Responding to concerns about the wellbeing of a child

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​​​Critical information

Regardless of the suspected cause, all concerns about the wellbeing of a child (or an unborn child) should be taken seriously and acted upon. This includes concerns about the wellbeing of a child, which does not appear to be the result of abuse.

You should make a referral to Child FIRST if:

    • you have a significant concern for a child's wellbeing and/or

    • You are concerned that the child's wellbeing is being impacted in a low-to-moderate capacity and/or

    • the child's immediate safety is not compromised and/or

    • you/your service has discussed the referral with the family and they are supportive of it.

You must contact Victoria Police if:

    • there is any concern for a child's immediate safety and/or

    • a child is partaking in any risk taking activity that is illegal and extreme in nature or poses a high risk to their own safety, or the safety of someone else

You should contact DHHS Child Protection if:

    • after consideration of all of the available information you form a view that the child is in need of protection and/or

    • you believe that the child's parent/carers will not be open to, or will be unable to receive, support from family services to address their child's wellbeing.

​In this section

This section will support you to determine how to respond to concerns about the wellbeing of a child which do not appear to be the result of child abuse, with information on:

​​ In addition to reporting and referring wellbeing concerns to relevant authorities, you also have a duty of care to ensure that children feel safe and supported at your service. See: Action Four- Providing Support

 

When to report wellbeing concerns to Child FIRST

Child FIRST (Family Information, Referral and Support Team) is a community-based referral point into Family Services.

In addition to reporting suspected abuse to appropriate authorities, you should make a referral to Child FIRST if:

  • you have a significant concern for a child's wellbeing and/or
  • your concerns have a low-to-moderate impact on the child and/or
  • the child's immediate safety is not compromised and/or
  • you/your service has discussed the referral with the family and they are supportive of it. 

Examples of concerns that you should reported to Child FIRST include instances when a child's care or development is significantly impacted on by:

  • parents who lack the skills to support their child's physical, emotional and cognitive development
  • family conflict or family breakdown
  • ​pressure due to a family member's physical / mental illness, substance abuse, or disability
  • vulnerability due to youth, isolation or lack of support
  • significant social or economic disadvantage etc.

W​hen to report wellbeing concerns to Victoria Police

In addition to reporting suspected abuse to appropriate authorities, you must contact Victoria Police on 000 if the:

  • child's immediate safety is compromised and/or
  • child is partaking in any risk taking activity that is illegal and extreme in nature or poses a high risk to their safety, or the safety of somebody else.

When to report wellbeing concerns to DHHS Child Protection

In addition to reporting suspected abuse to appropriate authorities, you should contact DHHS Child Protection if you have significant protective concerns for the wellbeing of a child, but the parents are unable or unwilling to address or resolve these concerns. 

This includes all concerns that:

  • have a serious impact on a child's safety, stability or development (including abandonment, death or incapacity, extreme risk-taking behaviour, or harm to an unborn child- see Other reports to DHHS Child Protection below) and/or
  • are persistent and entrenched and likely to have a serious impact on a child's safety, stability or development and/or
  • relate to a parent/s who cannot or will not protect the child from significant harm and/or
  • include a belief that the family is likely to be uncooperative in seeking assistance.

Common grounds for protection include:

  • Abandonment: The child’s parents have abandoned the child and after reasonable inquiries, the parents cannot be found, and no other suitable person can be found who is willing and able to care for the child.
  • Death or incapacity of parent/carer: The child’s parents are dead or incapacitated and there is no other suitable person willing and able to care for the child.
  • Extreme risk-taking behaviour (in children up to 13 years of age): The child is displaying extreme risk taking behaviour, which has potentially severe or life threatening consequences. Examples include severe alcohol or drug use; unsafe sexual activity including prostitution; solvent abuse and chroming, and violent or dangerous peer group activity. In addition to contacting DHHS Child Protection it may also be necessary to contact Victoria Police when the risk taking activity is illegal and extreme in nature or poses a high risk to the child
  • Harm to an unborn child: There is a threat of harm to an unborn child, including circumstances where a parent has previously demonstrated an inability to safely parent.

The Children Youth and Families Act 2005 allows DHHS Child Protection to receive and respond to reports about an unborn child, which provides an important opportunity for earlier intervention and prevention. Prenatal reports may be particularly helpful to the unborn child in family violence situations, or where there are mental health concerns or drug or alcohol misuse during pregnancy.