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Assess the information and decide the outcome

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This page was updated on 13 September 2022. To view changes, please see page updates

Assess the information gathered from the child, family and other sources to inform decisions about:

  • whether the child is in need of protection (as defined in the Child Protection Act 1999, section 10)
    and
  • whether ongoing intervention needs to occur.

The decision about whether a child is in need of protection is a significant decision. For an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child, make active efforts to ensure the child, the child’s parents and the child’s family have the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the decision.

A child in need of protection will be subject to the appropriate ongoing intervention to ensure their safety, belonging and wellbeing.

Consider family-led decision making

If it has not already occurred, consult the child and family and the Family Participation Program about a referral for the Family Participation Program to convene a family-led decision making process, to help decide if an Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander child is in need of protection. Do this if:

  • the child is likely to be assessed as a child in need of protection
  • it is practicable and in the child’s best interests
  • the family agrees to the process taking place.

Note

If a family-led decision making process is convened by the Family Participation Program the facilitator is considered a ‘private convenor’. The process is referred to as ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family-led decision making’.

If a family wants to participate in family-led decision making but does not want the Family Participation Program to facilitate the process, arrange for the family group meeting convenor to do so and advise the Family Participation Program of the family’s decision.

The purpose of the family-led decision making process is to give the child’s family group a culturally safe process to:

  • consider the concerns
  • develop a family plan to respond to the child’s needs, including 
    • any family resources and capabilities to support the child and parents—to sufficiently mitigate risk and prevent the need for ongoing intervention
    • family strategies to minimise the degree and length of any necessary ongoing intervention
    • alternatives to placing the child in care, or culturally appropriate care arrangement options in line with the child placement principle, including a plan for how the child will keep connected with family, community and culture if they cannot remain safely at home.

Before a family-led decision making meeting:

  • Advise the family and the child of their right to have an independent person to help facilitate their participation in this process.
    and
  • If requested, arrange for the independent person, including determining suitability, unless it is
    • not practicable because an entity is not available
    • likely to have a significant adverse effect on the safety or emotional wellbeing of the child or another person
    • not in the child’s best interest.

Further reading

For information about determining suitability to be an independent person, refer to Procedure 5 Enable participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in decision making.

To decide, with the child’s parents, the degree to which the child will be involved in the family-led decision making process, consider:

  • their age and ability to understand
  • if it is in their best interest, taking into account their emotional and psychological wellbeing
  • how much information the child is already aware of and needs to know, especially as it has not yet been decided if the child
    • is in need of protection
    • will be subject to ongoing intervention.

While arranging the family-led decision making process, take action to ensure the child’s safety including, if needed, a care arrangement using the authority of:

  • an assessment care agreement
    or
  • application for a temporary assessment order. 

Facilitation by the family participation program

As the delegated officer for approving the investigation and assessment outcome, the senior team leader will consider a family’s plan developed during a family-led decision making process to help inform the investigation and assessment outcome.

The responsibility of the senior team leader to finalise the decision will be explained to the family in advance of the family-led decision making process. If the senior team leader is not able to attend the meeting, the family will be told in advance and be prepared that the decision about whether the child is in need of protection may not be able to be confirmed on the day of the meeting. In this situation, one of the following will occur:

  • the senior team leader will be contactable during the meeting or arrange for another delegated officer to be contactable
    or
  • participants will be contacted after the meeting to discuss the investigation and assessment outcome
    or
  • participants will be advised that the family-led decision making process will need to continue at another mutually agreed time.

Facilitation by a family group meeting convenor 

At times a child and family may choose to participate in a family-led decision making process facilitated by the family group meeting convenor.

As it is not facilitated independently of Child Safety, it differs to the model of ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family-led decision making’, which is undertaken exclusively by the Family Participation Program or other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander service.

Make a referral for family-led decision making

To refer a family:

  • discuss with the parents and child, depending on the child’s age and ability to understand
    • the purpose of family-led decision making
    • that if they wish to participate in a family-led decision making process, that wherever possible it will be facilitated by the Family Participation Program or a similar process facilitated by a Child Safety family group meeting convenor
  • complete the referral outlining
    • the child protection concerns
    • the purpose of the meeting
    • the child and parents’ details
    • contact details of relevant family members, if known, and any relevant timeframes.

