To guide child protection workers on the assessment, analysis and intervention of allegations of child sexual abuse.
Note: CEO refers to the Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Communities.
The procedure for assessing and responding to allegations of child sexual abuse should be read in conjunction with Chapter 2.2: Assessment and investigation processes.
Child protection workers may find the following related resources useful when assessing allegations of child sexual abuse:
Where allegations with multiple victims and/or
persons responsible are received refer to related resource Other Matters in
Planning an Investigation.
All allegations of child sexual abuse reported to the local district office must be referred to and discussed with childFIRST (metropolitan) or WA Police (country). This joint approach to child sexual abuse investigations aims to minimise the impact of additional stress on the child during the assessment and investigation process. This includes minimising the number of times a child is required to retell their experience(s).
There are a number of offences in the Western Australia Criminal Code 1913 (the Code) which relate to the sexual assault of a child. These offences include:
The Mandatory Reporting Service must refer all reports to the WA Police through the childFIRST under s.124D(2) of the Code, by providing a copy of the written mandatory report and the assessment of the information received.
Joint strategy meeting
childFIRST (metropolitan), Communities or WA Police (country) must convene a joint strategy meeting (face-to-face, via telephone or videoconference) for all allegations of child sexual abuse. The child protection worker, team leader and childFIRST (metropolitan only) must attend the joint strategy meeting.
The purpose of a joint strategy meeting is to determine whether:
The joint strategy meeting may also consider:
Where it has been agreed by WA Police and Communities to undertake a joint investigation, child protection workers should refer to the Bilateral Schedule between the Department for Child Protection and the Western Australia Police for the Investigation Child Sexual Abuse, Serious Physical Abuse and Neglect (currently in development) for further information.
If childFIRST or WA Police determine that a joint investigation is not required, the child protection worker must continue to undertake a SWA and advise childFIRST if the decision needs to be reviewed.
Medical and forensic examination
The need for a medical or forensic examination should be discussed as part of the joint strategy meeting or for a ‘Department only assessment’ by the child protection worker in consultation with their team leader. When considering the need for a medical or forensic examination, child protection workers should take the following into account:
Child protection workers must seek parental consent for a medical or forensic examination of the child. If the child needs to be medically examined without the consent of the parents the child protection worker must take statutory action to bring the child into provisional protection and care. Refer to Chapter 3.3: Intervention action for further information.
When the child is referred for a medical assessment, the child protection worker should, wherever possible, accompany the child and the parent/caregiver to the assessment so the child does not have to repeat the details of the abuse, provide information that the parent/caregiver/child may not disclose and to address any safety concerns that may arise during the clinic appointment.
The child protection worker should explain to the child, the parent/carer and other relevant people what a medical examination involves. The examination for evidence of sexual assault is conducted within the context of a complete physical examination.
The findings of the physical examination and other relevant information are provided in writing to Communities, WA Police and, if requested by the parent, to his/her legal adviser. Refer to the resource Medical and forensic examinations (in related resources) for further information.
Child’s immediate and ongoing safety needs
In both a joint investigation and a ‘Department only assessment’ the child protection worker is responsible for assessing and managing the child’s immediate and ongoing safety needs.
To assess the child’s safety needs the child protection worker must consider:
Building safety for the child is challenging with families where sexual abuse is alleged to have occurred and the alleged perpetrator(s) disputes or ‘denies’ the abuse. Refer Building safety when harm is denied (in related resources) for further information.
Within the context of child sexual abuse there may be a person who is considered a ‘non-abusing’ parent or caregiver. Support and protection by the non-abusing parent plays a crucial role in addressing the impact on the child as well as protecting the child from further abuse.
The child protection worker must develop a safety plan with the family that is effective and rigorous to keep the child(ren) safe from further harm. The safety plan must be reviewed on a regular basis.
Taking a child into provisional protection and care
The decision regarding whether or not the child should be removed from the family home is a professional judgement which should be based on the level of risk to the child if they remain in the family home while the assessment is undertaken.
Interviewing the child
Wherever possible, parents or guardians should be advised of the allegations made in relation to their children, and the child protection work should request the parent’s consent to interview their child.
The child protection worker, without informing a child’s parents, may have access to the child at a school, hospital or a place where a child care service is provided, and remain at the school, hospital or place, for as long as the child protection worker reasonably considers necessary for the purposes of the investigation. This should be considered in circumstances where, if the child’s parents were to know in advance of the contact, the investigation would be likely to be jeopardised.
The child protection worker must inform one of the child’s parents as soon as practicable that they have had access to their child and the reasons for it.
In circumstances where the parent/s refuse consent for the child protection worker to interview their child the child protection worker must apply for a warrant (access) under s.34 of the Child and Community Services Act 2004 (the Act) to interview the child. Refer to Chapter 2.2: Assessment and investigation processes for further information.
Child assessment interview
A child assessment interview may occur:
A child assessment interview is not required if the child has made a disclosure. In these circumstances the child must have a forensic interview only.
For further information regarding child assessment interviews, including guidance on how to respond to a disclosure of sexual abuse, refer to Child assessment interview (in related resources).
The forensic interview of a child must be undertaken by childFIRST (metropolitan) or WA Police (country). The purpose of the forensic interview is to obtain an accurate and reliable account of the sexual abuse in a way that is fair, is in the child’s best interest and is acceptable in criminal proceedings. For further information regarding the forensic interviewing of children and an example of questions used and the rationale, refer to the Forensic Interview related resource.
