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 Department).
Kinship relationships: You must consult with the relevant staff in your district, that is, an appropriate Aboriginal officer or if the family has a culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) background, with a senior CaLD officer in you district; if not available,consult with the Principal Policy and Planning Officer Cultural Diversity, Professional Practice Unit.
All allegations of child sexual abuse reported to the local district office must be referred to and discussed with childFIRST (metropolitan) or Western Australia Police (regional).
The Mandatory Reporting Service must refer all reports to WA Police through the childFIRST under s.124D(2) Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (Criminal Code), and provide a copy of the written mandatory report and the assessment of the information received.
childFIRST (metropolitan), the Department or WA Police (regional) must convene a joint strategy meeting (face-to-face, via telephone or videoconference) for all allegations of child sexual abuse.
You, your team leader and childFIRST (metropolitan only) must attend the joint strategy meeting.
If childFIRST or WA Police determine that a joint investigation is not required, you must continue to undertake a child safety investigation (CSI) and advise childFIRST if the decision needs to be reviewed.
You 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, you must take statutory action to bring the child into provisional protection and care. Refer to Chapter 3.3: Intervention action for further information.
In cases of acute assault where the child may have injuries or require treatment and there may be forensic evidence present, the child must be taken to the local hospital as soon as possible for an immediate assessment of the child's health needs.
The Perth Children's Hospital Child Protection Unit requires parental consent to conduct physical examinations, and this should be sought at the clinic. If the child is in the CEO's care, you must seek approval from your district director.
You must consider the safety of siblings and other children who may be in contact, reside or regularly stay with the person the Department is concerned about.
To assess the child's safety needs you must consider:
You must develop an effective and rigourous safety plan with the family to keep the children safe from further harm. The safety plan must be reviewed on a regular basis.
You must inform one of the child's parents as soon as practicable that you have had access to their child and the reasons for it.
If the parents refuse consent for you to interview their child, you must apply for a s.34 warrant (access) to interview the child. Refer to the section 'Warrant (access) under s.34' in Chapter 2.2 Conducting a child safety investigation for further information.
A child assessment interview is not required if the child has made a disclosure. When this occurs the child must only have a forensic interview, which is undertaken by childFIRST (metropolitan) or WA Police (regional).
childFIRST (metropolitan) or you and WA Police (regional) must meet with the parents after the interview. The parent or caregiver must be:
When you substantiate that a child has been harmed, you must make a decision on 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.
Sexual abuse of children covers behaviours and activities that expose or subject a child to sexual acts that are exploitative and/or inappropriate to his or her age and development level. Examples of this include sexual penetration, inappropriate touching, exposure to sexual acts or pornographic materials and using the internet for grooming and soliciting children for sexual exploitation.
Under s.24A of the Act, sexual activities between young people are not considered as sexual abuse unless:
Child sexual abuse can be broadly categorised as 'intra-familial' or 'extra-familial'.
'Intra-familial' child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a person who is a relative of the child or has a kinship relationship with the child. This applies to any child under 18 years of age.
The term "relative" is defined in s.3 of the Act as: in relation to a child, means each of the following people
(a) the child's —
(i) parent, grandparent or other ancestor;(ii) step‑parent;(iii) sibling;(iv) uncle or aunt;(v) cousin;(vi) spouse or de facto partner,
(i) parent, grandparent or other ancestor;
(iv) uncle or aunt;
(vi) spouse or de facto partner,
whether the relationship is established by, or traced through, consanguinity, marriage, a de facto relationship, a written law or a natural relationship;
(b) in the case of an Aboriginal child, a person regarded under the customary law or tradition of the child's community as the equivalent of a person mentioned in paragraph (a);
(c) in the case of a Torres Strait Islander child, a person regarded under the customary law or tradition of the Torres Strait Islands as the equivalent of a person mentioned in paragraph (a).
Children in kinship relationships
must consult with appropriate Aboriginal staff in their districts, with a senior CaLD officer in the district, or, if none available, the Principal Policy and Planning Officer Cultural Diversity, Professional Practice Unit.
'Extra-familial' child sexual abuse is refers to abuse by a person who is not a relative of the child, or by a person outside the child or young person's kinship system.
Grooming is the subtle, deliberate transition process of gaining a child's trust, manipulating power differences and building emotional connections for the purpose of sexually abusing them. Perpetrators may also build a relationship with the child's family or caregiver to make them seem trustworthy or authoritative and to discredit the child.
Perpetrators set up a relationship with the child that is grounded in secrecy to control, frighten and intimidate, so that their crime is less likely to be suspected or discovered. By breaking down the child's inhibitions and desensitising the child, the perpetrator secures the child's compliance and escalates the intrusiveness of sexual behaviour over time.
