Abuse in care refers to any allegation of abuse or neglect of a child who is already in care. The allegation may be against any person – such as a carer, birth family member or a member of the general public.
Such allegations are taken very seriously and are investigated by CYPS in the same manner as other allegations of abuse or neglect. CYPS acknowledges this process can be distressing for carers who have committed to providing care to children, and will work respectfully without pre-judgement to understand what has happened and ensure the safety and wellbeing of the child involved.
Allegations against non-family members
If an allegation of physical or sexual abuse is made involving the child in your care, and the alleged person is not connected to the child’s birth or care family, the allegation will be investigated by ACT Policing. CYPS does not have the legal authority to investigate non-family allegations. However, CYPS will work with you to understand the situation and offer any necessary supports to you and the child.
Allegations against birth or care family members
If an allegation is made involving the child in your care, and the alleged person is a member of your family or the child’s birth family (for example the incident occurred during a contact visit), CYPS does have legal authority to investigate and will conduct an initial assessment to determine if the child may be at risk of abuse or neglect.
If CYPS determines the child is not at risk of abuse or neglect, they may still contact you to inform you that an allegation was made. CYPS is legally not allowed to tell you who made the allegation but can tell you what it was about. Depending on the circumstances, CYPS may offer you extra support or referrals to other support services if they believe this could be helpful for you or the child.
If CYPS determines the child in your care is at risk of abuse or neglect, a more thorough investigation called an appraisal will be conducted to more accurately understand what is happening for the child and the circumstances. This will involve various interviews with the child, you and relevant others.
During the appraisal process, you should make yourself available for the interview, be open and honest when asked for information and support the child. If you believe you require legal representation in regards to the allegation, you can seek representation prior to being interviewed.
It is recommended you participate in the appraisal process, regardless of whether the allegations relate to you, your family or the child’s birth family. This is because it provides you natural justice and an opportunity to tell your side of the story, or to put some context around the allegations made. If you choose not to participate, be aware CYPS will still make an assessment regarding the safety and wellbeing of the child in your care and determine what should happen. This might include developing a plan for reducing risk, providing support to you, the child and the alleged person, or in rare circumstances court action.
If the allegation is against you, is serious in nature and confirmed by CYPS through the appraisal process, CYPS may withdraw your Specific Parental Authority and remove the child from your care. This is in an extreme circumstance and any move for the child would not be taken lightly.
Detailed information about the investigation and court processes is available in the ‘Working together for kids’ parent guides. While designed specifically for birth parents, they are a valuable resource to better understand the processes and decisions involved in the ACT child protection system. You can access these guides from the Community Services Directorate website at Working Together for Kids.
Police and CARHU involvement
Where abuse in care allegations involve physical or sexual abuse, CYPS is required to make a referral to the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Team (SACAT) within ACT Policing. If SACAT agrees to the referral, a joint investigation involving both SACAT and CYPS will occur. Depending on the nature of the allegation, SACAT may commence a criminal investigation and request CYPS delay its appraisal. It is also in the child’s best interests to attend a medical examination as soon as possible following alleged physical or sexual abuse. CYPS will make a referral to the Child at Risk Health Unit (CARHU) within ACT Health to conduct the examination. This allows for the collection of forensic evidence.
All staff involved in these processes are trained to work with children who have experienced trauma and will ensure the child is supported and feels as safe and comfortable as possible. As their carer, this is likely to also be a traumatic time for you. Please speak with your case manager if you require additional support.
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