You MUST act


Critical Information

  • As a school staff member, you must act as soon as you witness an incident or form a reasonable belief that a child has been, or is at risk of being abused.

  • You must act if you form a suspicion/reasonable belief, even if you are unsure and have not directly observed child abuse, e.g. if the victim or another person tells you about the abuse.

  • You should make sufficient enquiries to form a reasonable belief and to determine a child's immediate needs. However, once a reasonable belief has been formed, it is not your role to investigate. This is the role of DHHS Child Protection or Victoria Police.

  • Child abuse includes any instance of physical or sexual abuse (including grooming), emotional or psychological harm, serious neglect and family violence involving a child.

  • If you hold significant concerns for a child’s wellbeing, which do not appear to be a result of child abuse you must still act. See: Responding to other concerns about the wellbeing of a child

This section steps you through when and how to respond if you:

It also outlines the threshold for forming a reasonable belief.

If, after considering this content, you:

  • are unsure whether a witnessed incident, suspicion or disclosure constitutes a reasonable belief that child abuse has, or is at risk of occurring, you should seek further advice from:
    • DHHS Child Protection and/or Victoria Police
    • DET Security Services Unit (Government schools only)
    • Diocesan Education Office (Catholic schools only)
  • hold significant concerns for a child’s wellbeing, which do not appear to be a result of child abuse, you should still act. For further guidance on making appropriate referrals to  Child FIRST, DHHS Child Protection and Victoria Police, see: Responding to Other Concerns About the Wellbeing of a Child

Witnessing an Incident

If you witness an incident where you believe a child has been subject to abuse you must take immediate action to protect the safety of children involved. Go straight to:

  • Action One - Responding to an Emergency if there is an immediate risk to health and safety
  • Action Two - Reporting to Authorities if there is no immediate risk to health and safety.

Forming a Suspicion

All suspicions that a child has been, or may be in danger of being abused must be taken seriously. This includes abuse that is suspected to have occurred outside of school grounds and hours.

If you form a reasonable belief that a child has been, or may be at risk of being abused, you must act, even if you have not directly witnessed the child abuse. See: Strategies for managing a disclosure

Receiving a Disclosure (Current Student)

If a child discloses that they have been, are being, or are in danger of being abused, you must treat the disclosure seriously and take immediate action by following Four Critical Actions For Schools: Responding to Incidents, Disclosures and Suspicions of Child Abuse.

If another child or adult, discloses that they believe another child has been, is being, or is at risk of being abused, you must also treat these disclosures seriously and take immediate action.

For further guidance on managing the disclosure, see: Strategies for managing a disclosure

Receiving a Disclosure (Former Student)

If you receive a disclosure from a former student of your school about historical abuse you must act.

If the former student is currently of school age and attending a Victorian school you must follow the Four Critical Actions For Schools: Responding to Incidents, Disclosures and Suspicions of Child Abuse.

If the former student is no longer of school age or attending a Victorian school you must also still act. See: Reporting abuse

This guidance will support you to:

  • report any allegations of abuse, by contacting your local Victoria Police station and/or by contacting the SANO Task Force at sanotaskforce@police.vic.gov.au
  • respond to a belief that you or another person is at immediate risk by contacting Victoria Police on 000.

This guidance will also support:

  • government schools to report to relevant areas within the Department (this may include the Principal of the school, the regional office, and the Security Services Unit)
  • Catholic schools to contact their Diocesan education office
  • independent schools to notify their School Board.

Forming a Reasonable Belief

If you have witnessed behaviour, have a suspicion, or received a disclosure of child abuse, you will need to determine whether you have formed a 'reasonable belief' or a 'belief on reasonable grounds' that a child has or is being abused or is at risk of being abused.

A reasonable belief is a deliberately low threshold:

  • so that people are encouraged to report suspected abuse to the relevant authorities and agencies, enabling authorities to investigate the allegations and take further action to prevent or stop any further abuse
  • which does not require proof, but does require something more than a mere rumour or speculation
  • which is met if a reasonable person in the same position would have formed the belief on the same grounds.

Most of the reporting provisions in the Children Youth and Families Act and Crimes Act require people to report suspected child abuse that has occurred, is occurring, or is at risk of occurring where they have formed a 'reasonable belief' or 'a belief on reasonable grounds'.

Forming a belief on reasonable grounds may include:

  • a child stating that they have been abused
  • any person telling you they believe someone has been abused (sometimes the child may be talking about themselves)
  • physical indicators of abuse such as non-accidental or unexplained injuries; persistent neglect, or inadequate care and supervision lead you to believe that the child has been abused (see Identifying Signs of Abuse)
  • behavioural indicators of abuse lead you to believe that the child has been abused (see Identifying Signs of Abuse)
  • other signs such as family violence, parental substance misuse, psychiatric illness or intellectual disability that is impacting on the child's safety, stability or development

Strategies for Managing a Disclosure

When managing a disclosure of abuse, it is important that you respond in an appropriate and supportive manner. All disclosures of abuse must be taken seriously and addressed immediately by following the Four Critical Actions for Schools: Responding to Incidents, Disclosures or Suspicions of Child Abuse (pdf - 642.03kb).

It is the role of school staff members to listen and respond appropriately to a child's concerns. When a disclosure of abuse is made and/or you are concerned that a child has been abused or is at risk of being abused, you must inform the student that their confidentiality cannot be maintained.

This should be done in language appropriate to the student's age and stage of development. For example:

  • To a younger student: 'I am not going to be able to keep your story a secret. I really have to tell someone who is going to be able to help you.''
  • To an older student: 'The information you have given me has made me very concerned for your welfare and I need to tell you that it is my responsibility to report this information to the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Health and Human Services to help you get some assistance.''

You must document any disclosures. This may be critical for further investigations and/or legal proceedings. See: Responding to suspected child abuse: template (docx - 67.41kb).

The tables below include advice on how best to manage a disclosure and what to avoid.

When managing a disclosure, staff should:

  • listen to the child and allow them to speak
  • stay calm and not display expressions of panic or shock
  • use a neutral tone with no urgency and where possible use the child's language and vocabulary
  • be patient and non-judgmental throughout
  • highlight to the child that they are doing the right thing in telling you about what has happened and that it is not their fault
  • do not ask leading questions, but instead, gently ask, "What happened next?" rather than "Why?"
  • be patient and allow the child to talk at their own pace and in their own words
  • not pressure the child into telling you more than they want to
  • reassure the child that you believe them and that disclosing the matter was the right thing to do
  • use verbal facilitators such as, "Okay, I see", restate the child's previous statement, and use non-suggestive words of encouragement, designed to keep the child talking in an open-ended way
  • tell the child you are required to report to the relevant authority to help stop the abuse, and explain the role of these authorities if appropriate

When managing a disclosure, staff should AVOID:

  • asking questions that are investigative and potentially invasive. This may make the child feel uncomfortable and cause the child to withdraw
  • going over the information time and time again (you are only gathering information to help you form a belief on reasonable grounds that you need to make a report to the relevant authority)