What are they and what does it mean if someone makes a report about my child?
This is the first guide in the Working together for kids series. Download Guide 1 – Child Concern Reports: What are they and what does it mean if someone makes a report about my child?
- The purpose of this guide
- Children and young people
- At a glance
- About Child and Youth Protection Services
- What happens when CYPS first makes contact?
- Concern reports and assessments
- How can CYPS act on a Child Concern Report?
- What can happen after an appraisal?
- Legal definitions
- Important terminology in the risk assessment of children
The purpose of this guide
The purpose of this guide is to provide you with information about Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS) and what the agency does if someone makes a Child Concern Report about your child. A Child Concern Report relates to the safety and wellbeing of a child.
Specifically, this guide will tell you about:
- Who CYPS is and what it does.
- What happens when CYPS first contacts you.
- What Child Concern and Prenatal Reports are.
- What types of assessment CYPS uses to understand your situation.
- How CYPS can act on concern reports and assessment findings.
By providing this information we aim to help parents and family members understand how the child protection system works in the ACT so we can best work together for the benefit of children and families.
If you would like to speak to someone, please contact your case worker in the first instance or use the contacts provided.
The information provided is intended as a guide only and you& are encouraged to seek legal advice regarding your particular circumstances where necessary.
This is the first guide in the ‘Working together for kids’ series. Please contact your case worker if you would like a copy of the other guides:
- Guide 2 – Going to court and working to reunite families: What’s involved and what can I do?
- Guide 3 – When children are in care: What happens with my child when they are in care and what can I do to have them come home?
- Guide 4 – Feedback and raising concerns: How can I let others know what I think?
- Guide 5 – Representing yourself in court: What do I need to know to navigate care and protection court processes?
The ‘Working together for kids’ guide series has been developed in partnership between CYPS and the Australian Red Cross Birth Family Advocacy Support Service. Acknowledgement also goes to the Family Inclusion Network ACT who was involved in the original Working together for kids book on which the guide series is based.
Children and young people
In reading this guide, the terms ‘child’ and ‘children’ also refer to ‘young person’ and ‘young people’.
- To speak to my case worker: 6207 1069 (North team), 6207 1466 (South team)
- To make a Child Concern Report: 1300 556729
- P: 6110 2200
- P: 6234 7600 | E: email@example.com
- P: 6243 3411 or 1300 654 314 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
- P: 6205 2222
- P: 1800 176 468 | email@example.com
- West Belconnen: 6205 2904
- Gungahlin: 6207 0120
- Tuggeranong :6207 8228
- P: 6207 5294 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Please ask for a copy of the ‘Working together for kids’ guide, Feedback and raising concerns.
The ACT Government is committed to making its information, services, events and venues, accessible to as many people as possible.
If you have difficulty reading this content and would like to receive this publication in an alternative format, such as large print or audio, please call (02) 6205 0282.
If English is not your first language and you require the translating and interpreting service, please call 131 450.
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To access the ACT Interpreter Service for the deaf and blind, please call (02) 6287 4391.
At a glance
What can happen when a Child Concern Report is made about your child.
A member of the community makes a report to CYPS because they are worried about your child’s wellbeing or safety.
CYPS conducts an initial assessment of any information from various sources to determine if your child might be at risk of abuse or neglect and what should happen next. If CYPS contacts you, it means they want to find out more about your child’s situation and needs.
If CYPS decides your child is not at risk, they may still contact you to offer you support or a voluntary service for your child and family.
If CYPS decides your child may be at risk, a more thorough investigation will happen involving interviews with your child, you and your family, as well as any relevant professionals, such as your child’s class teacher. CYPS may conduct a number of different assessments to better understand what is happening and the unique circumstances and needs of your family.
Following the investigation process, CYPS will talk with you about what they think should happen next. This might include developing a plan for reducing risk, providing support to your family or in rare circumstances court action.
If court action is taken, CYPS may arrange for someone else to temporarily care for your child, often this will be another family member. During this time, CYPS will work with you, through planning and support, to address the issues raised through the investigations. The aim will be to return your child to your care as soon as your child’s wellbeing and safety can be assured. If your child’s wellbeing and safety cannot be guaranteed, CYPS can look to have them permanently cared for by someone else.
The circumstances of each family are different and so the involvement of CYPS will also be different for each family. CYPS will work closely with you, your child and family at each step to understand your situation and ensure the right support for everyone is put in place.
About Child and Youth Protection Services
What does Child and Youth Protection Services do?
Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS) is the ACT Government agency responsible for investigating the wellbeing of Canberra’s children who may be at risk of abuse or neglect. CYPS is part of the Community Services Directorate.
CYPS works with a number of services and programs in the community sector as well as other ACT Government directorates, the Police and the courts to make sure children and their families get the right kind of help they need at the right time.
Everyone involved in the protection and care of children must always have the best interests of the child at the centre of all their decisions. With this in mind, CYPS makes no prejudgement of any child or family.
