To guide child protection workers in:
In all cases where a concern for a child is identified and the family is known or believed to have left WA, child protection workers must follow the Alerts and Notification processes outlined in Chapter 4.2 Case Alerts.
Safety and wellbeing assessment (SWA)
Quality assurance, experience and supervision
Language and interpreters
Refer to Language and Interpreter Information in related resources for further information.
Assessment and Investigation Process Flowchart
Duty interactions allow duty officers to assess the information they have received and ascertain what, if any, further information and assessment is needed to decide whether we have an ongoing role.
During duty interactions the child protection worker must only:
Clarifying information with the referrer
When working with referrers, duty officers:
The level of detail provided is guided by the nature of the referrer’s relationships with the child and family and the referrer’s ongoing involvement with the case.
Checking Department records
Duty officers must check Assist, Objective and the FDV triage application for information about any previous involvement with the family and consider:
Duty officers may obtain archived case files and consult with relevant staff (e.g. Best Beginnings, Parent Support) to gather information relevant to the current concern.
Contacting the person/s with parental responsibility
Where possible and appropriate, duty officers should engage with the parent (or person with parental responsibility) and seek their views on the information reported and consent to seek information from external sources on the child or family. If this action is likely to pose an unknown or unacceptable risk to the child’s wellbeing, the duty officer must seek approval from the team leader or designated senior officer to delay contacting the parent. However, as soon as practical, contact should be made with the parents after information is sought from external sources.
Identifying family and domestic violence
In all cases where a child of concern is identified including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse – other and neglect, child protection workers must assume that family and domestic violence is a factor in the case, and seek information at the earliest possible opportunity to confirm or refute this assumption. This can include searching our records, including the FDV triage application, gathering information from partner agencies, asking the child’s mother (or other female caregiver) the family and domestic violence screening questions and/or interviewing the child and asking about their parents and home life. The outcome of this inquiry must be recorded. Refer to Family and domestic violence screening guide (in related resources or click here) for example screening questions and recording options.
If it is assessed that the child has been exposed to family and domestic violence, child protection workers must make and record a decision about whether the child’s exposure is likely to have caused significant harm or if the child is likely to suffer significant harm in the future, therefore requiring emotional abuse – family and domestic violence to be assessed within the SWA.
In cases where family and domestic violence is identified by the case worker but it is assessed that the child’s exposure is not likely to have caused significant harm or pose a risk of significant harm to the child in the future, child protection workers must remain mindful of the dynamics of family and domestic violence, throughout their engagement with the family. This includes:
For further information about screening, refer to Family and domestic violence screening guide (in related resources).
Child protection workers should refer to Referrals requiring a specific response (in related resources) for information regarding:
Request from DCS for a recommendation regarding restricted child/prisoner visits.
Prisoners who have had their visits restricted due to the nature of their offending can apply to DCS for visits with a non-victim child in their immediate family, or a child for whom the prisoner was a caregiver before incarceration.
We may hold relevant information about the offending risk the prisoner presents to the child, and may be asked to recommend 'support' or 'not support' the prisoner's application. For detailed practice guidance refer to Child visit requests practice guidance (in related resources)
Other types of referrals with specific procedures
Child protection workers should refer to the detailed procedures in the following sections of the Casework Practice Manual:
If we have an ongoing role at the conclusion of duty interactions the child protection worker must commence a SWA with either a priority 1 (within 24 hours) or priority 2 (within 2-5 days) response.
The purpose of conducting initial inquiries is to clarify the information received in duty interactions to assess whether we have an ongoing role.
Child protection workers should conduct initial inquiries when we may have a role based on the information received about concerns for a child’s wellbeing (the care, development, health and safety of the child) or where there is a concern about the parent’s capacity to protect, andwe need to make inquiries about this child outside the Department, the parent or referrer.
Under s.3 of the Act 'wellbeing of a child' includes:
Initial inquiries should not include sighting and/or interviewing the child to assess their safety and wellbeing. This should only occur once a decision has been made to undertake a SWA.
Where a harm type is evident at the commencement of SWA record ‘neglect, physical harm, sexual harm, psychological or emotional harm’ as the primary issue.
Where FDV is impacting on the child, record ‘family and domestic violence’ (FDV) as a secondary issue in all cases where FDV is impacting on the child.
Where there are concerns for a child’s wellbeing but the harm type is unknown or is not present at the commencement of the SWA, there are a limited number of primary issues that can be selected. These are:
Case information only
Where the referral relates to case information or an update only, the referrer is usually directed to the case manager or team leader. At times, the duty officer will record the information provided by the referrer on the case file and alert the case manager responsible.
