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Decide if a child is in need of protection

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This page was updated on 02 September 2020. To view changes, please see page updates

The purpose of an investigation and assessment is to decide if a child is in need of protection (Child Protection Act 1999, section 10). A child in need of protection is a child who:

  • has suffered significant harm, is suffering significant harm or is at unacceptable risk of suffering significant harm
    and
  • does not have a parent able and willing to protect the child from the harm.

The decision about the child’s need for protection is informed by an assessment of risk, based on professional judgement and a weighing up of:

  • risk and protective factors, outlined in the practice guide Assessing harm and risk of harm
  • the family risk evaluation recommendation, especially if it differs from the assessment made by the CSO.

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 Decision-making about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

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 Family and Child Connect portal.  (Refer to the tool Complete an online referral to the Family Participation Program using the family and child connect 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

Consider the needs of an unaccompanied humanitarian minor

If the investigation and assessment is about a child who is an unaccompanied humanitarian minor (UHM), contact the UHM program officer, Adoption 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.

Decide the investigation and assessment outcome

In deciding the investigation and assessment outcome, focus on whether the child:

  • has been harmed   
  • is at unacceptable risk of significant harm in the future—without at least one parent able and willing to protect them from the harm.

To complete the investigation and assessment and decide the outcome:

  • Consider all of the information gathered.
  • Draw on relevant professional knowledge to analyse the information.

The decision requires:

  • a rigorous and balanced risk assessment for the child and family, including the consideration of cumulative harm
  • an assessment of the protective factors and strengths present for the child and family.

Note

The investigation and assessment outcome is decided on the balance of probability (more likely than not). It does not require the criminal standard of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt).

Answer the outcome questions

Answer the following four questions in ICMS for each subject child, based on the information gathered during the investigation and assessment:

1. Was the investigation and assessment completed for the child?

Answer yes only if:

  • all required actions for completing the investigation and assessment have been carried out
    and
  • the next two questions can be accurately answered.

2. Has the child been harmed?

Answer yes only if significant harm has occurred. Consider:

  • the impact of cumulative harm
  • that psychological or emotional harm is not always observable. For example, a child's lack of  affect may be a coping mechanism as a result of harm they have suffered. 

3. Is the child at unacceptable risk of harm, with no parent able and willing to protect them from harm?

This question focuses on any current factors that place the child at unacceptable risk of significant harm, based on the:

  • assessed level and severity of risk to the child
  • outcome of the family risk evaluation
  • assessment of the parents’ ability and willingness to protect the child.

To answer the question, assess:

  • if at least one parent is both able and willing to protect the child
  • the parents’ capacity (not just intention) to act protectively
  • the parents’ ability and motivation to protect the child
  • if the child lives across two households, the ability and willingness of both parents to protect the child.

To answer no to this question, at least one parent must be both able and willing to protect the child:

  • A parent may be willing to protect a child, but not have the means or capacity to do so. This includes situations where the parent’s inability is due to factors outside their control.
  • A parent may have the means and capacity to protect a child, but may choose not to do so.

If at least one parent is able and willing to protect the child, the child cannot be considered at unacceptable risk of significant harm and is not a child in need of protection. Sometimes both parents will need to be assessed, irrespective of the custody arrangements.

If the child is already subject to ongoing intervention, focus only on the new child protection concerns and assess:

  • the level and severity of harm that may have occurred
  • the ability and willingness of the parents to protect the child from risk of that harm occurring in the future, separate from the assessment of the parents that led to the ongoing intervention occurring.

4. Is the child already subject to ongoing intervention?

This question is about whether the child is currently subject to an open ongoing intervention case, because it was previously assessed that:

  • the child is in need of protection
  • the unborn child will be in need of protection following their birth
  • the child is not in need of protection, but the family risk evaluation final scored risk level for the family was high and the family agreed to a support service case.

If the answer to the question is ‘yes’, the investigation and assessment outcome will be either:

  • substantiated—ongoing intervention continues
    or
  • unsubstantiated—ongoing intervention continues.

Finalise the outcome

Answer each of the above four questions for each subject child to generate one of the following outcomes in ICMS:

  • substantiated—child in need of protection
  • substantiated—child not in need of protection
  • unsubstantiated—child not in need of protection
  • substantiated—ongoing intervention continues
  • unsubstantiated—ongoing intervention continues
  • no investigation and assessment outcome.

The outcome for each subject child will be supported with clear documentation of the:

  • professional assessment of the significant harm or risk of significant harm to the child
    and
  • reasons for the outcome recorded.

A substantiated—child in need of protection 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.

Note

For most children with this outcome, the family risk evaluation scored risk level for the family will be high.

