Four: Providing on-going support


Critical Information

  • In addition to reporting suspected abuse, as a school staff member you have a critical role in supporting students impacted by abuse and have a Duty of Care to ensure that the students feels safe and supported at school.

  • Support can include direct support and referral to wellbeing professionals and community services and should involve the development of a Student Support Plan.

  • Principals are responsible for ensuring students are supported during interviews at school conducted by Victoria Police or DHHS Child Protection and you may be required to respond to subpoenas to attend court.

  • Support must be provided to any impacted staff members.

Experiences of child abuse can cause trauma and significantly impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children. In addition to reporting and referral into relevant authorities, as a school staff member you play a central role in addressing this trauma and have a Duty of Care to ensure that the students feels safe and supported at school.

This section outlines actions that schools must take, where deemed appropriate, to support students who are impacted by child abuse, including:

  • Working Together and Planning Support
  • Engaging Allied Health and Wellbeing Supports
  • Referring to Non-School Based Supports
  • Providing Developmentally and Culturally Appropriate Support
  • Providing Support for Impacted School Staff Members
  • Supporting Students in Interviews Conducted at School
  • Responding to Subpoenas or Court Attendance
  • Responding to Complaints or Concerns.

In the context of student-to-student offending school staff have a Duty of Care to support all students who are impacted by the abuse – this will include the students who were subjected to the abuse, the students who perpetrated the abuse, and any students who witnessed or were otherwise impacted by the abuse.

Working Together and Planning Support

Providing holistic support to address the trauma and wellbeing issues associated with child abuse is best achieved through careful planning and working in partnership with wellbeing professionals, parents/carers and educators.

If a student is impacted by suspected abuse, and it is deemed appropriate, school staff must:

  • establish regular communication between staff and the child’s parent/ guardian/carer (if this is appropriate) to discuss a child’s progress wellbeing and the effectiveness of planned strategies
  • convene a Student Support Group to plan on-going monitoring, support, and follow-up of the child’s health and wellbeing (Student Support Groups usually comprise school wellbeing staff, teachers, allied health professionals and where appropriate the student and/or their parent/carer)
  • develop and implement a Student Support Plan, which documents the planned support strategies and includes timeframes for review (where possible, these support strategies should be informed by allied health and wellbeing professional with expertise in addressing child abuse and trauma).

Engaging Allied Health and Wellbeing Professionals

Where appropriate school staff should engage allied health and wellbeing supports and services to meet the wellbeing needs of the child impacted by abuse, including:

  • Student Support Services (government schools only)
  • wellbeing staff members
  • allied health and wellbeing professionals engaged by the student and families.

Allied health and wellbeing professionals can provide:

  • intensive support to children and their families
  • critical input into Student Support Plans
  • advice to school staff members on how to appropriately support the student.

Government schools can contact their Regional Office and also refer to the Continuum of Supports for a description of the range of school based support services that may be locally available.

Catholic schools can contact their Diocesan education office for further detail, specifically:

  • Archdiocese of Melbourne: Student Wellbeing Information Line on (03) 9267 0228
  • Diocese of Sale: Child Protection Officer on (03) 5622 6600
  • Diocese of Ballarat: Child Safety on (03) 5337 7135
  • Diocese of Sandhurst: Team Leader, Pastoral Wellbeing on (03) 5443 2377.

Referring to External Supports

School staff can also refer to the wide range of non-school based support services, which specialise in providing tailored support and advice for children impacted by abuse.

For example the Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA) provide expert support for victims of sexual assault and HeadSpace can provide tailored support for children whose mental health is impacted by exposure to abuse.

For details on where to go for further support, see: Counselling/Support Organisations

Allschools can contact their local government for advice on available local services.

Government schools can contact their Regional Office for advice on local and specialised services.

Catholic schools can contact their Diocesan education office for further detail, including:

  • Archdiocese of Melbourne: Student Wellbeing Information Line on (03) 9267 0228
  • Diocese of Sale: Child Protection Officer on (03) 5622 6600
  • Diocese of Ballarat: Child Safety on (03) 5337 7135
  • Diocese of Sandhurst: Team Leader, Pastoral Wellbeing on (03) 5443 2377.

Providing Developmentally and Culturally Appropriate Support

Whilst a child’s background should not impact on a decision to report suspected abuse, school staff need to be sensitive to a child’s individual circumstances when providing support and working with families impacted by abuse.