The Children and Young People Act 2008 (the Act) provides a legal framework for CYPS to receive and respond to Child Concern Reports. These reports relate to a child’s possible risk of abuse or neglect and can be made by anyone in the community.
If you would like to read the Children and Young People Act 2008, it is available online from the ACT Legislation Register at:
CYPS is also required to work in a way that is consistent with the Human Rights Act 2004, and you can access it online from the ACT Legislation Register at:
In doing its work, CYPS is guided by the following principles provided by the Children and Young People Act 2008. These are:
- the primary responsibility for ;providing care and protection for a child lies with the child’s parents and other family members
- priority must be given to supporting parents and other family members to provide for the wellbeing, care and protection of their child
- if a child is ‘in need of care and protection’ it is the responsibility of the Government to take steps to secure their safety. (Under the Act, a child is in need of care and protection if their parents are unwilling or unable to protect them from abuse or neglect, whether temporarily or permanently)
- if a child can no longer live wit their parents, the safety and wellbeing of the child is more important than the interests of the parents
- if a child does not live with their family of origin, contact with their parents, siblings and other significant people in their life, must be encouraged wherever possible
- a court should only make an order for a child if it considers making the order is in the child’s best interests.
Culturally appropriate practice and rights
CYPS seeks to provide and promote the importance of culturally appropriate practice. CYPS understands cultural differences can have a fundamental impact on:
- child rearing practices
- domestic living arrangements
- domestic relationships
- kinship relationships
- communication styles
- body language
- knowledge and historical factors.
In the case of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, the legacy of the Stolen Generation and the impact of forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on individuals, families and their communities, should never be underestimated or overlooked.
All clients of CYPS have a fundamental right to expect the CYPS staff they interact with understand and recognise:
- the importance of cultural continuity in a child’s life
- the importance of acknowledging cultural difference
- the damage that may be caused by making cultural assumptions.
Clients from linguistically diverse backgrounds also have the right to access translation services, to be organised by CYPS. They also have the right to ask for a culturally appropriate support person to be with them at any meeting or during any conversation with CYPS.
Where a client is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture, CYPS will also be guided by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people principle (Section 10 of the Act). This principle ensures CYPS acts in ways that:
- maintain a child’s connection with the lifestyle, culture and traditions of their community
- consider submissions made by or on behalf of any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person or organisation identified by CYPS as providing ongoing support services to the child and their family
- maintain the traditions and cultural values as identified by the child’s family, kinship relationships and community with which they have the strongest affiliation.
The CYPS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Services Team is available to CYPS staff to provide advice and guidance regarding culturally appropriate engagement, assessments, interventions and support for clients who are from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
What happens when CYPS first makes contact?
If you are contacted by CYPS, it will usually mean someone in the community has made a Child Concern Report about your child (or children). This means the person who made the report is concerned about your child’s wellbeing or safety and believes they may be at risk of abuse and/or neglect.
When a Child Concern Report has been received, CYPS is required by law to gather further information about your child and family to determine whether or not your child may be at risk of abuse or neglect.
Often the first contact CYPS will make with you will be over the phone. When CYPS staff call, they will clearly identify themselves as a CYPS representative and explain what they are calling about.
CYPS staff may ask to visit your home to talk to you about your child. If this happens, you can nominate a time and place for the meeting that best suits you and choose to have a support person there with you.
If the Child Concern Report alleges your child is at immediate risk of abuse or neglect, CYPS will investigate, or appraise, these concerns straightaway. CYPS staff will always clearly explain the allegations made about your child and family and work with you to understand the situation.
Regardless of the nature of the allegations however, CYPS is not permitted by law to tell you who made the Child Concern Report.
Tips for speaking with CYPS
- If CYPS staff who meet with you have not shown formal identification, ask to see their identification cards.
- Be aware that everything you tell CYPS may be used in future court proceedings.
- You can have a support person with you so think about whether that is something you want to do.
- Ask the CYPS staff for a contact telephone number so you can contact them in the future if you have questions or need to provide more information.
- Ask to receive a copy of any important documents. Keep these for your own records and remember to take them with you when you speak to a legal or advocacy service.
When answering any questions with CYPS, it is good to keep the following in mind:
- Think about the question being asked and take your time to answer.
- If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification.
- If you feel overwhelmed or confused, ask for a break.
- It is ok to ask for a support person to be with you, such as a friend, family member or a lawyer.
- You can take notes. Actually, this is encouraged.
- If you are feeling uncomfortable, ask the CYPS staff if it’s possible for them to come back at another time.
It is a great idea for you to take notes or make a record of your meeting with CYPS. A record in a diary will help you remember accurately what was said and agreed to by both you and CYPS.
Most of the time, talking openly and honestly with CYPS is the best way to move forward and sort out the agency’s concerns about your child. It is also an opportunity for you to ask for help with any parenting concerns you have, or for access to services such as counselling. CYPS seeks to help families to do the best job they can in caring for their children.