Child protection workers should, where possible, attend and observe the forensic interview, along with the detective in the recording room. The child protection worker may also support the child and family during breaks in the interview and be involved in the debriefing/follow up process.
The child protection worker’s role during a forensic interview is to:
Child protection workers may also have a role in determining the pace, breaks and whether more than one interview session is required.
childFIRST (metropolitan) or child protection workers and WA Police (country) must meet with the parent(s) after the interview. The parent/caregiver must be provided with sufficient information to keep the child safe. The parent/caregiver must also be informed of the next steps in the investigation, address any questions or concerns, and provided with relevant contact information.
Interviewing the non-abusing parent or caregiver
The capacity of the non-abusing parent to work through the trauma of discovering that their child has been sexually abused should be evaluated. To determine the level of safety that the non-abusing parent or caregiver can provide child protection workers should consider:
Regular reviews of the non-abusing parent’s circumstances, abilities or motivation are important as these aspects may change over time. The non-abusing parent is likely to need assistance to seek support and/or counselling during this time.
Interviewing the alleged perpetrator (parent or caregiver)
In most instances where a joint investigation is occurring, the WA Police prefer to interview the alleged perpetrator before the child protection worker makes contact. Where there are no concerns for the child’s safety, the child protection worker should negotiate with the WA Police the timing of the interview of the alleged perpetrator.
Child protection workers should consider the following when interviewing the alleged perpetrator:
Interview of siblings and other children in the household
As part of the joint investigation and for a ‘Department only assessment’, the child protection worker will need to consider whether other children who reside or regularly stay in the house where the abuse is alleged to have occurred are at risk of harm and may need to be interviewed also.
Gathering relevant information
In addition to interviewing the child, alleged perpetrator, non-offender parent/caregiver and any other children the child protection worker may contact other agencies or individuals for further information concerning the allegation of child sexual abuse.
To determine whether any additional information should be gathered, child protection workers should consider whether information is required:
Assessing the impact of sexual abuse on the child/ren
Child protection workers should recognise that with allegations of child sexual abuse, harm in some cases may not be readily identifiable and confirmation of the act can be considered to constitute substantiation.
Child protection workers should refer to the following related resources to assess the impact on the child:
Assessing parental protectiveness
Child protection workers should consider the following when determining parental protectiveness:
Assessing and responding to child sexual abuse by a child to a sibling or another child
The reasons children sexually harm other children are complicated, varied and not always obvious. Some children may have been emotionally, sexually or physically abused themselves, while others may have witnessed physical or emotional violence at home. Some may have come in contact with sexually explicit movies, video games, or materials that are confusing to them. In some instances, a child or adolescent may act on a passing impulse with no harmful intent, but may still cause harm to themselves or to other children.
Child protection workers should consider the following when assessing if harm has occurred:
Refer to Sexual behaviours of children that are age appropriate, concerning and very concerning (in related resources) for further information.
The child protection worker should consider the following to determine the family’s capacity to monitor the child’s behavior and provide safety:
Refer to Prompts for assessing and responding to child sexual abuse when the alleged perpetrator is a child (in related resources) for further information.
The standard of proof to substantiate significant harm or likelihood of significant harm is different from that required to secure a conviction in criminal justice proceedings. Therefore, it is likely that situations will arise in which an alleged perpetrator is not charged, convicted or found guilty of an offence in a Court, but harm should be substantiated and a person assessed as causing significant harm.
Child protection workers should refer to Analysing the child assessment interview, forensic interview and the child’s behavior and consider the indicators of trauma and the impact of trauma in the Child Development and Trauma Guide when determining whether significant harm has occurred or is likely to occur (in related resources).
Significant harm can be substantiated if any of the following are evident:
Likelihood of harm
Where it is assessed that child sexual abuse has occurred but harm is not evident, child protection workers need to reflect on their knowledge of child development and the nature of the abuse in forming an opinion regarding the possible implications for the child and the likelihood of the child experiencing harm.
Examples of likelihood of harm could include situations where an event had occurred or not yet happened but harm is not evident, such as a sex offender (or alleged perpetrator) may be in contact with a child and the primary caregiver is not protective.
When a child protection worker has substantiated that a child has been harmed, a decision must be made whether a person is responsible for the harm. A decision to substantiate harm is not dependent on the identification of a person responsible or a person assessed as causing significant harm.
Child protection workers should consider the following when developing a safety plan for allegations of child sexual abuse cases:
Child protection workers must also consider the safety needs of other children living in the home or in significant contact with the alleged perpetrator.
Refer to Chapter 2.2: Signs of Safety - child protection practice framework and "Chapter 9: Safety Planning" in the Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework for case practice guidance on safety planning and review.
Child protection workers should refer to Building safety when harm is denied (in related resources) to inform safety planning and review.
Safety planning where the perpetrator is a child
Where the perpetrator is a child, the child protection worker should consider whether:
In planning treatment services child protection workers should assess and consider the issues for all persons involved, and where possible facilitate an integrated treatment approach that is most likely to achieve the best outcomes for all concerned.
While an integrated approach is vital in intra familial abuse cases these same issues may also apply to extra familial abuse situations and interventions should therefore be based on an assessment of the impact of the abuse of all persons involved. Consultation with the team leader, senior practice development officer and Communities' psychologist may assist in determining the most appropriate treatment options.
Child protection workers can refer children and families for treatment services to the:
Refer to the following related resources for further information: