Concerned about making a mandatory report?

September 18, 2012

Mandatory reporting is the legal requirement to report suspected child abuse or neglect. In Australia, the groups of people who must report children who are being harmed or who are at risk of harm varies across states and territories. For a list of professionals mandated to report suspected abuse in each state click here.

Research indicates that most people worry about making a report, despite having major concerns about a child’s safety and wanting to help them.

If you are worried that you might be wrong or have doubts about whether what you have seen or suspect constitutes abuse you can do one or more of the following:

  • Talk your concerns through confidentially with the Principal or other designated or experienced senior staff member.
  • Call the child abuse reporting phone number in your state or territory. Speak with the protective officer about your concerns, and further clarify whether the information and facts constitutes a report of suspected abuse or neglect.
  • Use the interactive online tool developed by the NSW government to help you decide whether the situation constitutes abuse and is reportable. It is important to note that the tool is intended for those in NSW, however it is comprehensive and useful, and in most cases will apply to other states and territories.
  • Remember, it is not your obligation to investigate abuse, but to report it when you believe it is occurring.
  • It is normal to think the following when making a report:
    • ‘What if I’m wrong?’ It is not your job to decide if abuse has occurred. It is the job of the child protection agency. You will not be penalised for making a call that does not eventuate in action being taken by the child protection agency.
    • ‘What if the child is taken away from their family?’ Child protection agencies  focus on the child’s safety and protection in regards to their needs and welfare. Protective officers will only take a child away from their family when it is in the best interests of the child to do so, for example if they believe a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm, and the child’s parent is unwilling or unable to protect the child from harm. This decision is considered very carefully, often in consultation with more senior protective staff or managers.
    • ‘What if my report makes the abuse worse?’ You have a moral, and where mandated, a legal obligation to report. Child protective staff will often make a risk management plan that could include moving a child or adolescent into safe custody if they are in danger of immediate or on-going harm.
    • ‘The parents will hate me.’ In the short term this may or may not be true. In the longer term it is in everyone’s best interests to protect a child from harm. An abusive parent may well regret the harm caused and there are mechanisms in the welfare and judicial system to help perpetrators of violence or neglect to change. Reporting can be seen as the first step in assisting a perpetrator to make appropriate changes to their life.

Want to know more about making a mandatory report, including preparing, talking to parents and making the report? Click here (members only).