To guide child protection workers on the assessment, analysis and intervention in child neglect cases.
In addition to the practice requirements stated above, the following practice requirements relate to cases involving childhood obesity co-occurring with other child protection concerns, and to other types of medical neglect, including ‘failure to thrive’ (outlined in Chapter 2.2: Assessment and investigation processes).
Child Protection and Family Support division's role in relation to neglect is to:
Clarify information with the referrer
Child protection workers can use the ‘parent and child’ prompt questions in the Signs of Safety prompts for neglect (in related resources) to gather relevant information from the referrer about whether parental issues are impacting on the safety and wellbeing of the child.
When determining whether we have a further role, child protection workers should clarify with the referrer what interventions that they have tried, any resulting impact, what has caused them to contact us, and their expectations.
Check records in Assist and Objective, Objective and the FDV triage application
The types of reports received and the sources of information may provide indicators that a child is experiencing cumulative harm.
When assessing whether Communities needs to undertake initial inquiries and/or a SWA, consideration should be given to:
Contact the person/s with parental responsibility where possible and appropriate
Where possible and appropriate, the duty officer should engage with the parent (or person with parental responsibility) to seek their views on the concerns.
Referrals requiring a specific response
When assessing concerns about neglect, child protection workers should refer to Chapter 2.2: Assessment and investigation processes for specific guidance on the following types of referrals:
To assess and respond to childhood obesity co-occurring with child protection concerns refer to Managing referrals on childhood obesity co-occurring with child protection concerns (in related resources).
Referrals for chronic truancy alone are outside our mandate, however we may have a family support role if chronic truancy is occurring in combination with a child’s criminal and/or anti-social behaviour.
An intake must be completed to initiate initial inquiries when, based on information received, we may have a role in relation to concerns for a child’s wellbeing (the care, development, health and safety of the child), and/or a concern about the parent’s capacity to protect.
Where we have a clear ongoing role, the duty officer should move directly to a SWA.
Duty officers can seek relevant information and make inquiries about the child or the family to determine whether we have an ongoing role.
Neglect can often co-occur with, or result from, other presenting issues, such as mental health, substance misuse, family and domestic violence and gambling. Therefore in neglect cases, contacting relevant agencies such as the school, child health nurse or a service provider who has worked with the parent (currently or in the past) may elicit relevant information about the level of risks and protective factors.
Determining if the current referral links to previous reports or assessments
At intake, the rationale for ‘no further action’ on previous report(s) needs to be re-considered, and a new analysis be developed, based on the information provided in the current report. Workers must take a cumulative harm perspective by re-examining previous reports in the context of the new report to assess whether a number of low-level risk factors combined are placing the child at risk of significant cumulative harm.
Child protection workers should be mindful of the tendency to screen out, or minimise, information that challenges previous views that have been held.
 State Government Victoria, 2010, Specialist Practice Guide: Cumulative Harm, Best interests case practice model. Specialist practice resource. Victorian Department of Human Services,
Assessment is an ongoing process, not an event. It should be used as a baseline to measure change in the family. Assessment occurs throughout the life of a case including when undertaking a SWA or intensive family support work.
When undertaking assessments child protection workers should:
When developing a chronology of events, child protection workers should focus on identifying and analysing:
If there is a sibling group, consider the above list for each child including the developmental trajectory. This should also include any unrelated children living in the family.
Child protection worker’s own values and beliefs
Neglect is a concept that can be particularly subjective and may be influenced by the values and beliefs of individual child protection workers. Furthermore, values and beliefs can affect the relationship between parent and child protection worker, as well as significantly impact on practice, decision making and child’s outcomes.
Child protection workers may find the following tools useful for promoting more objective assessments and responses.
Structural disadvantage and neglect
Some parents may be unable to meet the needs of their children due to structural factors that may be outside of the parents’ and/or our control.
Examples of structural factors that could contribute to disadvantage and neglect include:
Where a child has experienced, or is likely to experience significant harm from neglect, we must assess the concern and provide an appropriate response, irrespective of whether or not this is the direct result of inadequate parenting, the impact of structural disadvantage, or a combination of both.
Assessing the impact of neglect on the child
Direct engagement and assessment with the child (that is, interviewing and sighting the child) is critical to understanding how the parent’s actions or inactions have made the child feel and the possible trauma arising from neglect. Children may not always have the capacity to express their needs and feelings (or have difficulty doing so) because the situation is normalised for them. Refer to Chapter 2.2: Signs of Safety - child protection practice framework for a number of working with children tools.
