Making sure a child is safe and supported when attending the service
Services must operate in a way that ensures the safety, health and wellbeing of children and meets their educational and developmental needs.
Where appropriate, services need to provide holistic support to children and families to address the trauma and wellbeing issues associated with child abuse is best achieved through careful planning.
Where appropriate, services should consider:
- establishing regular communication with the child's parent/carer to plan support strategies and discuss a child's progress, and the success of any support strategies
- engage allied health professionals with expertise in addressing child abuse and trauma to support the service to design and implement support strategies.
- establish a safety plan, in instances where the abuse has been led by a person within the service, and/or visiting the service to mitigate risk of further abuse.
Maternal Child Health services guidelines
Maternal Child Health staff should follow the
Maternal Health Service Guidelines to provide support for families and children impacted by child abuse. These will support you to determine appropriate support and referral necessary in your roles as health care professionals.
Providing referrals to support services (where appropriate)
Services can also refer children and their families to a wide range of support services, specialising in providing tailored support and advice for children impacted by abuse and their families.
For example, the Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) provide expert support for victims of sexual assault and Australian Childhood Foundation provide recognised programs that counsel and support children to recover. Other agencies such as Safe Steps and Safe and Equal provide support and referrals to victims of family violence.
Where appropriate it's recommended that you provide families with the details of available support services. This corresponds with the requirements under National Qualify Standard 6.1.3, that current information is available to families about community services and resources to support parenting and family wellbeing.
Providing developmentally and culturally appropriate support
Whilst a child’s background should not impact on a decision to report suspected abuse, staff and volunteers in early childhood services need to be sensitive to a child’s individual circumstances.
It's a requirement under the Child Safe Standards that services "take account of the diversity of all children", including (but not limited to) the needs of:
Children with disabilities
When supporting a child with 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 ongoing abuse when considering the need to make a further report and/or implement risk mitigation strategies (children with disabilities disproportionately fall prey to child abuse, in particular child sexual abuse).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
When supporting an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child who has been impacted by child abuse, in addition to taking action to protect a child's safety and wellbeing, it is essential that services provide culturally appropriate support.
It's important to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have a specific history, and cultural traditions, and may be sensitive to the way Aboriginal issues are represented. For example:
- it may be inappropriate to use peoples' names or images and you should always ask
- family violence is not an aspect of 'traditional' Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander cultures (family violence is obviously unacceptable in any cultural context and care should be taken not to suggest that culture or ethnicity explains family violence).
There are interconnecting and trans-generational experiences of abuse within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The impact of this abuse is compounded by the fact that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have:
- not had access to culturally appropriate services or supports
- a fear or distrust of government supports,
- experienced significant socioeconomic disadvantage and marginalisation as a result of their Aboriginal status.
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) plays an important role in providing referrals, advice/information, duty work or case work assistance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the State of Victoria.
Children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds
When supporting a child from CALD backgrounds who has been impacted by child abuse, in addition to taking action to protect a child's safety and wellbeing, it is essential that services provide culturally appropriate support. However, this should not detract from ensuring the child’s safety and wellbeing.
Where possible services should work with relevant cultural support services (ensuring that the confidentiality of the child and family is maintained) and engage an interpreter when communicating with the student’s family if needed.
Children 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).
Services should consider contacting services that specialise in providing support to refugees (ensuring that the confidentiality of the child and their family is maintained) such as Foundation House.
Support for impacted staff members
It can be stressful for staff involved in any incidents, disclosures or suspicions of child abuse, especially if they have also experienced abuse.
It's recommended that you speak to your service provider about arranging appropriate support.
You should also consider:
- talking to your GP or another allied health professional
- reporting historical or current experiences of abuse to Victoria Police.
You can also contact Life Line on 13 11 14 or chat to someone online at lifeline.org.au
Responding to 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.
You must comply with the subpoena/witness summons because there can be serious consequences for not doing so.
If you are unsure about your obligations under a subpoena/witness summons, speak to your manager, and ask for support to respond to the subpoena. This support may include obtaining independent legal advice. It is not appropriate to contact the lawyer who issued the subpoena/witness summons for advice. For more information, visit Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria.
Responding to complaints or concerns
There may be concerns or complaints about the service's management of an incident, in particular by parents/carers. This is a very stressful time for parents/carers, and concerns, which they do not believe have been dealt with fairly may quickly escalate.
You should refer all concerns or complaints that are raised by parents or carers to your approved provider as soon as they are received.
If you have concerns that the health, safety and wellbeing of children may have been compromised by the actions of your approved provider (or another approved provider), or if you believe the relevant legislation has been contravened, you should make a complaint to the Quality Assessment and Regulation Division (QARD).