Concern reports and assessments
Child Concern Reports
Child Concern Reports relate to a child’s possible risk of abuse or neglect. CYPS will record a Child Concern Report when any member of the community contacts the agency with information that questions a child’s safety and wellbeing. This includes where the person believes a child:
- is being, has been, or is at significant risk of, abuse or neglect, or
- is otherwise in need of care and& protection (see section ‘Legal definitions’ for what this means).
A person can also make a report if they believe or suspect an unborn child may be in need of care and protection after birth. This is called a Prenatal Report.
If CYPS has received a Child Concern Report about your child, they are legally required to find out more about your child’s situation. To do this, a ‘Child Concern Assessment’ will take place to help CYPS decide what the most appropriate response to the report should be.
As part of the assessment, CYPS will review any previous involvement your family has had with CYPS and seek the opinions of other professionals. This can include your child’s class teacher, childcare staff, family support workers or any other relevant professional who knows you or your child and family. CYPS does not need your permission to speak with these people.
For more information about the assessment process, go to Child Concern Assessment.
Important: CYPS staff will never be able to tell you who made the Child Concern Report about your child due to legal obligations. But, they should always tell you what the allegations are, in a way that protects the confidentiality of the source.
Under Section 362 of the Children and Young People Act 2008, a person can provide information to CYPS about the safety and wellbeing of an unborn baby. CYPS calls this a Prenatal Report.
When a Prenatal Report is received, CYPS may:
- offer you on a voluntary basis, the support of a CYPS prenatal worker for the duration of your pregnancy
- offer to provide you with referrals to health and community services that can support you during your pregnancy and after the birth of your baby
- appraise your baby’s safety and wellbeing once it is born.
If you agree to work with CYPS during your pregnancy, this will be voluntary at least until your baby is born. CYPS will ask for your consent for them to assist, work with and share your information with other services.
CYPS may also ask you for consent to involve your partner and other members of your family during the process.
While you do not have to give consent to work with CYPS during your pregnancy, not doing so may increase the likelihood of CYPS needing to investigate your baby’s safety and wellbeing once it is born. A prenatal worker is a less intrusive way of CYPS making sure your baby will be well cared for once born, and provides support and assistance to you and your family. When CYPS can see supports are in place and everyone is working together, they are less likely to be concerned about your baby when born. Working with CYPS is the best way to move forward and sort out the agency’s concerns and for you to access services to help you do the best job you can in caring for your baby.
Child Concern Assessment
A Child Concern Assessment involves an analysis of your child’s exposure to risk and their potential needs. An assessment may also be conducted on a Prenatal Report if CYPS believes your baby will be in need of care or protection once born.
The assessment involves gathering all known information about your child, their siblings and your family. The assessment will always include all other siblings and children (including unborn children) living in the same home. This is so CYPS can also ensure their safety and wellbeing.
The assessment involves an examination of:
- information from the Child Concern Report (or Prenatal Report)
- historic CYPS file information including previous Child Concern Reports, Child Protection Reports, assessments, appraisal records, file& notes and any other relevant CYPS records regarding your family
- current advice from agencies and professionals (including school staff and carers) who are, or have been, involved with your family
- any other source information about your child or family.
The assessment guides CYPS in deciding whether or not the information provided in the Child Concern Report indicates your child may be ‘in need of care and protection’ as defined by the Act. When CYPS decides the criteria (or ‘threshold’) has been met, the Child Concern Report is upgraded to a ‘Child Protection Report’, which means it is likely an investigation (appraisal) will take place.
If CYPS determines your child is not likely to be in need of care and protection, they might still recommend a program or service to support you to manage any issues you or your family may be experiencing. At this point, CYPS’ involvement with your family (in relation to the specific Child Concern Report) will stop.
How can CYPS act on a Child Concern Report?
After conducting a Child Concern Assessment, CYPS may do one of several things to respond to a Child Concern Report, or Child Protection Report if upgraded. These may include any or all of the following types of intervention:
CYPS may also decide after completing a Child Concern Assessment that no further action is required.
When a Child Concern Assessment indicates your child is not at risk of abuse or neglect by anyone who has parental responsibility for them, CYPS may offer to provide you and your family with help on a voluntary basis.
This will usually begin with a meeting where CYPS will talk to you and your family about what CYPS can offer to help your family’s situation.
For example, if your family has a housing problem, CYPS might offer to help by writing a letter to ACT Housing in support of priority housing. Or, if you would like help with parenting skills to achieve a more peaceful home, CYPS might refer you to a parenting program or connect you with a family support worker.
At this initial meeting, CYPS must obtain your consent to this process. The meeting will also be used to work with you and your family to develop an agreed support plan that outlines your family’s goals.
Referrals to support services
CYPS can act on a Child Concern Report, or Child Protection Report, by referring you to relevant support services. In these situations, CYPS will actively connect you with the recommended support services.
CYPS staff will:
- call the recommended support service to determine if the referral will be suitable, for example, calling to ensure the service has the capacity to provide a family support worker before providing their number to you
- encourage you to use the suggested support by providing you with information about the service and what you may expect from it
- follow through on the referral by sending you a letter that provides the support service’s details in writing.