Family support cases
When there is an open family support case we are managing and a referral is received in relation to a new or unassessed matter regarding the safety, wellbeing and harm of the child involved, an intake is recorded and the matter assessed as described in this entry.
Current safety and wellbeing assessment being undertaken
In cases where there is a current SWA being completed and a new concern is received, the duty officer, in consultation with the team leader (and case manager), decides if a new interaction is recorded or the new concern is addressed as part of the ongoing matter.
If the new referral contains information regarding a similar abuse category with the same person alleged as responsible that is being assessed in the current SWA, the matter may be recorded as additional information and assessed as part of the current assessment.
Where the referral contains information significantly different from the current referral, and where it involves a different reason for contact and/or another person alleged responsible, the referral should be recorded as a separate interaction, and an intake and subsequent review of the case plan is conducted.
The decision about recording a new referral as additional information or as a new assessment is made in consultation with the Intake team leader and the team leader who is responsible for the current assessment.
The purpose of a SWA is to clarify whether:
Harm to the child is defined in s.3 of the Act as ‘harm, in relation to the child, includes harm to the child’s physical, emotional and psychological development’.
Depending on the nature of the concern, the SWA should involve some or all of the following tasks:
Child protection workers can provide the child and family with social services during the SWA to meet the needs of the child.
Information sharing between interstate and New Zealand child protection departments
Child protection workers undertaking SWAs with families known to have relocated to Western Australia from another Australian state or New Zealand must request Child Protection History information from that state. Refer to the Interstate Child Protection Protocol in related resources for more information.
Under the Protocol child protection departments exchange relevant information to enable child protection workers to:
Child protection workers request information by completing Form 901 Interstate Request for Information / Child Protection History Check and emailing it to the Interstate Liaison Officer (WA ILO) in the Statewide Referral and Response Service by email: WAInterstateLiaison@communities.wa.gov.au.
Written consent is not required when there are current child protection concerns for a family who may have a child protection history in another state.
Where we require information about a parent's own child protection history from another state, territory or New Zealand, child protection workers must complete Form 140 - Consent to Interstate Child Protection History Check and ask the parent to sign it. After the parent signs Form 140, email it to the WA ILO via WAInterstateLiaison@communities.wa.gov.au.
Refer to 3.3.2: Interstate and New Zealand liaison for detailed information about the Interstate Liaison Officer's role, and procedures
Where a child has a culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) background, specific language and cultural needs must be considered. Where possible, this information should be obtained from the child’s family and community. Additional cultural information is available in the CaLD Resource Library (in related resources).
For information about language proficiency assessment procedures, a list of languages spoken and other useful tools please refer to the Western Australian Language Services Policy and Guidelines 2014.
Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework
The Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework is used to gather and analyse information. Child protection workers should use Forms 254 or 255 Signs of Safety Assessment and Planning Forms (2 and 3 Column) to assess the concern for the child’s wellbeing and the parent’s capacity to protect including:
The SWA is the analysis of the information collected in the Signs of Safety mapping and includes the rationale for decisions and planning.
Notifying parents or a person with parental responsibility
Wherever possible, the parent(s) of the child should be informed of the nature of the allegation of abuse, the need to sight, examine and/or interview the child and the processes involved in an assessment. The consent of the child’s parent(s) should be sought as early as possible in the assessment process. This recognises the parents’ rights and responsibilities for their child.
If a child protection worker believes, on reasonable grounds, that it is in the best interests of the child for the worker to have access without first informing the child's parent(s), or if informing the parent(s) before accessing the child is likely to jeopardise the assessment, we can use statutory powers to cause a child protection investigation.
When determining whether to delay notifying parents because this may jeopardise WA Police investigations, consideration must be given to the impact on the child.
Planning should consider when parents are to be advised and by whom. These decisions should be documented as part of the case plan. The decision to delay advising or not to advise the parent(s) of our intention to talk to, interview, examine or sight the child should be planned and the rationale documented.
Interviewing the child
Child assessment interview
The child assessment interview is an initial interview undertaken with the child by the child protection worker. The intent of the interview is to develop rapport, create an environment of trust and explore the child’s circumstances.
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. Refer to Child Assessment Interview (in related resources) for further information.
Where there are no parental protectiveness concerns and the child has allegedly been harmed, trained specialist child interviewers from WA Police will conduct child assessment interviews in the metropolitan area. In country districts, the team leader (and/or district director) may consider undertaking child assessment interviews on a case by case basis, in consultation with the WA Police and dependent on service capacity.
