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2.2.2 Assessment and investigation processes

Last Modified: 29-Jan-2019 Review Date: 04-Jan-2021

 Legislation

Purpose

To guide child protection workers in:  

  • determining whether the Department of Communities, Child Protection and Family Support (the Department) has a role and if action should be taken to safeguard or promote a child’s wellbeing
  • conducting a safety and wellbeing assessment (SWA) to ascertain the current circumstances of a child and family in relation to risk, harm, future danger, safety, wellbeing and protective concerns, and
  • deciding whether we need to take action to safeguard or promote a child’s wellbeing (s.32(1) or s.33B) of the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (the Act) and whether a child may be in need of protection.

 

Practice Requirements

Duty interactions

 
  • The priority of response should be assigned on the basis of the urgency to assess if the child is at risk and what actions are required to protect the child.
  • Duty officers should consult with the senior child protection worker or team leader in forming the decision on matters that require an immediate assessment.
  • During the duty interaction concerns in relation to all high risk cases must be assessed immediately. High risk cases include children who present with severe behaviour disturbances, bruises, significant weight loss or change or the child discloses abuse.
  • All child concerns where parent(s) are experiencing one or more of the following factors which significantly affect their functioning, parenting and/or rational decision making should be considered for a prioritised response:
    • psychiatric illness, such as psychosis, severe personality disorders or severe depression
    • psychological/emotional dysfunction/poor mental health, such as depression and/or anxiety
    • severe drug and/or alcohol use
    • chronic pattern of inadequate parenting
    • family and domestic violence, and/or
    • developmental disability which impacts on parenting ability (refer to Chapter 3.4: Child and/or parents with disability for detailed information).
  • At any time during the assessment and investigation process the child protection worker, with district director approval, can take intervention action under s.37 of the Act if they suspect on reasonable grounds that there are immediate and substantial risks to a child's wellbeing
  • During duty interactions the child protection worker must only:
    • clarify information with the referrer
    • check our records, including the FDV triage application, and
    • contact the person with parental responsibility.
  • Duty officers must inform referrers about the confidentiality requirements and limitations under s.240 of the Act regarding the identity of a notifier, and the protection from liability under s.129 of the Act, which is available to people who give information to us in good faith.
  • Child protection workers must undertake a SWA for all interactions involving an unborn baby identified as at risk of abuse and neglect to address the safety concerns through an interagency, collaborative pre-birth planning process.
  • In all cases where a concern for child is identified, 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. A check of the FDV triage application must be conducted as part of this process in order to screen out family and domestic violence.
  • If it is assessed that the child has been exposed to emotional abuse - family and domestic violence, child protection workers must determine if 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.
  • In all cases where a concern for a child is identified and where the family is known to have relocated to Western Australia from another Australian state or New Zealand, child protection workers must request Child Protection History information from that State – complete Form 901 Request for Interstate Information/Child Protection History and forward to WAInterstateLiaison@communities.wa.gov.au.
  • If a family in a high risk case with significant concerns absconds or their whereabouts become unknown during the investigation or SWA process, child protection workers must make a request for information from Centrelink and/or Medicare to attempt to identify their current address or contact details.  To request information from Centrelink complete Form 900 Request for Information from Centrelink and email it to Centrelink.InformationRequests@communities.wa.gov.au.  To make a request for information from Medicare complete Form 899 Request for Information from Medicare and email it to:  medicare.child.protection@communities.wa.gov.au.  For more information refer to the relevant Information Sharing Protocols between the Commonwealth and Child Protection Agencies for Centrelink and Medicare in related resources.
  • 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.