When a Child Concern Report has been upgraded to a Child Protection Report, CYPS will conduct a more thorough assessment of your child’s situation. This assessment may lead to an ‘appraisal’.
An appraisal is a process of investigating whether your child has experienced, is experiencing or is at risk of abuse or neglect, or is otherwise in need of care and protection. It involves looking at your child’s home and family environment, and talking to both parents (where possible) and any siblings living in the same home. In doing this, CYPS wants to hear from you what is happening in your family to accurately understand the situation. CYPS will not make assumptions based on history or the reported allegations.
An appraisal involves more than investigating the allegations made by the person who gave the original Child Concern Report. It can include exploring with you and your family any other issues raised by relevant professionals through the Child Concern Assessment process or found in the review of your child’s history with CYPS.
There are two purposes for conducting an appraisal:
- For CYPS to understand what is happening for your child and their siblings through exploring:
- whether or not it is likely they have suffered abuse or neglect, or are otherwise at significant risk of abuse or neglect
- parent and family problems, needs, strengths and difficulties, and the impact these may have on your child or their siblings.
- For CYPS to form a professional view about the needs of your child and their siblings, and also the parenting capacity of each parent (including your willingness and ability to provide care and protection).
Appraisals usually begin with an interview with your child (or children) who is the subject of the Child Protection Report. It is important to understand that the Children and Young People Act 2008 allows CYPS to speak with your child without your prior knowledge or consent, if the allegations relate to actions made by one or both parents (or a person with parental responsibility for your child). Section 371 of the Act allows CYPS to speak with your child at their school, in a health facility or a day care setting in order to visually examine and interview your child. In these situations, the Act requires CYPS to take reasonable steps after the interview to let you or at least one parent know that the interview or examination has taken place.
Where the allegations do not relate to a person with parental responsibility, CYPS will seek agreement to the appraisal from at least one parent. When CYPS asks you for agreement to the appraisal, you are essentially being asked to be involved in the appraisal process. This gives you ‘natural justice’ and an opportunity to tell your side of the story, or to put some context around the allegations that have been made.
Following the appraisal process, CYPS will decide whether to continue involvement with your family. Where an appraisal shows there is no risk of abuse or neglect to your child, CYPS will usually close the case. Sometimes, where the appraisal identifies a number of child or family needs, CYPS may offer to provide a voluntary support intervention to help connect you and your family with support services (see Support response and Referrals to support services).
Where an appraisal process indicates there is reason to believe your child is at risk of abuse or neglect, CYPS will remain involved and may undertake further assessment. This usually takes the form of a Family Assessment. This is explained in the section What can happen after an appraisal?
The rights of parents during an appraisal process
If you are contacted by CYPS about an appraisal of your child, you have the right:
- to be advised what the allegations of the Child Protection Report are about
- to reply to these allegations
- to be aware that an appraisal process will take place
- to be advised of the types of assessment that may be included in the appraisal process, such as developmental or medical assessments
- to refuse to participate in the appraisal process (that is deny ‘agreement’ to the appraisal)
- to support and advocacy throughout the process, including the right to seek legal advice
- to a competent and objective assessment and decision-making process by CYPS
- to make a complaint about the process
- to apply for access to certain information held by CYPS as permitted under the Freedom of Information Act 1989.
The rights of children during an appraisal process
Children have the same rights to information as their parents or carers. Section 351(1d) of the Children and Young People Act 2008 requires any information provided to a child must be done in a way that is clear and easy for the child to understand so they can fully take part in the process.
Remember. No one who is part of the appraisal process has a right to know the identity of the person who made the Child Concern Report. CYPS is legally required to protect the identity of this person.
What can happen after an appraisal?
If after completing the appraisal process CYPS decides further information is needed or that your child is likely to be ‘in need of care and protection’, the following may happen:
- Family Assessment
- Child Protection Case Conferencing
- creation of a Voluntary Care Agreement
- Emergency Action
- court action to get a Care and Protection Order.
A Family Assessment is a further assessment of your family’s situation and your child’s needs. It is used by CYPS to more thoroughly understand what is happening and the risks your child is exposed to. It can also be used by CYPS to present evidence to the ACT Childrens Court in support of a Care and Protection Order application.
Your participation in the assessment is voluntary. However, if you choose not to participate, CYPS can take court action that will require you to take part.
The best way to move forward and sort out the agency’s concerns about your child is to work alongside CYPS. By talking openly and honestly with them, CYPS will get a good understanding of your family’s situation and the particular needs of your child and family, in order to provide the best form of support to everyone involved.
At the beginning of the assessment, CYPS is required to make sure all family members are aware that the information gathered during the assessment will be recorded and may be admitted to the ACT Childrens Court as evidence in the future.