The nine dimensions of wellbeing can be used as a guide to identify the impact of neglect on the child, the level of their vulnerability, and whether child developmental milestones are being met. Collecting information over time will also help identify cumulative harm and protective factors. Refer to Signs of Safety prompts for neglect (in related resources).
Child protection workers should make use of a chronology to develop an understanding of the meaning attached by the child to traumatic events. Child protection workers should also be mindful that the impact of cumulative harm on a resilient child may be less visible, and for this reason it is important that the child protection worker assesses the child’s subjective view of the impact on them.
Recognising emotional neglect in infants and young children is particularly difficult. The following symptoms may suggest emotional neglect in infants, but can also be caused by other medical problems. Children should always be checked by a medical practitioner or nurse if their behaviour is characterised by:
In some cases, multidisciplinary and/or specialist assessments can be useful to determine if the child has a developmental delay or disability, and whether this is due to the environment, genetics or both. District psychologists should be consulted to determine whether a specialist assessment is needed, and the type of assessment required. In addition to identifying the cause of delay or disability it is important that assessment identifies any additional needs and the core requirements of care. This can add to the understanding of not only harmful consequences, but also of increased probability of harm and vulnerability. It may also identify additional supports that parents may need to adequately care for their children.
Child protection workers should refer to the following related resources for further information:
Assessing parental protectiveness – capacity for, and willingness to change, and resources available
Parents’ capacity and motivation to effectively meet the needs of their children can be affected by a range of issues. Five common issues associated with child neglect are:
For more information refer to:
There are three elements of assessing parental protectiveness:
Assessments need to consider how the parent’s/family’s past experiences, including family of origin issues, may have impacted on family functioning. In doing this, child protection workers must still maintain the child’s safety and wellbeing as the central focus. Refer to Signs of Safety prompts for neglect (in related resources).
Whilst parents should be given every opportunity to improve their parenting, it is crucial that this is not at the expense of meeting the child’s basic needs such as adequate food, shelter, clothing, supervision, hygiene and/or medical attention. Short and long-term effects and cumulative effects of neglect can be significant, whether there is intent to harm or not.
Improving parenting skills and developing a network of support is important for the wellbeing of the child and promotes sustainable change in parental behaviours. Connecting parents and families with agencies and supports can sometimes be difficult, especially if there is limited availability or the parents are unwilling to engage with agencies. For example, parents who have experienced intergenerational neglect may deny or minimise, or have the attitude of ‘it was good enough for me so it’s good enough for my child’, and not see the need to access agencies and supports.
Given that assessment is a continuous process, as a family’s level of protectiveness changes, appropriate changes in our approach must also be considered.
Capacity for change
Consideration must be given to the parent’s capacity to care for their children. Basic parenting, attachment and bonding should be assessed to assist in understanding the relationship between the child and parent. This will often give an indication of the capacity of the parents to change their interactions with their child.
Child protection workers should consider the parent’s capacity to provide the following:
Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of change model (in related resources) may help to identify parent’s willingness to change. It describes five stages of readiness:
We must assess whether the desire by the parent(s) to change dangerous or neglectful behaviours has been demonstrated by consistent evidence of changed behaviours. These changes must occur within a timeframe that is appropriate to meeting the child’s development needs. Achieving sustained change in the parent’s behavior will not generally happen overnight, therefore utilising a stage-specific model may be more realistic and encourage achievable change over a period of time, rather than a single intervention. This tool should be used with the parents when reviewing progress of actions taken or to explore underlying issues contributing to set back with progress.
Assessment should consider the socio-economic environment of the family and their community, their access to services, and how the child, family and parenting functions within this. Our case management role may include coordinating other agencies to provide the available services for the child and family.
Critical decision making – a framework for making decisions
Where possible the family should participate in the decision making process because:
Child protection workers should demonstrate that their decisions, irrespective of the outcomes, are well reasoned and documented - use Form 254 and 255, the Signs of Safety assessment and planning forms in related resources and refer to Critical decision making (in related resources).