For further information, including guidance on when a disclosure may be expected during a child assessment interview and how to proceed and respond when this occurs, refer to the section 'Dealing with Disclosures' in Child Assessment Interview (in related resources).
Forensic or specialist child interview
Forensic interviews and the gathering and analysis of forensic evidence or full narrative statements that may be used and would be admissible in a court of law will generally be conducted by the childFIRST Child Assessment and Investigation Team.
A forensic interview is only undertaken by a trained interviewer following consultation with childFIRST and the determination that a case will require a joint response between Child Protection adn Family Support division and WA Police. ChildFIRST is located in Perth and staffed by specialist child interviewers from both WA Police and us. The telephone number for childFIRST is (08) 9428 1666. For further information regarding the forensic interviewing of children and an example of questions used and the rationale, refer to Forensic Interview (in related resources).
ChildFIRST provides a child-focused service and uses electronic equipment to visually record forensic interviews of children who:
There are also trained specialist child interviewers from both WA Police and us in many regional offices, and although the interviews may be conducted locally, consultation with childFIRST is required.
Planning the assessment with childFIRST
If the circumstances of the allegation meet the childFIRST referral criteria, consideration will be given to whether a Joint Response Strategy Discussion will be held between the district office, childFIRST and the WA Police.
Planning on how to conduct the investigation will occur at the Joint Response Strategy Discussion meeting.
Contact between a child, parent, other significant persons or the person alleged responsible during an assessment
Contact arrangements are informed by the best interests of the child and are aimed at:
A planned approach to contact will assist in protecting the interests of both the child and parent(s). A written contact agreement should be developed, clearly detailing any arrangements that are made. A discussion between all parties should occur to ensure that all are aware of the details and any repercussions.
Within the SWA, the child protection worker can record if harm to the child has occurred. This will inform the Signs of Safety harm and/or danger statement.
The purpose of the assessment is to identify:
Substantiating significant harm or the likelihood of significant harm and forming a view that a child is in need of protection are two separate decisions. Child protection workers may form the view that a child is not in need of protection, even though significant harm or likelihood of significant harm has been substantiated. This may occur, for example, where the harm is not caused by the parent(s) and the parent(s) are protective.
The Mandatory Reporting Service should only open a SWA and substantiate significant harm for extra-familial sexual abuse where there are no parental protectiveness concerns, and there is clear evidence of harm, such as pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection or charges laid to record this on Assist. Recording PR or ASH is not required as this may be the subject of an ongoing police investigation, and the outcome will not be known until after we have closed the case.
Where it is known that an abusive event occurred but harm is not evident, child protection workers need to draw on their knowledge of child development and the nature of the abuse when forming an opinion on the possible implications for the child, and the likelihood of the child experiencing significant harm if the (potentially) abusive event continues. In Signs of Safety language, this is another way of speaking about an existing danger that makes it likely that the child will be harmed in the future. Child protection workers must document this in a danger statement.
The term likelihood (rather than risk) of significant harm is the preferred terminology as it is aligned to the Act.
Determining the likelihood of significant harm involves:
Examples of likelihood of harm could include situations where an event had occurred or not yet happened but harm is not evident, such as:
Where the child protection worker has determined that a child is likely to suffer significant harm (future danger), they must only develop a danger statement (a harm statement is not required because actual harm is yet to occur).
When establishing whether harm is significant in nature and has a detrimental effect on the child’s wellbeing, consideration needs to be given to the following:
Staff should refer to the indicators of trauma and the impact of trauma in the Child Development and Trauma Guides (in related resources) when determining whether significant harm has occurred or is likely to occur.
When a child protection worker substantiates 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 PR or a person assessed as causing significant harm (ASH) - refer to Explanatory notes for classifying a person Assessed as Causing Significant Harm (in related resources). In cases where the PR/ASH cannot be determined, child protection workers need to record in Assist that this decision is pending, and continue with the appropriate course of action.
Child protection workers must record their rationale for substantiating or not substantiating harm in the SWA Outcome Report on Assist.
When recording harm, child protection workers may make one of the following decisions:
If the decision is made to substantiate harm child protection workers must inform the child’s parents or guardian of the outcome by completing Form 230 Letter of Advice Maltreatment Substantiated.
If the decision is made that harm was not substantiated child protection workers must inform the child’s parents or guardian of the outcome by completing Form 231 Letter of Advice No Maltreatment.
A child protection investigation is triggered during a SWA in the following circumstances:
In limited circumstances where s.33 or s.34 of the Act are not appropriate, s.35 (warrant provisional protection and care) or s.37 of the Act (provisional protection and care without a warrant) may need to be used during an investigation to enable the child to be interviewed or medically examined without parental consent. The period the child is in the CEO’s care must be recorded in Assist.