  • Child protection workers must undertake a SWA for all cases referred by the Department of Health for children aged under 14 years with a diagnosed sexually transmitted infection.
  • Where a family presents on multiple occasions within a short period of time (including requests for financial assistance), an assessment must be undertaken. This involves accessing previous records and making further enquiries from other agencies, professionals, and engaging directly with the family. Where an assessment is not undertaken, the rationale for the decision must be recorded and approved by the designated senior officer. At every subsequent contact by the family, the need to undertake an assessment must be reviewed. This decision and the rationale must be recorded and approved by the designated senior officer.
  • Where a young person's alcohol and drug use has been reported to us as a safety and wellbeing concern, the duty officer should look at the behaviour in the context of the young person's circumstances as a whole. Where drug and alcohol use co-exists with other issues such as isolation, disengagement from education, family and domestic violence and/or other youth at-risk issues, these should be considered as part of the assessment.  In addition, a referral to Parent Support should be considered. ​
  • Child protection workers must consult with the Professional Practice Unit (PPU) if at any time during the assessment and investigation process there are any concerns that a young person, or their parents, may be at risk of radicalisation to violent extremism (RVE).​
  • All reports of the following must be referred to the Central Intake Team: 1800 273 889 or email cpduty@cpfs.wa.gov.au for further assessment:
    • body piercing of a child's genitals, anal area, perineum or nipples
    • non-intimate body piercing, tattooing or branding of a child in the care of the CEO without the required approval, and
    • non-intimate body piercing, tattooing or branding of a child under 16 years of age, or 16 to 18 years of age without the written consent of the child's parents.  For more information refer to Guidelines for Child Protection Policy Officers in Assessing and Responding to Concerns Regarding the Body piercing, Tattooing and Branding of Children (in related resources).

Initial inquiries

  • Child protection workers must complete initial inquiries if information about the child needs to be requested outside the Department, the parent or the referrer (s.31 or s.33B of the Act) to clarify if we have an ongoing role.
  • After making initial inquiries:
    • if the decision is to not proceed to a SWA for any of the children involved, then the team leader must review and approve this decision, or
    • if the next action is to undertake a SWA for all the children in the family, then the child protection worker must approve the task in the case plan. 
  • Where a child is hospitalised and may be in need of protection, the child protection worker should assess whether parental/caregiver contact requires restrictions and/or supervision, and work with the hospital staff to implement arrangements to safeguard and/or promote the wellbeing of the child.

Timeframes


 

 

  • SWAs should be completed within 30 calendar days from​ commencement (SWA start date – manually entered) to SWA completed and approved (SWA decision date) wherever possible.
  • Commencement of the SWA is when the child protection worker gathers relevant information that is in addition to making initial inquiries.
  • Where a SWA cannot be completed within 30 days, the child protection worker should discuss this with their team leader during supervision or case review processes. The SWA outcome report should note that this discussion has occurred.

Safety and wellbeing assessment (SWA)

  • Team leaders must approve decisions to undertake a SWA and endorse this on Assist.
  • Child protection workers must use the Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework when working with families and other agencies to develop cooperative relationships and better outcomes for children.
  • Child protection workers must sight and/or interview the child during a SWA. A decision to delay sighting and/or interviewing the child or not sight and/or interview the child must be approved by the team leader. The rationale for this decision should be clearly documented. 
  • Where a child is hospitalised and may be in need of protection, the child protection worker should assess whether parental/caregiver contact requires restrictions and/or supervision, and work with the hospital staff to implement arrangements to safeguard and/or promote the wellbeing of the child.
  • The team leader must approve the decision to interview a child without the parent’s consent (s.33 of the Act). The rationale must be documented.
  • The team leader must advise the district director (or his/her delegate) as soon as practicable of the decision to use s.33 of the Act.
  • In contentious cases the district director (or his/her delegate) must be consulted and endorse the team leader’s decision to interview a child without the parent’s consent (s.33 of the Act).
  • Where a child requests that his/her parent/s not be informed that the child protection worker has had access to the child for purposes of investigation (s.33(1)(a)(b) of the Act) and the child protection worker believes, on reasonable grounds, that it is in the best interests of the child, the child protection worker may comply with the child’s request (s.33(4)(c) of the Act).
  • Any decision to delay notifying the parents or guardians, not notify the parents or guardians, or to notify the parents or guardians against the wishes of a child must be demonstrated to be in the best interests of the child, made in consultation with and approved by the team leader.
  • The district director must approve an application to apply to the Children’s Court (the Court) for a warrant (access) (s.34 of the Act).
  • childFIRST must be consulted if, at any stage during the assessment, it becomes apparent that the case involves sexual abuse or serious physical abuse or neglect likely to result in criminal charges being laid by the Western Australia Police (WA Police).
  • We must establish a working relationship with the child’s parents and, if age appropriate, the child to resolve the issues that have led to the concerns. We should also take account of the networks of support that surround a child and seek to engage and include all stakeholders.
  • All parents/caregivers with infants should be advised of the increased risk to the child and the link to unexplained death in infancy (SUDI), including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleep accidents where co-sleeping (bed-sharing) occurs with other issues, such as being on medication, alcohol misuse, substance use and smoking. Child protection workers must provide the parents with information on safe infant sleeping, and record on file that the information has been given to and discussed with the parents.
  • Child protection workers must ensure that any discussion with the child is accurately recorded, as case notes may be subpoenaed for Court at a later date.
  • If concerns relate to family and domestic violence, child protection workers must refer to the Signs of Safety Prompts FDV (in related resources).
  • In circumstances where a person has been charged or found guilty of a serious domestic violence offence, the child protection worker must consider whether to register the victim on the Department of Corrective Services Victim Notification Register. The district director must approve the request to register a victim. For more information refer to Collaboration and Exchange of Information Regarding Serious Domestic Violence Offenders (in related resources).
  • Team leaders must approve the SWA Outcome Report which summarises the:
    • reason for involvement
    • action taken
    • assessment
    • key decisions and rationale (including whether significant harm to the child or likelihood of significant harm was substantiated), and
    • plan.
  • When a team leader develops a SWA it must be forwarded to another team leader or designated senior officer (for example, SPDO or ADD) for approval.
  • Child protection workers must record the decision whether significant harm or likelihood of significant harm has been substantiated when completing the assessment outcome in Assist and have this decision approved by the team leader or designated senior officer.
  • We need to develop rigorous and effective safety plans with families to keep the child safe from further harm. The safety plans must be reviewed regularly.

Monitored list

  • Children aged five years and younger may only be placed on the monitored list after the SWA has been commenced, and in exceptional circumstances.
  • The district directors must approve the decision to place children aged five years and younger on the monitored list and review this decision every two weeks. If any additional information/concerns are received an urgent review should occur to consider immediate allocation.

Quality assurance, experience and supervision

  • Duty officers should be senior child protection workers with appropriate skills in eliciting information from referrers and assessing and analysing information from multiple sources. They should also have a good understanding of our responsibilities and services and those of agencies in their district.
  • Where duty officers are not experienced workers, they must be closely supervised by an experienced senior child protection worker and/or the team leader.
  • All decisions and case plans must be developed in consultation with, and approved by, the team leader. Decisions and rationale must be documented, and demonstrate that these:
    • will better promote the safety and wellbeing of the child, and
    • are child-focused, and due consideration has been given to what might be happening for the child and how the child may feel.
  • Department workers must not approve their own work.  All work must be submitted to a designated senior officer for approval.
  • If the child has an Aboriginal background staff must consult with the Aboriginal practice leader or relevant Aboriginal officers in their district office for assistance in developing an effective assessment, client engagement and case management plan which takes into consideration cultural issues. The consultation must be documented in the child's Objective file. 

Language and interpreters

  • Child protection workers must check whether clients are proficient enough in the English language for effective and clear two-way communication.
  • Where necessary, professional interpreters should be engaged to facilitate the full participation of the child, parents or any other person being interviewed from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CaLD) background. We meet the costs for this service.
  • Child protection workers should ask the person what language they speak, their country of origin and ethnicity, and give consideration to cultural matters including age, gender, family group membership and community connections.
  • Interpreters/translators should be utilised, where possible, to facilitate the full participation of the child, parents or any other person being interviewed who is an Aboriginal person.

Refer to Language and Interpreter Information in related resources for further information.

Recording

  • All contacts with us must be recorded and maintained according to our policy.
  • Recording procedures for information relating to convicted child sex offenders:
    • when recording information about a convicted child sex offender, staff must not include information that the offender is managed by the Sex Offender Management Squad (SOMS) or is on the Australian National Child Offender Register (ANCOR).
    • Staff must refer to the offender as ‘an offender under s.557K Criminal Code Act 1913'
    • all contacts with SOMS must be recorded as ‘the relevant section with the WA Police’, and
    • when an alert is placed on Assist write this as ‘Person referred by WA Police who has been convicted of sexual offences against children’.
Process Maps

Assessment and Investigation Process Flowchart

Procedures

  • Duty interaction
  • Referrals requiring a specific response
  • Decision to commence a safety and wellbeing assessment after duty interactions
  • Initial inquiries
  • Recording harm type
  • Specific recording procedures relating to an open case/period of involvement
  • Safety and wellbeing assessment
  • Undertaking a safety and wellbeing assessment
  • Commencing a child protection investigation within a safety and wellbeing assessment
  • Decisions and actions from a safety and wellbeing assessment
  • Avenues for consultation and support
  • Recording
  • Other Matters
  • Duty interaction

    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:

    • clarify information with the referrer
    • check our records, and
    • contact the person with parental responsibility.

    Clarifying information with the referrer

    When working with referrers, duty officers:

    • clarify the referrer’s expectations regarding the information provided and the ongoing involvement of the referrer or agency
    • respect the credibility of information from agencies involved with the child/family, and
    • wherever possible and appropriate, provide referrers with feedback on our planned actions.

    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:

    • the nature of any previous involvement and whether it is relevant to the current concern
    • outcomes of assessments and investigations
    • case plans
    • intervention actions (including court orders), and
    • any period that a child has spent in the CEO’s care.

    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:

    • the risk posed by the perpetrator and possible safety concerns for the child and adult victim
    • potential risk of escalation in violence as a result of our involvement with the family
    • whether or not a joint meeting can be conducted safely
    • the perpetrator’s use of coercion and intimidation to reduce the adult victim’s autonomy in decision making
    • understanding the link between the perpetrators behaviour and the abuse being assessed. For example, in cases of neglect is the perpetrator’s use of violence and abuse causing or contributing to the neglect of the child e.g., is the perpetrator taking and using all of the family’s money, undermining or disrupting the adult victims parenting or creating a family dynamic that forces his needs to be prioritised/put ahead of all other family members, and
    • potential risk / threat posed by the perpetrator to members of the safety network.

    For further information about screening, refer to Family and domestic violence screening guide (in related resources).   

    Top

    Referrals requiring a specific response

    Child protection workers should refer to Referrals requiring a specific response (in related resources) for information regarding:

    • children younger than 5 years of age
    • children identified as failure to thrive
    • concerns received about a child before it is born (s.33A and s.33B of the Act)
    • sexually transmitted infection notifications
    • collaboration and exchange of information regarding serious domestic violence offenders
    • early and/or forced marriages
    • concerns regarding the body piercing, tattooing and branding of a child
    • referrals to Parent Support
    • Family Relationship Centres and the Family Relationship Advice Line, and
    • Restricted child/prisoner visits
    • Safe infant sleeping
    • Radicalisation to violent extremism (RVE) of young people, or thier parents.

    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:

    • Chapter 4.2: Notification of death, serious injury or critical incident
    • Chapter 2.2: Sexually transmitted infection notifications
    • Chapter 2.2: Mandatory reports of child sexual abuse
    • Chapter 2.2: Physical abuse
    • Chapter 2.1: Safety and Wellbeing Assessment - Safety and wellbeing concerns regarding children in the care of the CEO 
    • Chapter 2.3: Assessing emotional abuse – family and domestic violence, and 
    • Chapter 2.3: Family and domestic violence response team.
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    Decision to commence a safety and wellbeing assessment after duty interactions

    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.

    Top

    Initial inquiries

    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:

    • the care of the child
    • the physical, emotional, psychological and educational development of the child
    • the physical, emotional and psychological health of the child, and
    • the safety of the child.

    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.

     
     
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    Recording harm type

    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:

    • family and domestic violence
    • financial problem
    • homelessness
    • parent and adolescent conflict
    • parenting
    • psychological problem, and
    • drug and alcohol issues.
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    Specific recording procedures relating to an open case/period of involvement

    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.

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    Safety and wellbeing assessment

    The purpose of a SWA is to clarify whether:

    1. the child has suffered significant harm, or is likely to suffer significant harm as a result of abuse and/or neglect
    2. the child’s parents have not protected or are unlikely or unable to protect the child from harm or further harm of that kind
    3. if a safety plan is required, and
    4. if the wellbeing concerns are likely to place the child at risk of significant harm in the future if joint work is not undertaken with the family.

    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’.

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    Undertaking a safety and wellbeing assessment

    Depending on the nature of the concern, the SWA should involve some or all of the following tasks:

    • obtain parental consent to interview the child
    • sight the child and/or interview the child
    • assess the child’s wellbeing and the impact of the alleged abuse on the child
    • use the Signs of Safety tools to engage with the siblings, parents and/or carers to gain information about their concerns, family and social history, what they have experienced or witnessed and any future actions or plans they have to support and/or resolve the situation
    • where a family is known to have relocated to Western Australia from another Australian state or New Zealand, request Child Protection History information from that State – complete Form 901 Request for Interstate Information/Child Protection History and forward to WAInterstateLiaison@communities.wa.gov.au.  
    • interview the person alleged responsible for the harm with a focus on identifying plans they have to remedy or resolve the situation
    • ensure the person alleged responsible is given the right of reply and receives information about opportunities to review the decision
    • observe the child’s environment, family functioning and behaviours
    • assess for the presence or risk of cumulative harm
    • explore the child and family’s support networks
    • interview individuals who have witnessed the alleged abuse or who are able to provide credible information to inform decision making
    • obtain current and previous medical, health, developmental and/or psychological assessments and reports from other relevant sources
    • undertake safety planning in collaboration with the parents, relatives, person(s) of significance in the child’s life and the child, if appropriate, and 
    • determine whether or not the child will be safe during the assessment or if the child needs to be taken into provisional protection and care without a warrant because there is an immediate and substantial risk to the child’s wellbeing (s.37 of the Act).

    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:

    • assess the safety and wellbeing of children
    • assess the suitability of prospective carers, and
    • make decisions about contact with family members. 

    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:

    • any past harm? (what harm has occurred to the child)
    • who has been harmed, what harm has occurred, who harmed the child, where did the harm occur, when did the harm occur, how often and what was the impact of the harm on the child? (harm statement)
    • what we are worried might happen to the child in the future if nothing changes? (danger statement)
    • strengths and observable behaviours that indicate protection and safety for the child
    • actions taken by parents and caring adults to make sure the child is safe when danger is present (existing safety)
    • complicating factors and missing information
    • safety and context scales
    • family goals
    • safety goals, and
    • reason for decision.

    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:

    • as a result of a decision not to undertake a joint response with WA Police; and
    • in order to determine whether a forensic interview (joint response) is warranted. 

    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:

    • have made a clear disclosure that they have been sexually or physically abused (a clear criminal disclosure)
    • have witnessed serious physical or sexual abuse of another child (see s.106HA of the Evidence Act 1906), or
    • require other interviews at the discretion of the Director childFIRST (likely to be admissible in criminal trials).

    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:

    • ensuring the child’s emotional wellbeing
    • minimising risk to the child
    • maintaining relationships while the assessment is occurring, and
    • minimising the risk of contaminating the assessment.

    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.

    Recording harm

    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: 

    • the nature and degree of harm
    • the likelihood of further harm
    • the evidence that led to the decision that harm occurred
    • the person responsible (PR) or the person assessed as causing significant harm (ASH) if known, and
    • the parent’s capacity to protect the child.

    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:

    • an analysis of the evidence including risk factors
    • an analysis of the child's vulnerability to future harm, and
    • determining the likelihood of harm to the child within the context of any existing strengths/safety factors.

    Examples of likelihood of harm could include situations where an event had occurred or not yet happened but harm is not evident, such as:

    • an unborn baby where there is evidence that the mother's drug misuse is likely to significantly impact on her capacity to care for the baby
    • a sex offender (or alleged perpetrator) has contact with a child and the primary caregiver is not protective
    • a caregiver has made serious threats to harm a child, and 
    • a child protection worker has substantiated physical harm from a serious injury to a sibling and identified likelihood of significant harm to other children in the family.

    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:

    • the type, pattern, degree and opportunity of harm
    • significant and/or persistent nature of the abuse and/or neglect (for example, the actions, inactions or inability of the child’s parent/s) and its likely effect and impact on the child’s safety and wellbeing. Harm to the child may have short or long term effects, arising from an isolated incident of abuse or a series of incidents over time, and
    • using the above considerations to inform the Signs of Safety danger statements.

    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: 

    • no significant harm (harm is unsubstantiated) and the parents are protective
    • substantiate significant harm (actual) or likely that significant harm has occurred or will occur, and no concerns about parents’ capacity to protect the child, or
    • substantiate significant harm (actual) or likely that significant harm has occurred or will occur, and concerned about parents’ capacity to protect the child.

    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.

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    Commencing a child protection investigation within a safety and wellbeing assessment

    A child protection investigation is triggered during a SWA in the following circumstances: 

    • if the parent(s) refuse consent for the child protection worker to interview their child and the child protection worker needs to exercise statutory powers of the Act under s.34 (warrant access) or s.33 (access without informing the parent(s)) to complete the SWA
    • when the child is interviewed without the parent’s consent (s.33), and
    • if it is necessary to collect forensic evidence and statements.

    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:

    • the person/s with whom the child protection worker is consulting must have direct contact with the child and the person alleged as responsible for harm
    • that each have had an opportunity to respond to the allegation (age and maturity permitting), and
    • that each have had their responses considered.

    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.

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    Decisions and actions from a safety and wellbeing assessment

    A SWA should clarify:

    • if the child has experienced, or is likely to experience harm or neglect of a significant nature which is detrimental in effect on the child’s wellbeing, and
    • whether or not the child may be in need of protection.

    Actions from a SWA can include the following:

    • no further action
    • the provision of social services (s.21(1)(a) of the Act)
    • the provision of intensive family support
    • arranging or facilitating a meeting between key stakeholders to develop a plan for addressing the ongoing needs of the child (s.32(1)(b) of the Act)
    • entering into a negotiated placement agreement (NPA) (s.32(1)(c) of the Act)
    • taking intervention action in respect of the child, or causing intervention action to be taken (s.32(1)(e) of the Act)
    • taking any other action in respect of the child that we consider reasonably necessary, or causing other actions to be taken (s.32(1)(f) of the Act), or
    • further actions by the CEO before a child is born (s.33B(a)(b)(c) of the Act).

    The following actions can be taken if the child protection worker forms a view that the child may be in need of protection:

    • taking a child into provisional protection and care with a warrant (s.35 and s.123 of the Act)
    • taking a child into provisional protection and care without a warrant (s.37 and s.38 of the Act)
    • making an application for a protection order (s.44 of the Act), and
    • providing a service response to the child and family if required, whether or not the child is in need of protection (s.32 of the Act).

    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.

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    Avenues for consultation and support

    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.

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    Recording

    All components of the SWA are recorded in Assist and a SWA outcome report is produced. This report includes:

    • assessment of the duty interaction and initial inquiries
    • if harm has occurred and the recommended actions
    • whether a person is ASH or classified as a PR
    • the parent’s capacity to protect the child
    • whether the child is in need of protection (s.28 of the Act)
    • plans for our next actions, and
    • the overall outcome of the assessment.

    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:

    • the records do not accurately reflect the work undertaken
    • the wrong outcome has been recorded, and/or
    • the wrong person has been identified as responsible for harm to a child.

    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:

    • is managed by the Sex Offender Management Squad (SOMS), or
    • on the Australian National Child Offender Register (ANCOR).

    Department staff must:

    • refer to the offender as ‘an offender under s.557K Criminal Code Act 1913’.
    • record all contacts with SOMS as ‘the relevant section in the Western Australia Police’
    • when placing an alert on Assist, write as ‘Person referred by WA Police who has been convicted of sexual offences against children’.
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    Other Matters

    Refer to Other Matters in Planning an Investigation in related resources for information about the following: 

    • power to keep a child under 6 years of age in hospital
    • assessment relating to intergenerational abuse
    • allegations with multiple victims/persons assessed responsible
    • allegations involving numerous children and families where a perpetrator provides care
    • assessments relating to children who have been abandoned or the parents are dead or incapacitated
    • assessments relating to an allegation of abuse in a licensed child care service, and
    • child protection investigations relating to Fostering and Adoption Services.

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