Practice prompt

If the parents choose to participate in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family-led decision making process, refer the family to the Family Participation Program using the online referral form in the Queensland family support referral portal.

If the parents choose to participate in a process facilitated by the family group meeting convenor, make a referral to the family group meeting convenor.

Further reading

Assess harm and risk of harm

After gathering all the relevant information, assess the information to make a professional judgement about:

  • whether the child has suffered significant harm
  • whether the child is at unacceptable risk of suffering significant harm, without a parent able and willing to protect them.

Note

The outcome of the investigation and assessment is determined on the balance of probability (whether something is more likely than not). It does not require the criminal standard of proof, that is beyond reasonable doubt.

Further reading

Assess whether the child has experienced significant harm

Harm is any detrimental effect of a significant nature on a child’s physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing (Child Protection Act 1999, section 9).

To assess whether a child has experienced significant harm:

  • identify the abuse type
  • identify the impact on the child
  • determine the person responsible.

Identify the abuse type

Review the information gathered during the investigation and assessment, including the child protection history, to identify any actions, behaviour or patterns of behaviour that have negatively impacted the child.

The types of abuse that can cause harm to a child are:

  • physical abuse
  • emotional abuse, including psychological abuse
  • neglect
  • sexual abuse, including exploitation.

Assess the impact on the child

The detrimental impact on the child resulting from the abuse is the harm. Harm may be:

  • physical, relating to the child’s body
  • emotional, relating to the child’s feelings and emotions
  • psychological, relating to the child’s cognitive processes.

Note

If a child is assessed to have experienced psychological harm, this will be recorded in the Assessment and outcome form in ICMS as emotional harm. Refer to Record the investigation and assessment.

Harm may be caused by a single act, omission or circumstance, or a series or combination of actions, omissions or circumstances (Child Protection Act 1999, section 9(4)). Harm caused by a series or pattern of harmful events or experiences over time is referred to as cumulative harm.

Attention

Ensure the assessment of harm considers the effect of cumulative harm on the child.

Previous reports to Child Safety may not have been recorded as a notification, or previous investigation and assessments may not have been substantiated for harm to the child, but the cumulative effect of experiencing the abusive action or inaction over time may have led to significant harm being suffered now.

Consider what is known about the child’s current health, development and functioning to assess how and to what extent the abuse has impacted the child. To substantiate physical or emotional harm to a child, the impact on the child’s physical or emotional wellbeing must be assessed as significant.

Most of the time significant harm will be visible or observable, however emotional or psychological harm may not always be observed. For example, a child’s lack of affect may be a coping mechanism as a result of harm they have suffered.

Note

The substantiated harm may be different to the alleged harm in the notification.

For example, a notification may have been recorded due to a reasonable suspicion that a child had suffered physical harm, but the investigation and assessment found that the child had suffered emotional harm.

Determine the person responsible

The person responsible for harm to a child is the person assessed as being responsible for the abuse, which includes acts of commission or omission, and failure to protect. (Refer to Record the person responsible.)

The person responsible for harm may be:

  • a parent
  • another adult who lives in the home or has regular access to the child in the home
  • another child aged 10 years or over who lives in the home and is assessed as having the developmental ability or capacity to understand the consequences of their actions. This is not common but may occur in some circumstances.

Note

A child who has self-harmed cannot be the person responsible for that harm.

For further information about the context of children’s mental health and mental illness, refer to the practice kit Mental health.

Practice prompt

If any person has perpetrated domestic and family violence, including coercive control, the assessment about who is responsible for harm caused by domestic and family violence is informed by the perpetrators pattern of behaviour.

Do not record the adult victim (often the mother or father’s partner) as the person responsible for harm by ‘failure to protect’ if they have experienced domestic and family violence and the harm suffered by the child is a result of the domestic and family violence.

For further information about the best practice approach for domestic and family violence and the Safe and Together model, refer to the overview of the practice kit Domestic and family violence.

Make a professional judgement about risk of significant harm

To form a professional judgement about the risk of significant harm to a child:

  • consider the information gathered across five categories (the child, the parents, the abuse/harm, the environment, the family and cultural context) about what has happened in the past and what is happening now, recognising risk and protective factors present within the family
  • critically analyse the information, with a focus on assessing the likelihood and severity of the harm the child may suffer in the future, if nothing changes.