It is a requirement under the Child Safety Standards that school governing authorities must "take account of the diversity of all children", including (but not limited to) the needs of:

Children with disabilities

When supporting a child with a disability who has been impacted by child abuse it is critical to consider the child's:

  • chronological age, developmental age and their cognitive functioning in order to tailor developmentally appropriate support strategies
  • vulnerability to on-going abuse (children with disabilities disproportionally fall prey to child abuse, in particular child sexual abuse) when considering the need to make a further report and/or implement risk mitigation strategies.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children

When supporting an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child who has been impacted by child abuse it is essential that school staff provide culturally appropriate support.

  • Principals from Government schools must notify their Regional Office to ensure that the Koorie Engagement Support Officer can arrange appropriate support for the child and/or advise on culturally appropriate support strategies.
  • Principals from Catholic schools must notify their Diocesan education office to ensure that the Diocesan Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Officer can arrange appropriate support for the child and advise on culturally appropriate support strategies.

Children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds

When supporting a child from CALD backgrounds who has been impacted by child abuse it is essential that schools provide culturally appropriate support. However this should not detract from ensuring the child’s safety and wellbeing.

Where possible schools should work with relevant cultural support services (ensuring that the confidentiality of the student and family is maintained) and engage an interpreter when communicating with the student’s family if needed.

Students with refugee backgrounds

When working with children from refugee backgrounds who have been impacted by child abuse it is important to recognise that they (and their families) may also be experiencing trauma, dislocation and loss. This trauma may significantly affect family wellbeing and parenting capacity and whilst these issues also require sensitive consideration, they should not detract from ensuring the child’s safety and wellbeing (or impact on decisions to report suspected abuse).

School staff should consider contacting services that specalise in providing support to refugees (ensuring that the confidentiality of the child and their family is maintained).

Schools should also engage an interpreter when communicating with the student’s family if needed.

International students

Principals must ensure appropriate measures are taken for the welfare of international students. This may require additional support given that the child’s family may not be present to provide support within the home environment.

For details on who must be contacted in the event that an international student is involved in suspected abuse, see: Reporting if the incident, suspicion or disclosure relates to an international student 

Providing support for other impacted children

It can be stressful for other children involved in any incidents, disclosures or suspicions of child abuse. Principals must ensure that other impacted children are offered and provided appropriate support.

Providing Support for Impacted School Staff Members

It can also be stressful for staff involved in any incidents, disclosures or suspicions of child abuse. Principals must support impacted staff members to access necessary support.

School staff requiring wellbeing support can contact:

Government Schools:

  • DET Employee Assistance Program (EAP) on 1300 361 008

Catholic Schools:

  • Archdiocese of Melbourne: School's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider and/or seek further advice from Office of Professional Conduct, Ethics & Investigation on (03) 9267 0228
  • Diocese of Sale: ACCESS EAP on 1300 66 77 00
  • Diocese of Ballarat: Child Safety on (03) 5337 7135
  • Diocese of Sandhurst: ACCESS EAP on 1800 222 125.

Supporting Children who are Interviewed at School

All children (including children who are alleged to have perpetrated abuse) must be independently supported in any interviews conducted by Victoria Police or DHHS Child Protection at school.

Where possible and appropriate the child’s parent/carer should be present for these interviews. However if this is not appropriate or practicable the Principal (or delegate) may be identified as the independent person or support person for the child for the purpose of the interview.

Police interviews

In the event that Victoria Police schedule an interview with a child at the school, the Principal (or delegate) must advise the child’s parent/carer (where advised to be appropriate) as well as:

Government schools:

  • Student Incident and Recovery unit on (03) 9637 2934
  • Koorie Engagement Support Officer if the child is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
  • International Division if the child is an international student on (03) 9637 3990.

Catholic schools:

  • Archdiocese of Melbourne: Policy 2.19a Police and Department of Human Services Interview Protocols and Student Wellbeing Information Line on (03) 9267 0228
  • Diocese of Sale: Child Protection Officer on (03) 5622 6600
  • Diocese of Ballarat: Child Safety on (03) 5337 7135
  • Diocese of Sandhurst: Assistant to the Director: Legal, Industrial & Human Resources on (03) 5443 2377.

Police interviews at school where the child is the alleged victim or witness

The information below includes critical detail on when and how police interviews are conducted at school and what role the Principal (or delegate) should play if they are nominated as the support person.

  • Police should only interview children at school as a matter of urgency or necessity.
  • A request must be made to the Principal (or delegate) who must be advised of the reason for the interview.
  • The child’s parent/carer should be present where it is practical and appropriate to make these arrangements. If the parent/carer is not able to be present, an independent person must be present during the interview (the role of the independent person is to ensure the child understands what is happening and to provide support).
  • Principals (or delegate) may if necessary, act as an independent person where the child is a victim, unless they believe it will place them in a conflict of interest to do so.
  • As an independent person, school staff must refrain from providing their opinions or accounts for events during interviews.

Police interviews at school where a student has allegedly abused another child

  • If the police need to speak with a student who has allegedly abused another child this should preferably be done in the presence of the parent/carer, or another independent person that is not a school staff member.

DHHS Child Protection interviews at school

DHHS Child Protection may conduct interviews of children at Victorian schools without parental knowledge or consent of the parent/carer (although this will only occur in exceptional circumstances and if it is in the child’s best interests to proceed in this manner).

The information below includes critical detail on when and how DHHS Child Protection interviews are conducted at school and what role the Principal (or delegate) should play if they are nominated as the support person.

  • DHHS Child Protection will notify the school staff of any intention to interview a child at the school. This may occur regardless of whether the school staff member is the source of the report to DHHS Child Protection.
  • When DHHS Child Protection practitioners arrive at the school, the school Principal (or delegate) should ask to see their identification before allowing DHHS Child Protection to have access to the child. See Visitors in School Policy.
  • Children should be advised of their right to have a supportive adult present during interviews. If the child is too young to understand the significance, a supportive adult should be provided even though they may not have consented or requested this to occur.
  • A staff member may be identified as a support person for the child during the interview. Prior to the commencement of the interview, the DHHS Child Protection practitioner should always authorise the staff member of the school to receive information regarding DHHS Child Protection’s investigation. This could be conducted verbally or in writing using the relevant DHHS Child Protection proforma.
  • As an independent person, school staff must refrain from providing their opinions or accounts for events during interviews.

Complying with Subpoenas or Court Attendance

  • A subpoena / witness summons is a Court Order that compels you to produce documents, or attend Court and give evidence, or to do both of these things.
  • You are usually issued with a subpoena / witness summons because one of the parties to the legal proceedings believes that you may have information / documentation that is relevant to the legal proceeding.
  • If a government school staff member receives a subpoena / witness summons in the context of their employment with the DET, they should contact the Legal Division on (03) 9637 3146 for advice and assistance in meeting their legal obligations.

Responding to Complaints or Concerns

There may be concerns or complaints about the school staff's management of an incident, in particular by parents/carers. This is a very stressful time for parents/carers, and concerns that they do not believe have been dealt with fairly may quickly escalate.

As a first step school staff must consider whether the complaint raises any concerns about unreported abuse and/or risk of abuse. You must follow the Four Critical Actions: Responding to Incidents, Disclosures or Suspicions of Child Abuse if any new information comes to light which leads you to believe that a child may be subject to, or at risk of any unreported abuse.

See: Four Critical Actions: Responding to Incidents, Disclosures or Suspicions of Child Abuse

Government school complaint process

Principals or delegates of government schools should follow the Department’s standard parent complaints process, including:

  • meeting the complainants to clarify their concerns (a face-to-face meeting with the Principal will often resolve the matter)
  • documenting the concerns, clarify the issues, explain and gain agreement to further action
  • linking the complainants to the responsible Regional Office (e.g. the Regional Director) if the issues are not quickly resolved,
  • advising complainants of internal and external supports including the role of parent groups to provide independent advice and support
  • advising complainants of their rights to:
    • escalate their complaint, in writing, to: Deputy Secretary Regional Services Group
    • write to the Victorian government Ombudsman if they have exhausted the internal procedures and remain dissatisfied.

If the complaint is related to sexual abuse, government school Principals (or delegates) should seek advice from the Student Incident and Recovery Unit on (03) 9637 2934 and the Legal Division on (03) 9637 3146.

For additional information on managing parent complaints, see: School Policy & Advisory Guide: Parent Complaints.

Catholic school complaint process

For support in managing complaints Catholic schools should contact:

  • Archdiocese of Melbourne: Office of Professional Conduct, Ethics & Investigation on (03) 9267 0228
  • Diocese of Sale: Senior Education Consultant on (03) 5622 6600
  • Diocese of Ballarat: Child Safety on (03) 5337 7135
  • Diocese of Sandhurst: Assistant to the Director: Legal, Industrial & Human Resources on (03) 5443 2377.