A substantiated—child not in need of protection 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.

Record information to support the assessment that the parents are able and willing to protect the child, not just statements to this effect.

An unsubstantiated—child not in need of protection 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 birth.

Note

For most children with this outcome, the family risk evaluation scored risk level for the family will be moderate or low.

If the family risk evaluation final scored risk level is high and therefore ongoing intervention is recommended by the family risk evaluation:

  • Record information about the risk factors identified.
  • Offer the family ongoing intervention via a support service case or referral to a support service, such as an intensive family support service, to address the risk factors identified.
  • Record the family’s response to the service offered.

If this outcome is recorded for an unborn child, take no further action unless there are identified needs and the pregnant woman consents to receive support. In this case, make a referral to one of the following:

An unsubstantiated—ongoing intervention continues 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. (Refer to Decide if a child is in need of protection.)
    or
  • an unborn child is not at unacceptable risk of significant harm after birth.

A substantiated—ongoing intervention continues 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. (Refer to Decide if the child is in need of protection.)
    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.

Record a no investigation and assessment outcome 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.

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.

If a 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 another 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.

Finalise the investigation and assessment

Time sensitive

The investigation and assessment must be completed and approved within 100 days of the date of the notification. The senior team leader is responsible for approving the investigation and assessment.

If the outcome is substantiated—child in need of protection and a referral has been made to a family group meeting convenor, the investigation and assessment must be approved within 7 days of the referral date. 

To finalise the investigation and assessment:

  • All subject children will be sighted, and if appropriate, interviewed by a CSO unless the differential pathway contact with other professional is used. (Refer to Consider the differential pathway.)
  • The investigation and assessment will be finalised, including deciding the appropriate outcome.
  • The senior team leader will approve the investigation and assessment outcome in ICMS.
  • At least one of the parents will be advised of the investigation and assessment outcome.
  • The Assessment and Service Connect (ASC) provider will be advised of the outcome and whether ongoing intervention will occur, if the investigation and assessment was an ASC co-response.
  • The Family Participation Program will be advised of the outcome and whether ongoing intervention will occur, if it has supported the family during the investigation and assessment.

Note

If the investigation and assessment has been finalised and the ASC provider raises new child protection concerns about the child, provide the concerns to the RIS. The RIS CSO will consult with the CSSC CSO and the senior team leader responsible for the ASC co-response to decide the intake response.  

The ASC provider is expected to finalise their involvement with the family within 60 days of receiving the request to participate in an ASC co-response. This excludes any period of ‘active holding’ by the ASC provider while waiting for another service to start working with the family. The active holding period should not extend beyond 60 days of the investigation and assessment being finalised.

Decide if there will be ongoing intervention

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

  • Each child assessed to be in need of protection requires ongoing intervention.  
  • A pregnant woman will be offered ongoing intervention if it is assessed that an unborn child will be in need of protection after birth.
  • Ongoing intervention is not required for a child assessed as not being in need of protection; however, if the family’s final scored risk level in the family risk evaluation is high, the child’s family will be offered:
    • a support service
      or
    • referral to a support service, such as intensive family support.

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.

Further reading

If an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child has a substantiated—child in need of protection outcome and a case plan has not yet been developed, refer to:

  • the family participation program (as a private convenor) for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family-led decision making process to develop the case plan−if the family agrees
    or
  • a family group meeting convenor for a family-led decision making process to develop the case plan−if:
    • the family does not agree to a referral to the Family Participation Program
      or
    • the Family Participation Program is not able to accept the referral. 

Consider a referral to another agency

If the child is not assessed to be in need of protection, consider referring the family to another agency if:

  • the relevant referral criteria is met
  • ongoing risk factors were identified
    and
  • the family may benefit from support services.

Appropriate services include:

  • a community support service
  • an intensive family support service
  • an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Wellbeing Service, for an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child.

Discuss the referral with the senior team leader and if they agree, discuss the referral with the family. If the family consents:

  • Give them information and advice about the service.
    or
  • Complete and forward the relevant referral form and attach a copy of the form to the investigation and assessment event in ICMS.

For an Assessment and Service Connect (ASC) co-response, work with the ASC 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.

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

If a referral to a support service is made:

  • Confirm the referral has been accepted and the family will receive support to reduce the ongoing risk factors.
  • Record this information in ICMS to inform future involvement with Child Safety.

Practice prompt

Do not refer a family to a Family and Child Connect service. The family’s needs have already been assessed during the investigation and assessment, so a service that will intervene to help with the assessed needs is now needed.

To make a referral to an intensive family support service―submit the online IFS referral form. (Refer to the Family and child connect portal and Family and Child Connect.)

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