Knowing your Obligations

​As community members, we all have a moral obligation to protect any child under our care and supervision from foreseeable harm.

As school staff members, you play an especially critical role in responding to student sexual offending and must comply with a range of legal obligations to do so.

The easiest way to comply with your legal and moral obligations is to remember that:

This section sets out your legal obligations in further detail, including:

Duty of Care Obligations

As a school staff member you have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect children under your care and supervision, from harm that is reasonably foreseeable (this applies to all school staff).

The question of what constitutes “reasonable steps” will depend on the individual circumstances of each case.

You may breach your duty of care towards a student if you fail to act in the way a reasonable or diligent professional would have acted in the same situation. In relation to suspected student sexual offending, reasonable steps may include (but are not necessarily limited to):

  • acting on concerns and suspicions of student sexual offending quickly or as soon as practicable
  • seeking appropriate advice or consulting with other professionals or agencies when the school staff member is unsure of what steps to take
  • reporting the suspected student sexual offending to appropriate authorities such as the Victoria Police and DHHS Child Protection
  • arranging counselling and/or other appropriate welfare support for impacted students, including the alleged victim and student who has allegedly engaged in student sexual offending
  • providing ongoing support to the alleged victim and student who has allegedly engaged in student sexual offending – this may include attending DHHS Child Protection Case Planning meetings, and convening regular Student Support Group meetings
  • sharing information with other school based staff who will also be responsible for monitoring and providing on-going support to the student(s) .

You must follow the Four Critical Actions for Schools: Responding to Student Sexual Offending (pdf - 462.3kb) Word version (docx - 34.28kb)

This will ensure that you fulfil your duty of care obligations for all children impacted by student sexual offending, including the alleged victim and student who has allegedly engaged in the student sexual offending.

Your duty of care also extends to:

  • all incidents, allegations and suspicions that a student is victim of, or has engaged in student sexual offending, regardless of whether the suspected offence has taken place inside or outside of school hours and/or the school premises.
  • all students regardless of their age.

Reporting a Child in Need of Therapeutic Treatment

Any member of the public is able to report concerns about a child’s (who is aged at least 10 and under 15 years) sexually abusive behaviour to DHHS Child Protection.*

DHHS Child Protection may make an application to the Children's Court for a therapeutic treatment order if it assesses that:

  • the child is in need of therapeutic treatment, and
  • the child or the child’s parent(s)/carer(s) are unable or unwilling to access treatment.

These orders require the child who is the subject of the order to attend an appropriate treatment program to address their sexually abusive behaviours. They may also have conditions requiring the child's parent(s)/carer(s) to take any necessary steps to enable the child to attend the treatment.

Reporting to DHHS Child Protection in relation to a child who may be in need of therapeutic treatment does not replace your requirement to report student sexual offending to Victoria Police.

*in relation to children and young people exhibiting sexually abusive behaviour:

  • children under 10 years old cannot be held criminally responsible

  • children aged 10-15 years can be granted a therapeutic treatment order as an alternative pathway to treatment that does not involve criminal prosecution

  • therapeutic treament orders are not availabe for children over 15 years of age.

Mandatory Reporting

There are certain classes of professionals, who are classified as "mandatory reporters". Within a school mandatory reporters include all:

  • Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) registered teachers (including Principals)
  • staff who have been granted permission to teach by the VIT
  • registered doctors and nurses.

All mandatory reporters must make a report to Victoria Police and/or DHHS Child Protection as soon as practicable if, during the course of carrying out their professional roles and responsibilities, they form a belief on reasonable grounds that:

  • a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm as a result of physical abuse and/or sexual abuse, and
  • the child's parents have not protected the child, and are unable or unwilling to protect, the child from harm of that type.

It is a criminal offence not to report in these circumstances.

In relation to suspected student sexual offending, to ensure they fulfil all of their legal obligations, mandatory reporters must follow the Four Critical Actions for Schools: Responding to Student Sexual Offending (pdf - 462.3kb) Word version (docx - 34.28kb)

Criminal Offences

In response to the Betrayal of Trust Report, the Victorian Government has introduced new criminal offences to protect children from sexual abuse. Under these reforms a failure to report, or take action in relation to suspected child sexual abuse can now constitute a criminal offence, including a:

Failure to disclose

This offence applies to all adults (not just professionals who work with children) who form a reasonable belief that that another adult may have committed a sexual offence against a child under 16 years of age and fail to report this information to the Victoria Police.

Failing to disclose a sexual offence only applies to student sexual offending in circumstances when the student who has allegedly engaged in sexual offending is 18 years of age or over.

Failure to protect

This offence applies to person in a position of authority within an organisation who:

  • knows of a substantial risk that a child under the age of 16, under the care, supervision or authority of the organisation will become victim of a sexual offence commited by an adult associated with the orgnisation (e.g. an employee, contractor, volunteer or visitor); and
  • negligently fails to reduce or remove the risk of harm.

This offence does not apply to student sexual offending, unless you form a reasonable belief that a staff member, contractor, volunteer or visitor may have also engaged in the offence.

Ministerial Order No. 870 - Child Safe Standards

All Victorian schools must comply with the new Ministerial Order No. 870 - Child Safe Standards - Managing the risk of child abuse in schools in order to be registered, and remain registered with the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA)

The Order came into effect on 1 August 2016 and specifies how every Victorian school must:

  • embed a culture of 'no tolerance' for child abuse
  • comply with the prescribed seven minimum child safe standards.

In meeting the requirements of Ministerial Order No. 870, schools must be inclusive of the needs of all children, particularly students who are vulnerable due to age, family circumstances, abilities, or indigenous, cultural or linguistic background.

This resource will support schools to meet their obligations under the Order (Standard 5- Section 11), by assisting them to develop clear procedures for responding to allegations of suspected abuse.

School governing authorities (which includes Victorian Government School Councils, Principals and nominated school leaders) will have responsibility for ensuring that schools meet all of the obligations set out within the Order.

For support on how to meet these obligations, see: Child Safe Standards