Practice prompt

Severity refers to the degree to which the child will be impacted by the harm.

Likelihood refers to the probability the child will suffer significant harm in the future.

Refer to the practice guide Assess harm and risk of harm.

To assess the severity of the harm the child may suffer, consider:

  • the vulnerability of the child
  • the pattern of behaviour by the person responsible or alleged responsible for the risk of harm. Consider the type of abuse, and the frequency, chronicity and duration of the abuse
  • the child’s (cumulative) experience of harm they have suffered, now and in the past.

To assess the likelihood of the child suffering harm in the future, consider:

  • the interaction of risk and protective factors identified as present within the family
  • past patterns of abuse or neglect experienced by the child
  • attitudes and beliefs of the parent
  • parental ability and willingness to protect the child
  • demonstrated acts of protection by a parent.

When determining parental ability and willingness to protect a child from harm, consider:

  • the parents’ capacity (not just intention) to act protectively
  • the parents’ demonstrated ability and motivation to protect the child
  • if the child lives across more than one household, the ability and willingness of the parents across each household to protect the child.

If the child does not have at least one parent able and willing to protect them from the harm, they are a child in need of protection and ongoing intervention must occur to ensure their safety, belonging, and wellbeing. (Refer to Decide if there will be ongoing intervention.)

Based on the analysis and assessment of the severity and likelihood of future harm to a child, form a professional judgement about whether:

  • the severity of harm to a child is likely to be significant
  • the likelihood of future harm to a child is probable
  • the overall risk of significant harm to the child.

Use this professional judgement to inform the decision about the investigation and assessment outcome. (Refer to Decide the investigation and assessment outcome.)

Record the analysis and professional judgement of risk of significant harm in the Assessment and outcome form in ICMS. (Refer to Record the assessment of harm and risk of harm.)

Further reading

Practice guide Assess harm and risk of harm
Practice guideInfants at high risk.

Decide the investigation and assessment outcome

Decide the investigation and assessment outcome based on the assessment of significant harm and the professional judgement formed about the risk of significant harm to the child.

Attention

If the investigation and assessment is about a child who is an unaccompanied humanitarian minor, contact the designated adoption officer, Adoption and Permanent Care Services, before finalising the decision about the investigation and assessment outcome. Refer to Procedure 1 Information about a child who is an unaccompanied humanitarian minor.

The investigation and assessment outcome will be one of the following:

  • Substantiated—child in need of protection—This outcome is appropriate if it is assessed that there is an unacceptable risk of significant harm to a child, as defined by the Child Protection Act 1999, section 9, and one of the following applies
    • The child has experienced significant harm and there is an unacceptable risk of significant harm as the child does not have a parent able and willing to protect them. The substantiated harm may not necessarily have been included in the concerns received at intake.
    • No harm has occurred, but there is unacceptable risk of significant harm, as the child does not have a parent able and willing to protect them.
    • There is an unacceptable risk of significant harm to the unborn child after birth and neither parent will be able and willing to protect the child from the harm.
  • Substantiated—child not in need of protection—This outcome is appropriate if it is assessed that the child has experienced significant harm, but there is no unacceptable risk of significant harm as the child has a parent able and willing to protect them.
  • Unsubstantiated—child not in need of protection—This outcome is appropriate if it is assessed that either
    • no significant harm has occurred and there is no unacceptable risk of significant harm, as the child has a parent able and willing to protect them
      or
    • an unborn child will not be at unacceptable risk of significant harm after being born.
  • Unsubstantiated—ongoing intervention continues—This outcome is recorded when the subject child is already subject to ongoing intervention and

    • no significant harm has occurred and no unacceptable risk of significant harm has been identified during the current investigation and assessment.
      or
    • an unborn child is not at unacceptable risk of significant harm after birth.
  • Substantiated—ongoing intervention continues—This outcome is recorded if the subject child is already subject to ongoing intervention and

