Action 3: Contacting parents or carers

​​​​Information on when parents or carers should be notified if it is suspected their child is a victim of abuse an​d which relevant authorities need to be notified.

The following information applies to reporting all forms of child abuse including student sexual offending.

In many cases where it is suspected that a child has been, or is at risk of being abused, it is extremely important that parents/carers are notified as soon as possible (as long as this is agreed to by Police and/or DHHS so as not to place the child at further risk or impede an investigation). This enables parents/carers to take steps to:

  • prevent or limit their child’s exposure to further abuse
  • ensure that their child receives the support that they require.

There are some circumstances where contacting parents/carers may place a child or adult at greater risk.

After you have formed a suspicion/reasonable belief that a child is subject to abuse and before contacting parents/carers your principal (or delegate) must seek advice from Victoria Police or DHHS Child Protection (depending on who the report has been made to). They will advise your principal (or delegate) about whether it is appropriate to contact parents/carers at this stage.

The principal (or delegate) may be advised not to contact parents/carers (or one particular parent/carer) in circumstances where:

  • a parent/carer is alleged to have engaged in the abuse (including in circumstances of suspected family violence, where alerting the alleged perpetrator may place others at greater risk)
  • a disclosure to the parents/carers may subject the child to further or more severe abuse
  • the child is deemed a mature minor (assessed to be sufficiently mature and intelligent to make such decisions on his or her own behalf) and has requested that their parents/carers not be notified (in these circumstances ideally the child will nominate another responsible adult to be contacted). For further information, see: Mature minors. Victorian Government school staff can also contact the DET Legal Division on (03) 9637 3146 for further advice on assessing whether a student is a mature minor
  • the notification is likely to adversely affect the investigation of the incident by the relevant authorities.

Advice for communicating with parents

Where advised by Police and DHHS to be appropriate to contact the parents, the principal and/or reporting staff member (ideally together) should make sensitive and professional contact with the appropriate parents/carers as soon as possible on the day of the incident, disclosure or suspicion.

During this conversation it is important to:

  • remain calm
  • be empathetic to feelings
  • validate concerns
  • provide appropriate details of the incident, disclosure and/or suspicion of child abuse
  • outline the action the school staff have taken to date, including who the incident, disclosure and/or suspicion has been reported to if appropriate (noting that the anonymity of the person who made the report to DHHS Child Protection must be protected if this is their wish)
  • if appropriate provide the name and contact phone number of DHHS Child Protection and/or the police officer who is investigating (this should be provided to the student if they are a mature minor)
  • provide information on whether they are likely to be contacted by DHHS Child Protection or Victoria Police (if known or appropriate)
  • inform them that the investigation may take some time and ask what further information they would like and how school staff can assist them, see: Referring to external supports
  • assure them that school wellbeing staff can provide support to their child (Victorian Government school staff can make referrals to Student Support Services or other wellbeing staff based at the school)
  • invite the parents/carers to attend a Student Support Group meeting where a Student Support Plan can be prepared to ensure that appropriate support can be provided for their child.

What to do if a student returns home before DHHS/Victoria Police advice is received

Ideally you will have received clear advice from Victoria Police/DHHS Child Protection on what information to share with parents/carers before their child returns to their care.

In some circumstances, a child may return to the care of their parent/carer before this advice has been received.

In these circumstances you should not share any information:

  • that may place the child or any other person at risk (e.g. risk of further harm, destruction of evidence or risk of retaliation against an allegation/incident)
  • if the student is an adult or mature minor and requests that you do not contact their parents /carers (unless you consider it necessary to inform the parents/carers in order to lessen or prevent a serious risk to the student’s safety).

After consideration, the school principal (or delegate) may decide that it is in the best interest of the child to provide the parent/carer with information:

  • on a disclosure or an alleged incident (providing only enough information so that the parent/carer can best protect and support their child)
  • (if appropriate) that a report has been made to DHHS and/or Victoria Police and it is likely they will be in contact
  • that there are supports available.

For advice and support on contacting parents/carers:

  • Government schools can contact the Incident Support and Operations Centre on 1800 126 126
  • Catholic schools can contact their Diocesan education office including:
    • Archdiocese of Melbourne: Legal Services on 03 9267 0228
    • Diocese of Sale: Executive Manager Industrial Relations/Human Resources on (03) 5622 6600
    • Diocese of Ballarat: Legal Services on (03) 5337 7124
    • Diocese of Sandhurst: Assistant to the Director: Legal, Industrial & Human Resources Consultant: Pastoral Wellbeing on (03) 5443 2377
  • Independent schools can contact Independent Schools Victoria on 03 9825 7200.

For more advice on what information can be shared, see: Privacy and Information Sharing.

For guidance, see: Information sharing with school community.

Resources

Four Critical Actions for schools