Identifying significant harm or likelihood of harm
The impact on children is central to assessing the level of harm for the child. The following are examples of how a child can be affected by neglectful parenting:
Systematic recording of information will lead to a more thorough and transparent analysis process to determine whether significant harm has occurred, or is likely to occur, through the parent’s actions or inactions. Refer to Impact of trauma, neglect and cumulative harm on children in related resources for further information about indicators of harm.
Consideration should be given to providing child centered family support in circumstances where past or current harm to the child is unclear, but there are significant indicators that may contribute to future harm or danger for the child. This assessment is based on family history and/or a current substantiation of harm to another child in the family and the parent’s current presentation. The decision from a SWA is recorded as ‘likelihood of significant harm’.
Determining when a child is in need of protection due to neglect
In the context of neglectful parenting, for a child to be considered in need of protection, we must assess that:
We are expected to present objective and balanced information to the Children’s Court, by demonstrating evidence of harm. Refer to Documenting evidence for the Children’s Court in related resources.
 Department of Health, 2000, Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families, The Stationary Office, London, p.20-21
 State Government Victoria, 2010, Specialist Practice Guide: Cumulative Harm, Best interests case practice model. Specialist practice resource. Victorian Department of Human Services, p.27
The outcomes of a SWA for neglect can be represented along a continuum, from adequate parenting and care to the child being in need of protection. Refer to Continuum of neglect responses (in related resources). The type of service response required will be determined by the level of harm or degree to which the parent is protective, as assessed through the use of the Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework. Communities' preferred action is to determine and provide or facilitate supports to sustain the child’s safety within the family and kinship group with, or without, the need to take intervention action.
Intervention action means actions that involve:
Considerations that may be helpful when developing a safety plan in neglect cases could include:
Refer to Signs of Safety prompts for neglect (in related resources) for examples of prompt questions to facilitate discussion with the parent.
Refer to Chapter 2.2: Signs of Safety - child protection practice framework for further information on safety planning.
Direct work with children and their parents
Service provision to address child neglect or cumulative harm generally requires a comprehensive and intensive approach. This will often involve more frequent visits when commencing work with the parents (this can be done by Communities in partnership with other service providers), gradually decreasing the input as the parents demonstrate more confidence and ability to undertake parenting tasks. As with any behavioural change process, the parents and children may lapse or relapse, and increased visits for a short period of time may be required.
Services can be provided by Communities or families can be referred to our funded Intensive Family Support Services in the metropolitan area or Peel. For further information refer to the following:
Best Beginnings Plus
For cases of neglect child protection workers can refer families where a baby is yet to be born or is up to 12 months of age to the Best Beginnings program. The service focuses on protecting, enhancing and maintaining infant wellbeing, parental wellbeing, family functioning and social connectedness.
Refer to Chapter 1.2: Best Beginnings - referral and intake for further information.
Intensive family support
Intensive family support is an appropriate response where a SWA has identified significant safety concerns for a child or where harm has occurred, but there is potential for the child to remain in the care of their family with a safety plan and intensive support. All casework planning and responses must focus on meeting the child’s needs while work is undertaken with the parents.
Casework strategies will depend on the identified harm and danger statements, and goals for each family, and will generally include a mix of in-home support and therapeutic interventions, such as:
Consideration must be given to using Child Protection Income Management or Voluntary Income Management in circumstances where the parent’s use of their financial resources is contributing to child neglect. These initiatives are available in the metropolitan area, Peel, East Kimberley and West Kimberley. Staff should consult with their team leader or their district’s Income Management contact person, and refer to Chapter 1.2: Income management for child protection.
Application for a Liquor Restricted Premises Declaration
Where excessive use of alcohol is impacting on the child an application for a liquor restricted premises declaration may be appropriate as part of the overall plan to address safety and wellbeing issues.
Refer to Chapter 1.4: Alcohol and other drug issues – application for a liquor restricted premises declaration for further information.
Protection order (supervision)
A Protection Order (Supervision) allows Communities to supervise the wellbeing of a child with a safety plan, without removing the parental responsibility for the period specified in the order. This order is a useful strategy to address neglect concerns by enhancing wellbeing and safety over time, and supporting parent/s to become more protective while maintaining the stability of the child’s living and care arrangements. The intended client group is those families who present as high risk, but who are likely to comply sufficiently with a Court order to enable sufficient safety to be established for the child.
Refer to Chapter 3.3: Protection order (supervision) for further information.