    • has suffered significant harm, but no unacceptable risk of significant harm has been identified during the current investigation and assessment.
      or
    • has suffered significant harm and is at unacceptable risk of significant harm, without a parent able and willing to protect the child
      or
    • has not suffered harm, but is at unacceptable risk of significant harm, without a parent able and willing to protect the child
      or
    • an unborn child will be at unacceptable risk of significant harm after birth.
  • No investigation and assessment outcome—This outcome is recorded on rare occasions only, if

    • The investigation and assessment has not commenced because the child and family could not be located, and actions taken to locate them have been unsuccessful.
    • The investigation and assessment has commenced, but cannot be completed, as there is insufficient information to decide on an outcome, and either
      • the family has moved following contact by Child Safety, and cannot be located
      • the parent has refused contact with the child and a TAO or CAO has been applied for, but the order was not granted by the magistrate or the court.
    • A subject child has died before the investigation and assessment was completed and there is insufficient information to decide on an outcome.
    • A pregnant woman advises she is no longer, or has never been, pregnant; her appearance supports this information; and it has been confirmed with her medical practitioner (or reasonable attempts have been made to do so).
    • The pregnant woman has not been located and 2 months have passed since the estimated date of delivery.

Use of ‘no investigation and assessment outcome’

If no investigation and assessment outcome is recorded for one of the subject children in a family because the child is missing or is not able to be located or contacted:

  • Document in the assessment that insufficient information has been gathered to record an outcome for the child, without the child being sighted or interviewed.
  • Record the appropriate outcome for all other subject children.

Before approving a no investigation and assessment outcome, other than for an unborn child notification, the senior team leader must consult with the senior practitioner, and record a clear rationale for its use.

If this outcome is used complete the Record of actions—mobile family form (if applicable) in the investigation and assessment event in ICMS.

Attention

Do not record a no investigation and assessment outcome to:

  • manage a lack of resources or high workloads
  • finalise an outstanding investigation and assessment that is only partially completed.

Decide if there will be ongoing intervention

Consider the following to decide if there will be ongoing intervention:

  • Ongoing intervention is required for each child assessed to be in need of protection.
  • A pregnant woman will be offered ongoing intervention if it is assessed that an unborn child will be in need of protection after birth.

To decide the type of ongoing intervention, consider what is needed to:

  • meet the child’s safety, belonging and wellbeing needs
  • reduce the likelihood of future harm to the child.

Ongoing intervention for a child assessed to be in need of protection may occur by way of:

Offer the family a referral to an appropriate agency or support service to reduce ongoing risk to a child not in need of protection, where the family would benefit from support. (Refer to Offer support to a family.)

Offer support to a family

Offer the parents a referral to one or more appropriate agencies or support services when a child is not in need of protection and:

  • ongoing risk factors are present
  • the family may benefit from support to address the ongoing risk
  • the referral criteria are met.

Note

A referral to an agency or support service should only be discussed with the parents if:

  • the agency or support service has the capacity to offer a timely service to the family
  • the agency or support service can help to address the particular risk factors and support needs of the child and parents.

A referral to Family and Child Connect is not appropriate following an investigation and assessment, given the family’s needs have already been assessed.

Meet with the senior team leader and discuss:

  • the assessment of the family’s support needs
  • the available support options to address the ongoing risk to the child.

If the senior team leader agrees that the family would benefit from support and the support options are appropriate for addressing the ongoing risk, meet with the child’s parents to:

  • discuss the patterns of behaviour and risk factors identified during the investigation and assessment, that may lead to the family becoming involved with Child Safety again, if support is not provided
  • provide information about available agencies and support services that the parents may access, including how the service can help the family to reduce risk to the child. This may include
    • an intensive family support service
    • an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Wellbeing Service, for an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child
    • a community support service.

Following this, record the parents’ response to the service offered and, if they agreed to receive support, take action to refer the family to the agency or service.

For an Assessment and Service Connect co-response, work with the Assessment and Service Connect provider and the family to:

  • decide the most suitable service for a child and their family
    and
  • facilitate connections and links to ongoing support for the child and family.

Practice prompt

Referral can be made to an intensive family support service or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Wellbeing Service without the family’s consent, however:

  • try to gain consent
  • document attempts to gain consent before finalising the investigation and assessment.

To make a referral to an intensive family support service or an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Wellbeing Service, complete the online referral form in the Queensland family support referral portal.

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