The goals of the Family Assessment are to:
- identify your child’s needs
- identify how risk in your family can be reduced
- identify if your parenting skills, or those of anyone else who cares for your child, need to be improved and how
- consider where your child should live
- consider who your child should have contact with
- identify what (if any) supports might assist you, your child and any other children in your family.
Completing the assessment usually takes several weeks and involves several meetings between your family and CYPS.
As part of the assessment process, CYPS will also conduct interviews with any relevant professionals working with your family, plus other relevant people such as your child’s class teacher. CYPS does not need your permission to speak with these people.
At the end of the assessment, the CYPS staff conducting the assessment will record a professional opinion about:
- the strengths and risks in your child’s home environment
- the quality of your child’s relationships
- your child’s developmental needs and progress
- your ability as a parent to provide suitable care for your child.
When the assessment process is finished, CYPS will arrange a face-to-face meeting with you to discuss the content of the assessment report and the opinions expressed in it. All people with parental responsibility for your child will be given a complete copy of the report.
Where CYPS has concerns about your family and the care being provided to your child (or children), CYPS may arrange a meeting with you and other family members. The purpose is to ensure family members are aware of the reasons for CYPS’ concerns about your child’s safety, and to discuss what needs to happen to resolve the concerns.
You have a right to reply to the content of the Family Assessment report. If you believe there are mistakes in the report or you have been misrepresented, you should put this in writing and send it to the CYPS staff responsible for writing the report. You can also raise these concerns at the meeting if you haven’t beforehand.
You also have a right to make a complaint about the assessment process. Please use the details provided in the Contacts section, or ask your case worker for a copy of the ‘Working together for kids’ guide, Feedback and raising concerns .
If you are told CYPS will be applying for a Care and Protection Order for your child and you are not happy with the content of the Family Assessment report (which will be used in evidence) you should seek legal advice. For more information see Care and Protection Orders.
Child Protection Case Conferencing
CYPS may ask you to attend a Child Protection Case Conference to help decide on a plan to support your child and family. Areas discussed in a conference may include:
- the support needs of your child and family as a whole
- the health and wellbeing of your child
- your child’s behaviour and your parenting strategies
- any goals you may have for your family and how they can be achieved
- any concerns CYPS may hold about your child and family.
Other parties can also be involved in the conference, such as representatives from relevant support services. You are also able to bring a support person with you if that is something you would find helpful.
During the conference, the aim is for the group to come up with and agree to a plan that outlines what needs to happen in the short-term to make sure your child will be safe and happy.
The plan, known as a Conferencing Unit Action Plan, may include things like setting positive goals, being linked with services that are available to you or your child, or strengthening the support you already have. It will typically focus on a specific situation and what immediate actions need to happen.
If necessary, you might be asked to attend a follow-up conference. If so, this will be a chance for you to talk about how you are going with reaching your goals and if you would like any additional support.
- Everything that happens in a Child Protection Case Conference will be recorded. You can ask CYPS for a copy of the minutes if they haven’t provided them to you.
- What you say in a conference is not confidential. It can be used in court.
- CYPS must tell you about the conference beforehand, and give you enough time to prepare.
- You can ask a support person to attend the conference with you. It is a good idea to let CYPS know this in advance to avoid concerns on the day about confidentiality.
- If you don’t understand something, ask. CYPS has an obligation to tell you what is being discussed in a way you understand.
- If you like, you can get legal advice before and/or after the conference.
Voluntary Care Agreement
A Voluntary Care Agreement is a legal agreement CYPS can make with you to share parental responsibility for your child for a short period of time. It is signed by one or both parents (or persons with parental responsibility) as well as your child if they are 15 years or older and agree with the Voluntary Care Agreement.
A Voluntary Care Agreement does not require a court application. It allows you to request CYPS to arrange a temporary placement for your child with an approved carer for an agreed period of time.
Usually, you can nominate a person within your family or extended family network to care for your child. This is called ‘kinship care’. The nominated person will need to comply with an assessment process to ensure they are suitable before your child is placed with them. If kinship care is not suitable, your child will be placed in an ‘out of home care’ placement. This could be with a pre-approved foster carer, or may be a residential facility or hospital.
An initial Voluntary Care Agreement should be no longer than 6-10 days, and a Child Protection Case Conference should take place during that time. This is to ensure there is a clear plan for your child to be returned to your care at the end of the agreement, and that everyone involved is clear about what will be achieved during the agreement period.
Legally, a Voluntary Care Agreement can be extended for up to six months, however, CYPS will only consider an extension if it is clearly in your child’s best interests.
Voluntary Care Agreements are made in accordance with Section 397 of the Children and Young People Act 2008, which requires:
- consent to the agreement is voluntary and must be made on the principles of informed consent (see Legal definitions for what this means)
- consent from your child if they are aged 15 years or older and have the mental capacity to understand what the agreement means
- the agreement is in the best interests of your child
- your child would not be in immediate need of care and protection if they were to return to your care.
Emergency Action is used by CYPS to secure the immediate safety and wellbeing of your child in response to either a Child Protection Report or an appraisal process that indicate your child is at imminent risk of abuse or neglect.
This action allows CYPS to temporarily remove your child from your care and transfer the daily parental responsibility to the Director General, Community Services Directorate, for an initial period of no more than two working days.
During this time, CYPS must make an application to the ACT Childrens Court for a Care and Protection Order to continue the Director General’s parental responsibility for your child. In doing so, CYPS will seek to provide sufficient evidence that your child is ‘in need of care and protection’. If CYPS is unable to demonstrate this, the ACT Childrens Court will order your child be immediately returned to your care.
Emergency Action is not taken lightly by CYPS. In assessing the need for this action to happen, CYPS must take into account whether your child is:
- in immediate need of care and protection, or
- likely to be in immediate need of care and protection if the Emergency Action is not taken.
Sometimes a parent is considered unable to protect their child because they have a history of failing to protect, despite their stated willingness to do so. An example might be when a parent experiences significant mental illness that affects the way they are able to protect their child.
After Emergency Action
When CYPS takes Emergency Action, they must notify you and any other person who has parental responsibility for your child. The Public Advocate and the ACT Childrens Court must also be notified by CYPS.
In caring for your child during the two-working day period (that is between CYPS taking Emergency Action and presenting the application to the ACT Childrens Court), the Director General will arrange for someone to care for and be responsible for your child.
As with a Voluntary Care Agreement, you can usually nominate a carer from within your family or extended family network to care for your child. If there is no one suitable within your family who can provide a temporary home for your child, CYPS will arrange for someone else to care for them. This is likely to be a pre-approved foster carer, but could also be staff at a residential home.
During the two-working day period, CYPS will undertake further appraisal activities, which may include a medical examination of your child. CYPS may also make further enquiries about your child's welfare, including interviews with your child, family members and/or people who are significant in your child’s life. This information may be used as evidence in court.
Care and Protection Orders
The Child and Young People Act 2008 allows CYPS to apply to the ACT Childrens Court for a Care and Protection Order that is specific to the needs of your child. The ACT Childrens Court will only make a Care and Protection Order if it:
- is satisfied your child is in need of care and protection
- has considered the Care Plan prepared by CYPS that outlines what needs to happen to secure your child’s safety and wellbeing
- is satisfied:
- the provisions included in the order are necessary to ensure the care and protection of your child
- making the order is in the best interests of your child.
This means the Court must itself be satisfied your child is in need of care and protection. The Court does not simply accept what CYPS believes.
In considering the needs of your child, a Care and Protection Order may include a:
- contact provision specifying who and when you, another parent, family member or friend can have contact with your child
- supervision provision giving CYPS the right to supervise your child’s care arrangements and regularly visit your family
- drug use provision requiring a parent to attend regular drug testing
- residence provision specifying where and with who your child lives
- short-term parental responsibility provision specifying who can make day-to-day and long-term care decisions for your child for up to two years
- long-term parental responsibility provision specifying who can make day-to-day and long-term care decisions for your child until your child turns 18.
If you are not sure what these provisions mean or what they will require, seek legal advice or speak to your case worker.
Make sure you get a copy of your child’s Care and Protection Order, Care Plan and any other important documents. But be aware, these documents are confidential and cannot be shared with anyone who is not directly involved.
Annual Review Reports
All Care and Protection Orders are time limited. Where the Director General is granted parental responsibility or responsibility for the supervision of your child’s wellbeing, CYPS is required to write an Annual Review Report every 12 months and provide this to the Public Advocate.
The Annual Review Report outlines your child’s progress over the past year and provides the opportunity for CYPS to indicate whether the order is still required. CYPS can make an application to the Court to revoke the order if it believes on reasonable grounds your child would not be in need of care and protection if the order were removed.
A copy of the report will be given to your child, anyone who holds parental responsibility and your child’s carer.
Amending or revoking orders
As part of the annual review of your child’s Care and Protection Order, you and any other original party to the order, can apply to the ACT Childrens Court to request the order be amended or revoked – for instance you may want to change the contact arrangements for your child.
An application can only be made if you (or the person making the application) believe on reasonable grounds that the amendment is in the best interests of your child.
An application to amend or revoke the order can in special circumstances be made prior to the annual 12-month review. This can only happen if the Court is satisfied there has been significant change in any relevant circumstances since the last review and order were made.
If the investigation into your child’s situation results in you needing to go to court, you are encouraged to read the guide Going to court and working to reunite families . This guide has been developed by CYPS and community partners to support you through the process. If a copy of the guide has not been given to you, please ask your case worker for one.
The following definitions are in accordance with the Child and Young People Act 2008. The terms ‘child’ and ‘children’ also refer to ‘young person’ and ‘young people’.
What is abuse?
According to Section 342 of the Act, abuse of a child means:
- physical or sexual abuse, or
- emotional abuse (including psychological abuse) if the abuse has caused or is causing significant harm to the child’s wellbeing or development.
Emotional abuse also occurs where a child has been, or is being, exposed to family violence where exposure includes:
- seeing the violence, or
- seeing the consequences of family violence such as property damage, injuries to people involved including the emotional impact it has on the victim, Police attendance at the home, or
- hearing the violence
AND this exposure to abuse has caused, is causing, or would cause significant harm to the child’s wellbeing or development.
Domestic / family violence
A child’s exposure to domestic violence or family violence meets the legal criteria for emotional abuse, to the extent that it is seen to impact on the child’s wellbeing and development.
CYPS is informed by national and international research which clearly demonstrates exposure to domestic violence is not only inherently abusive to a child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing, but is also a risk factor for physical abuse, neglect and child death (Dale, Green and Fellows, 2000). Research conducted by the Department of Community Services New South Wales in 2002, found that for children who are present in the home during a domestic violence incident, 50 per cent had also experienced a form of abuse.
What is neglect?
According to Section 343 of the Act, neglect of a child means:
- a failure to provide the child with a necessity of life if the failure has caused or is causing significant harm to the wellbeing or development of the child.
Examples of life necessities include:
- health care treatment.
This means neglect occurs when parent/s do not provide their child with one or more necessity and this has caused negative effects to the child.
There is no time limit on neglect. It can happen only once or over a long period of time.
When are children at risk of abuse and neglect?
According to section 344 of the Act:
- a child is at risk of abuse or neglect if, on the balance of probabilities, there is a significant risk of the child being abused or neglected.
This means a child is at risk of abuse or neglect if there is evidence suggesting it is likely to happen in the future because of their current living circumstances or environment. CYPS must carefully consider all information gathered in a Child Concern Assessment before they decide if a child is at risk of abuse or neglect.
What is ‘in need of care and protection’?
Section 345(1) of the Act states a child is in need of care and protection if the child:
- has been abused or neglected, or
- is being abused or neglected, or
- is at risk of abuse or neglect, and
no-one with parental responsibility for the child is willing AND able to protect the child from the abuse or neglect or the risk of abuse or neglect.
Refer to Section 345(2) of the Act for a full definition.
What is ‘the best interests of the child or young person’?
According to Section 8 of the Act, decision makers must consider the best interests of the child before anything else. The best interest of the child will guide all decisions CYPS makes in regards to the future care of that child.
CYPS must follow the best interests principles when making decisions (Section 349). These principles include:
- Protection of the child from abuse or neglect
- the child’s views or wishes
- the child’s relationship with their parents and other people
- how the changes will affect the child (including being separated from their parents)
- the reality of the how the child will maintain contact with their parents or anyone else who they were living with
- who can provide for the child’s needs, including their emotional and intellectual needs
- the importance of a settled, stable and permanent living arrangement
- the parents’ or carers’ attitudes to the child and to their parental responsibilities
- any abuse or neglect of the child or one of their family members
- any existing Court orders
- for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children:
- the importance of the child’s cultural and spiritual identity and development
- the importance of keeping connections with family, community and culture.
Who is a voluntary reporter?
Any person can be a voluntary reporter and a make a voluntary Child Concern Report to CYPS.
Voluntary reports are defined in Section 354 of the Act and apply when a person believes or suspects a child:
- is being abuse, or
- is being neglected, or
- is at risk of abuse or neglect.
A voluntary reporter is required to provide CYPS with the basis for their belief or suspicion. If a voluntary reporter provides allegations that contain false or misleading information, they are committing an offence under Section 355 of the Act.
Who is a mandated reporter?
The Act recognises there are a number of professional groups who, because of their work, have the unique circumstance to identify abuse more readily than other people. These professional groups are ‘mandated’ under the Act to report both sexual abuse and non-accidental physical injuries when they come across it through their work.
A mandated reporter can also choose to make a voluntary report concerning risk to an unborn baby, or suspected neglect or emotional abuse of a child as outlined under section 354 of the Act. Section 356 of the Act lists who mandated reporters are. Some examples include:
- nurses (including enrolled nurses)
- teachers (including a teacher’s assistant or aide if the assistant or aide is in paid employment at the school)
- police officers
- childcare centre staff that care for a child (including a childcare assistant or aide caring for a child at the childcare centre if the assistant or aide is in paid employment at the childcare centre. This does not include anyone caring for a child as an unpaid volunteer)
- any person who, in the course of their employment, has contact with or provides services to children and their families and is prescribed by regulation.
If a mandated reporter reasonably suspects physical or sexual abuse has occurred they are required by law to report it to CYPS.
For more information about mandated reporters, see the CYPS publication Keeping Children and Young People Safe. This is available from the Publications section of the Community Services Directorate website at:
What are ‘the principles of informed consent’?
To ensure informed consent you (the parent/carer) must:
- be aware of all the relevant facts when making a decision
- understand the facts
- understand the consequences of each option offered to you.
CYPS needs to determine each of these conditions have been met before informed consent is requested.
Important terminology in the risk assessment of children
This section outlines important terminology to understand when CYPS conducts a risk assessment of your child. These terms may be used in any area of a Child Concern Assessment, during and after an appraisal or in an application to the ACT Childrens Court.
Ability to communicate: A child’s inability to transmit information, thoughts, needs and feelings so that they are clearly understood may make them more vulnerable. While communication ability is influenced by age and developmental level, it is also related to physical and intellectual disabilities and other individual characteristics.
Ability to meet basic needs: Children vary in their ability to meet their own basic needs for nutrition and physical care and this affects vulnerability.
Accessibility by perpetrator: Unsupervised access to a child by a perpetrator may present an obvious vulnerability for that child. This may be lessened by the presence of another adult who is capable and takes responsibility for the child’s protection. The key component involves providing safeguards to ensure a perpetrator does not have access to a child or the opportunity to compromise the safety of a child.
Age: Children from birth to six years of age are especially vulnerable. They have limited speech capacity and are totally or primarily dependent on others to meet their nutritional, physical and emotional needs. Young children lack the ability to protect themselves from abuse or neglect. In addition, important social, cognitive and physical skills are developed in early childhood and failure to meet a child’s needs may have a significant impact on their later growth and development.
Cumulative harm: Cumulative harm refers to the effects of multiple adverse or harmful circumstances and events in a child’s life. The unremitting daily impact of these experiences on the child can be profound and exponential, and diminish a child’s sense of safety and wellbeing.
Dependence: Regardless of age or intellectual and physical capacity, children who are highly dependent and susceptible to others are vulnerable. These children are typically so influenced by emotional and psychological attachment that they are subject to the whims of those who have power over them. Children who are unable to defend themselves against aggression are vulnerable. This can include those who are unaware of danger (note: the reference here is to dysfunctional attachments and the misuse of power). It is recognised that all children need to have relationships on which they can rely and have psychological attachment.
Developmental level and intellectual disabilities: Regardless of age, a child who is cognitively limited is vulnerable because of possible limitations, such as recognising danger, knowing who can be trusted, meeting basic needs, having the ability to communicate concerns and seeking protection.
Harm: Harm refers to the detrimental impact of the abuse and/or neglect on a child. Types of harm include physical harm, emotional harm and psychological harm. Harm may occur following a serious single incident, or be of a less serious nature but occur over a period of time and result in an accumulation of harm that is significant.
Perpetrator’s relationship to the child: The ability of the perpetrator to exert power and control in the relationship can create situations of compliance and/or fear.
Protection: Protection is action demonstrated in keeping the child from abuse or neglect.
Physical disability and illness: Regardless of age, children who are physically limited and therefore unable to remove themselves from dangerous situations are vulnerable. Children who, because of physical limitations, are highly dependent on others to meet basic needs are vulnerable, as are children who have continuing or acute medical problems and needs.
Provocative, irritating or non-assertive behaviours: A child’s temperament, emotional and mental health, or behavioural problems can be such that they irritate and provoke others to act out toward these children or to avoid them. Regardless of age, children who are passive or withdrawn and not able to make basic needs known, or who cannot or will not seek help and protection from others are vulnerable. Children who exhibit significant behavioural challenges may be more vulnerable because of increased stress levels associated with supervising and controlling negative behaviour. Children experiencing problems with toilet training, inconsolable crying and delinquent or defiant behaviour may be vulnerable because these conditions can be highly distressing to many caregivers.
Risk: Risk is defined as the ‘relationship between the degree of harm and the probability of the believed harm occurring (or of protection being provided)’. ‘Risk assessment must consider the dual components of evaluation and probability. Probability includes factors which increase and decrease likelihood.’ (Bearly, P. (1982) Risk and Social Work, Routledge, London.)
Safety: Safety refers to factors which decrease the probability of abuse and neglect for a child and are differentiated as either strengths or the demonstration of protection. Safety relates to three important concepts:
- safety from danger
- safety during the assessment period
- future safety.
Scapegoat: One or more children in a family may be a scapegoat, that is constantly the target of abuse or neglect while other children are not. For instance, one child may resemble a birth parent, which leads to a child being targeted for abuse by the other birth parent or a new partner. Increased vulnerability may be a consequence of animosity toward the individual whom the child resembles.
Sexually problematic behaviour: This form of behaviour refers to:
- inappropriate sexual behaviour by a child towards a younger child
- inappropriate sexual behaviour by a child towards a child of similar or older age or an adult
- sexual offending.
Strengths: Strengths are defined as ‘positive attributes in relationships, skills and personality’ where protective factors are defined as ‘action that can be demonstrated to keep the child safe’. In an assessment, strengths are not given the same weight as protective factors, however they are considered as they may act to support, enhance or develop capacity, motivation or competence to protect children in the future.
Visibility: Children that no one sees (who are hidden or hide) are vulnerable regardless of age. Children who do not attend day care, school, community or social activities may have increased vulnerability when compared to children with contacts outside the family. This includes children who may be hidden from CYPS. If children are very isolated, abuse or neglect may go undetected or unreported, which may increase the likelihood of future abuse.