Investigation by consultation
While our preferred method of investigation is to make direct contact with the family and to speak with, and interview the child and the person alleged as responsible for harm, there may be exceptional circumstances where this is not possible.
In some cases, it may be possible to gather sufficient information from other sources, such as the WA Police or an interstate child protection agency, to finalise the investigation.
An investigation by consultation requires that:
After this has occurred, a decision that harm is or is not substantiated constitutes the completion of an investigation by consultation.
This method of investigation is recorded in Assist as ‘Investigation by Consultation’.
Crisis Care Unit
When the Crisis Care Unit (CCU) receives information out of hours and assesses a case as warranting a child protection investigation, CCU commences the assessment and investigation process.
In the event that CCU does not complete the assessment, or determines the case requires no further action, CCU refers the case to the responsible district office as soon as possible.
Warrant (access) (s.34 of the Act)
If, in the course of an investigation, a child protection worker believes that he or she is, or will be, denied access to a child, or is unable to obtain entry to a place where the child protection worker suspects the child to be, he or she may apply for a warrant (access).
A warrant (access) does not enable a child protection worker to move a child. Refer to Chapter 3.3: Intervention action for detailed procedures.
Access to child for purposes of investigation (s.33 of the Act)
A 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.
Before exercising this power, the child protection worker must notify the person in charge of the school, hospital or place of their intention to exercise this power.
Applying for a warrant to bring the child into provisional protection and care (s.35 of the Act) or bringing the child into provisional protection and care without a warrant (s.37 of the Act)
If the child protection worker needs to take the child for a forensic interview or requires the child to be medically examined without the consent of the parents, statutory action must be taken to bring the child into provisional protection and care. The options available are to apply to the Children’s Court for a warrant or to seek district director approval to take the child into provisional protection and care without a warrant if the child is at immediate and substantial risk.
Refer to Chapter 3.3: Intervention action.
A SWA should clarify:
Actions from a SWA can include the following:
The following actions can be taken if the child protection worker forms a view that the child may be in need of protection:
Sections 32(1)(c) and 75(5) of the Act relating to NPAs must not be used in instances where a child is considered to be in need of protection.
Special circumstances where the provision of placement services under s.32(1)(a) of the Act may occur
In circumstances where there are concerns for a child’s wellbeing and an application for a protection order or other alternative under s.32(1)(b) to (f) of the Act is inappropriate, it may be necessary to provide placement and/or other services under s.32(1)(a) of the Act.
Providing a placement service under section 32(1)(a) of the Act is an action of last resort and is not appropriate for children aged less than 15 years. Circumstances where placement services may be appropriate include where a young person refuses to return to parental care, or parents refuse to have the young person home and are unwilling to enter into a NPA.
In complex or contentious situations, the child protection worker may consult the senior practice development officer in their district or the director, case practice (metropolitan) or director, case practice (country) in head office.
For Assist recording, contact your district Assist mentor or the Assist Help Desk on (08) 9222 2655.
All components of the SWA are recorded in Assist and a SWA outcome report is produced. This report includes:
Refer to Safety and Wellbeing Assessment Outcome Report - Guidance and Sample - Safety and Wellbeing Assessment Outcome Report (in related resources) for further information.
Amending or deleting a safety and wellbeing assessment decision in Assist
To maintain accountability and integrity between case files and electronic information, only the director, client systems has the authority to approve the amendment or deletion of a decision recorded in Assist. Approval is considered on a case by case basis.
Information may only be amended where the recorded information is incorrect and is inconsistent with the case file. This may include situations where:
In order to maintain data integrity in the assessment process, ‘deletion’ may include the interaction and initial inquiry records leading to a SWA. In this case, staff will be required to record these activities again with the correct data.
Where the decision recorded in a SWA has resulted in subsequent action, records cannot generally be deleted, for instance, where there has been an intervention action, duty of care notification or intensive family support has commenced.
A request to amend the information in Assist must be endorsed by the district director. To request an amendment of the information, staff should send an email with the district director’s endorsement to the Assist Support Desk (AssistSupportDesk@cpfs.wa.gov.au).
In circumstances where a district director disagrees with the outcome of an amendment request, a further review may be requested through the relevant executive director.
Information relating to convicted child sex offenders
When recording information about a convicted child sex offender staff must not include information that the offender:
Department staff must:
Refer to Other Matters in Planning an Investigation in related resources for information about the following: