnerable child without needing to be concerned about legal or professional consequences, provided you do so in good faith. However, any information you provide should be directly related to your concerns about the child and not based on second-hand information.
As a mandated notifier:
You believe in good faith that a child is in need of protection, then you must make a report to Child Protection without delay. Seeking assistance or advice should not hold-up the reporting process. Furthermore, you should attempt to file the report on the same day as the belief is formed.
You have some general concerns for the wellbeing of the child but have assessed that the child is not at immediate risk of harm, you can make a referral to Child FIRST.
You are required to notify Department of Human Services each time you become aware of any further reasonable grounds for your belief.
You do not have to be able to prove that the child has been abused to notify The Department of Human Services.
School staff do not require the permission of parents, carers or guardians to make a report to Child Protection, nor are they required to tell parents, carers or guardians that they have done so. However, often it is going to be good practice and/or necessary to discuss any concerns prior to making a report a referral, and it would be normal to raise the possibility of making a report or referral during such discussions. Consent should not be sought if you believe that it will put you or the child at risk.
It is your responsibility to report your belief – it is not the responsibility of your supervisor, principal, senior, or boss.
If your principal does not share your belief that a child or young person is in need of protection, you must still notify The Department of Human Services of your belief. However, it is recommended that you inform your principal that you have made a report.
If you are one of a group of mandated professional 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 person needs to make the report. However, you must be satisfied that the report is made promptly and that all of the reasonable grounds are included in the notification.
You are not legally required to notify Child First or Child Protection if you form a reasonable belief that a child is in need of protection 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, however such reports can be made voluntarily. However, all adults, not just professionals who work with children, have a legal obligation to report to Victoria Police where they form a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed by an adult against a child under the age of 16. Failure to disclose the information may amount to a criminal offence unless you have a 'reasonable excuse' or have an 'exemption' from doing so.
Details of a mandatory report should remain confidential.
Children can only be reported under the age of 17.
Under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic), your identity as a notifier remains confidential unless:
you choose to inform the child and/or the child’s parents or guardians of the notification yourself
you consent in writing to your identity as the notifier being disclosed by family services
the court decides that it needs the information provided in your report in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the child
the court decides that it is satisfied that the interests of justice require that the evidence be given.
For courts to order disclosure of a notifier’s identity requires exceptional circumstances and is not normal practice.
Non mandated people who believe on reasonable grounds, that a child is in need of protection, should report their concerns to the principal immediately.
Non mandated staff include:
social workers, speech pathologists, aides
non-teaching staff including administration, canteen staff, cleaners.
Schools are encouraged to develop policies and procedures to support the implementation of the mandatory reporting of child abuse. In implementing school policies, principals and teachers must be constantly aware of their responsibilities under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic).
It is also important for such policies to recognise that in addition to the mandatory reporting obligation, teachers have a duty of care responsibility to protect students from harm that is reasonably foreseeable.
What are the consequences if you don’t comply?
If you are a mandated reporter, failure to notify your belief, when you have reasonable grounds, is an offence under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic) and can lead to criminal prosecution.
Although only mandated reporters have a legal responsibility to report physical and sexual abuse, everyone has a moral responsibility to report all types of known or possible child abuse.