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The safety of children and young people is the primary focus of intervention by Child Safety, and is an integral part of all interactions with a child and their family. Assessing safety is done in a collaborative and respectful manner with a child, their family and the family’s safety and support network.
The purpose of the SDM safety assessment is to guide decision making about:
- whether there is the threat of immediate harm to a child in the household
- what interventions are required to maintain their safety and protection
- a 'safety decision' for each child in the household
- whether an immediate safety plan can be developed to ensure the safety of any child who remains in the home, when immediate harm indicators have been identified.
The safety assessment helps identify any immediate harm indicators that exist in a family’s household. Practitioners then need to determine if an immediate safety plan can be developed with the parents and the safety and support network to mitigate the risk, if immediate harm indicators are identified.
Preparing to assess immediate safety
When completing a safety assessment, gather information from a wide variety of sources. Practitioners engage with families, children, young people and communities whose culture, ethnicity, economic status, age, gender, spirituality and sexual orientation may differ greatly from their own. Practitioners can be influenced by their own personal experiences and therefore biased when assessing others where difference exists. This is why it is essential that information is gathered not just from the family but the extended family, the network and cultural elders or advisors to ensure practitioners make a rigorous and balanced assessment.
'Unlike physical abuse and neglect cases, in which injuries and parental characteristics are fairly evident, sexual abuse cases present unique and ambiguous indicators to the investigating professional. Sexual abuse occurs and thrives in secrecy, and children molested by family members or caretakers (usually male) may be unlikely to disclose the abuse because of fear, loyalty to the abuser, or a belief that they contributed to the abuse'
(Summit, as cited in Levenson and Morin, 2006).
When preparing to assess the immediate safety of a child where the child sexual abuse is known or suspected, or where there is a significant risk of child sexual abuse:
- Review the Indicators of child sexual abuse and barriers to disclosure section of this practice kit and gather information from a number of sources to understand if any such indicators exist and consider them holistically as part of assessing immediate safety.
- Understand that a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse is considered a highly reliable indicator of the abuse occurring. The presence of other indictors of child sexual abuse do not need to be present for the child to be believed and for practitioners to assess and respond to the child’s safety needs regarding sexual abuse.
- Understand the barriers to a child disclosing sexual abuse, and the likelihood that a child may recant their disclosure (despite the sexual abuse occurring or continuing).
- Remain aware of and prepare for manipulation and coercion by the alleged abuser, as well as behaviours that include
- discrediting the child
- intimidating the child or professionals
- denying or minimising the abuse
- attempts to develop ‘evidence’ as to why the abuse could not have occurred, for example, the child is too attached to him or the child retracted their disclosure therefore it could not be true.
(Refer to the Manipulation and coercion section of this practrice kit.)
- Review the alleged abuser's child protection history, paying attention to
- disclosures about child sexual abuse made by other children towards the alleged abuser, regardless of whether such disclosures were investigated or substantiated.
- criminal charges or offences in relation to child sexual abuse (acknowledging that few alleged abusers are actually convicted for child sexual abuse offences).
- indicators of domestic and family violence. The coercion and control used by men to perpetrate domestic and family violence also exists in circumstances of child sexual abuse.
- Review the child’s history, paying attention to
- factors that make children more vulnerable to being sexually abused (Refer to The importance of understanding and responding to child sexual abuse.)
the child’s previous disclosures about or indicators of sexual abuse. A child who has previously been sexually abused by anyone is more vulnerable to being sexually abused again. If the child has made previous disclosures about the alleged abuser, take this information seriously.
Immediate harm indicators
Immediate harm indicators in relation to child sexual abuse include:
- Immediate harm indicator 2: ‘Parent sexually abused a child or a strong and reasonable belief exists that the parent sexually abused a child’.
- Immediate harm indicator 9: ‘Parent does not protect the child from serious harm or risk of harm by self or others AND this has led or will likely lead to the child being significantly harmed.’
Refer to the SDM Policy and procedures manual for full definitions of the immediate harm indicators, safety assessment completion instructions and definitions.
If an immediate harm indicator in relation to child sexual abuse (or any other immediate harm indicator) is identified, the next step is to determine if a safety plan can be developed.
Refer to the Preparing for safety planning section of this practice kit to understand circumstances where safety planning that involves the alleged abuser remaining in the home is not appropriate.
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