Children can be groomed online, in person or both; by a stranger or someone they know such as a family member, a friend or someone who has targeted them e.g. a teacher or sports coach. A child is unlikely to know they have been groomed even if they might be worried or confused and less likely to speak to an adult.
Grooming may include:
It is important to note that some of these behaviours may be appropriate befhaviour between an adult and a child.
They must be assessed within the context of the situation.
In most cases, coercion and fear is common in child sexual abuse.
Coercion involves a power imbalance between the alleged abuser and the child which may relate to:
Fear may include:
The effects of grooming can result in the child having difficulty sleeping, bedwetting, struggling to concentrate or cope with school work. Children may also experience conflicting feelings like loyalty, admiration, love and at the same time, fear, distress and confusion. The child may become withdrawn, anxious, uncommunicative, angry or upset.
For further information on grooming, visit the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children website
'What is Grooming?'
Western Australia (WA) Police
All allegations of child sexual abuse reported to the local district office
must be referred to and discussed with childFIRST (metropolitan) or WA Police (regional). 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 and minimise the number of times a child is required to retell their experiences.
There are a number of offences in the
Criminal Code that relate to the sexual assault of a child. These offences include:
The Mandatory Reporting Service
must refer all reports to WA Police through the childFIRST under s.124D(2) of the
Criminal Code, and provide a copy of the written mandatory report and the assessment of the information received.
Joint strategy meetings
childFIRST (metropolitan), the Department, or WA Police (regional)
must convene a joint strategy meeting (face-to-face, via telephone or videoconference) for all allegations of child sexual abuse.
You, your 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 also considers:
If childFIRST or WA Police determine that a joint investigation is not required, you
must continue to undertake a child safety investigation and advise childFIRST if the decision needs to be reviewed.
A medical assessment is necessary to identify physical injuries, secure forensic evidence and provide for the wellbeing of the child.
You should discuss the need for a medical or forensic examination as part of the joint strategy meeting or for a 'Department only assessment' with your team leader.
The findings of the physical examination and other relevant information are provided in writing to the Department, WA Police and, if requested by the parent, to his or her legal adviser. Refer to the resource
Medical and forensic examinations for further information.
Medical examinations include both physical and psychological examination. An examination may lead to:
When considering the need for a medical or forensic examination, the following
must be taken into account:
Purpose - the forensic examination gathers information and evidence for criminal proceedings. and the medical examination identifies and meets the medical requirements of the child
Appropriateness - particularly in cases of sexual abuse, a physical examination may be distressing to the child or young person. The decision to conduct an examination for forensic purposes must take account of the nature of abuse that has been disclosed and the likelihood that physical evidence will be detected. The need for a physical examination for medical purposes is determined by the nature of any injury.
Timing - the timing of a physical examination for forensic purposes needs to take account of the nature of abuse and how recently it occurred.
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.
It is preferred that the child is examined in the presence of their parent or accompanying adult. If the child requests that they wish to undergo the examination without another person present, this should be respected.
When the child is referred for a medical assessment, you should wherever possible, accompany the child, parent or caregiver to the assessment so the child:
You should explain to the child, the parent or 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.
In cases of acute assault where the child may have injuries or require treatment, and there may be forensic evidence present the child must be taken to the local hospital as soon as possible and the child's immediate health needs assessed.
The hospital will determine who will conduct a forensic examination if needed and can discuss with CPU as required.
Criteria for an urgent medical examination
The timing of a medical examination needs to take account of the nature of abuse and how recently it occurred. The decision to medically examine a child should be made jointly with Perth Children's Hospital Child Protection Unit (CPU) during office hours and the Emergency Department after hours where the CPU has a doctor on call.
An urgent physical examination may be required if a child has been sexually assaulted within the past 72 hours as forensic evidence (DNA, blood, hair or semen), may be present in or on the child or his/her clothing and acute injuries, such as lacerations, abrasions, bites and bruising may be evident.
If the event occurred between 72 hours and 14 days, a priority appointment is scheduled. Children may also require treatment in cases of exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STI) and adolescents may require emergency contraception.
The CPU will also arrange for physical examinations for children who have been sexually abused in the past where the child, parent or caregiver is concerned about health issues. The CPU can also provide STI testing and therapeutic services.
Medical and forensic services in Western Australia
The Perth Children's Hospital CPU and the Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) are the primary services set up in Western Australia to provide forensic examinations of child sexual abuse. The SARC see children 13 years of age and older and the CPU see children up to 16 years of age.
Children from rural areas are transported to the PCH CPU for a full forensic examination. The SARC also have some rural services.
Guidelines for child sexual abuse specify that preliminary forensic specimens can be taken by any doctor so a child can eat and toilet without forensic evidence being lost. The CPU can then do a full forensic examination or investigation if warranted.
Making a referral
You should contact the Perth Children's Hospital CPU or SARC to discuss scheduling an appointment for the child or young person to be seen by a medical practitioner.
If you are unable to attend, you should provide a written referral before the appointment.
Where possible, parental consent should be provided for examination and documentation, and you should attend the appointment with the child and parent or carer
The CPU requires parental consent to conduct a physical examination and this should be sought at the clinic. If the child is in care of the CEO, then you must seek approval from your district director.
Refer to chapter
3.2.8 Medical or dental treatment – including immunisations for further information.
Where possible, children should be assessed locally to minimise the impact on the child and family. If this is not possible and the child needs to be seen by the Perth Children's Hospital CPU, you should work with the local health service, CPU, and WA Police to transport the child for a medical assessment.
WA Health will determine if a child is medically fit to be transferred. The local health service can take preliminary specimens from the child and WA Police can take photos of any visible injuries that the child may have.
Interviewing the child
Wherever possible, parents or guardians should be advised of the allegations made in relation to their children, and you should request the parent's consent to interview their child.
You, 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 you reasonably consider necessary for the purposes of the investigation.
must inform one of the child's parents as soon as practicable that you have had access to their child and the reasons for it.
In circumstances where the parents refuse consent for you to interview their child, you
must apply for a warrant (access) under s.34 of the Act to interview the child. Refer to Chapter
2.2 Conducting a child safety investigation for further information.
Child assessment interview
A child assessment interview is not required if the child has made a disclosure. In these circumstances the child must only have a forensic interview.
For further information regarding child assessment interviews, including guidance on how to respond to a disclosure of sexual abuse, refer to Chapter 2.2 - section
Child assessment interview.
The forensic interview of a child must be undertaken by childFIRST (metropolitan) or WA Police (regional). 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.
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 (regional) 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)
You should assess and evaluate the capacity of the non-abusing parent to work through the trauma of discovering that their child has been sexually abused and to provide an appropriate level of safety to that child.
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. Refer to Chapter 2.2 – section:
Working with WA Police.
Consider the following when interviewing the alleged perpetrator:
Interview 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:
In both a joint investigation and a 'Department only assessment' you are responsible for assessing and managing the child's immediate and ongoing safety needs.
To assess the child's safety needs you must consider:
Building safety for the child is challenging with families where sexual abuse is alleged to have occurred and the alleged perpetrator disputes or 'denies' the abuse. Refer to
Building safety when harm is denied 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 and in protecting the child from further abuse.
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.
You must develop a safety plan with the family that is effective and rigorous to keep the children safe from further harm. The safety plan must be reviewed on a regular basis.
Assessing the impact of sexual abuse on children
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.
Effects of child sexual abuse
The effect of child sexual abuse is different for every child. Some children may have high levels of distress and some may show signs of distress some period after the abuse occurred.
Child sexual abuse damages children physically, emotionally and behaviourally. Both its initial effects and long-term consequences impact on the child, on their family and on the community.
Early identification and effective intervention can ameliorate the initial effects and long-term consequences of child sexual abuse and promote the recovery of victims.
Initial effects of child sexual abuse may include: )
Long term consequences may include: )
Refer to the following related resources to assess the impact on the child:
Assessing parental protectiveness
You should consider the following when determining parental protectiveness:
Assessing and responding to sexual abuse by a child to a sibling or another child
Children can be harmed by other children who exhibit harmful sexual behaviours, a broad spectrum of behaviours.
These behaviours can range from those that are developmentally inappropriate and may harm only the child exhibiting the behaviours, such as inappropriate touching or inappropriate nudity, to criminal behaviours such as sexual assault – which can be harmful to the child exhibiting the behaviours and the child victim.
You should consider the following when assessing if harm has occurred:
Sexual behaviours of children for further information.
You should consider the following to determine the family's capacity to monitor the child's behavior and provide safety:
Prompts for assessing and responding to child sexual abuse when the alleged perpetrator is a child for further information.
Determining whether harm has occurred and if someone is responsible for the harm
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.
You 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 (both 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, you must use your knowledge of child development and the nature of the abuse to form an opinion about 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 has 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 you substantiate that a child has been harmed, a decision
must be made on 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.
Safety planning, ongoing assessment and review
You should consider the following when developing a safety plan for allegations of child sexual abuse cases:
Safety planning for children with harmful sexual behaviours
Where the child has harmful sexual behaviours, you should consider:
In planning treatment services you need to 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.
You can refer children and families for treatment services to the:
Refer to the following related resources for further information: