Report child abuse

​​​​​This section includes:

  • ​the four critical actions you must take
  • guidance for schools to meet their obligations under Child Safe Standard 5: procedures for respondin​g to and reporting suspected child abuse.

Four critical actions

Follow the four critical actions when responding to an incident, disclosure or suspicion of child abuse:

When must I act?

You must act as soon as you witness and incident of form a reasonable belief that a child has been or is at risk of being abused. This section steps you through when and how to respond if you:

Witness 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.

Is there an immediate risk to health and safety?

Form 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 or student sexual offending.

Go to: Action 2: Reporting to authorities

In some circumstances, you may also form a belief that a student's sexual behaviour is indicative of their own experience of child abuse. Physical or behavioural signs may be the only indication that a child is impacted by abuse.

For information on how to recognise physical and behavioural indicators of sexual abuse, see: Identify child abuse

Receive a disclosure from a 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 the four critical actions

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 a disclosure is below.

Receive a disclosure from a former student

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

Student is of school age and attending a Victorian school

If the former student is currently of school age and attending a Victorian school you must follow the Four Critical Actions For Schools

Student is no longer of school age or attending a Victorian school

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

Form 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.

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 Identify Signs of Abuse)
  • behavioural indicators of abuse lead you to believe that the child has been abused (see Identify 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

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 (2005) 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'.

Document your actions

As a school staff member, you must keep clear and comprehensive notes relating to incidents, disclosures and allegations of child abuse. It is strongly recommended that you use the responding to child abuse template:

If the incident, disclosure or allegation is related to student sexual offending use the following template:

This information may be sought at a later date if the matter is the subject of court proceedings. These notes may also later assist you if you are required to provide evidence to support their decisions. 

Strategies for managing a disclosure

When managing a disclosure of abuse or student sexual offending, 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 above.

Confidentiality

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 help you get some assistance.''

When managing a disclosure you 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 douse 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 you should not:
  • ask questions that are investigative and potentially invasive. This may make the child feel uncomfortable and cause the child to withdraw
  • go 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).

Privacy and information sharing

As a school staff member you are permitted to share certain information about a child who has been impacted by abuse. Reading guidance on privacy and information sharing.

Supporting actions

Read video transcript

Dane: Hi again, and welcome to the section where we will look at the Four Critical Actions that as school staff members, we must take if we form a reasonable suspicion that a child is being abused, or at risk of abuse.

Willa: These actions are summarised in the 4 Critical Actions poster and detailed on the website.

Dane: So firstly we need to know when to act.

Willa: That’s right Dane. It’s pretty simple. We must act as soon as we witness an incident, or form a reasonable belief that a child has, or is at risk of being abused.

Dane: What’s considered a “reasonable belief”?

Willa: A reasonable belief is a deliberately low threshold. We should err on the side of caution and act even if we’re not sure. It’s the role of authorities to investigate and take action.

Dane: So you don’t have to witness abuse to form a reasonable belief?

Willa: No, you must act even if someone else tells you about the abuse. And also Dane, it’s really important that we keep clear comprehensive notes about incidents and suspicions. The Responding to Suspected Child Abuse template (which is on the website) has been designed to support us to record all of the critical detail.

Dane: Ok Willa, now we know when to act, let’s get into the Four Critical Actions

Dane: Ok so this all seems pretty straight-forward. If a child is or is at immediate risk of harm we’d have to ensure their safety by:

  • separating the alleged victim and others involved
  • administering first aid
  • and calling 000 for an ambulance or for police if needed.

Willa: Yep. We’d also have to:

  • identify someone at the school for future liaison with Police
  • and take reasonable steps to preserve evidence.

Dane: Like not cleaning up a potential crime scene or letting potential witnesses discuss the incident?

Willa: Exactly

Willa: So one of the most important things we can do, is report suspected abuse to the authorities, so they can investigate and take action to protect the child or children.

The first thing we need to determine is “where does the source of the suspected abuse come from?”

Dane: So how would you respond if you suspect that someone within the school, like a staff member, contractor or volunteer may be perpetrating child abuse?

Willa: Simple. You would contact the police straight away. You also have to alert your school principal or leadership team. And depending on whether you are at a government or Catholic school you’d also have to contact the Department or your local diocesan education office.

Dane: Ok, so what if you suspect that a family member or someone else in the community has perpetrated the abuse?

Willa: You would have to contact DHHS Child Protection, and if you suspect that the abuse is sexual you’d also have to contact Victoria Police.

Dane: OK, and you’d also have to let your Principal or leadership team know too?

Willa: Definitely, and again depending on whether you are at a government or Catholic school you would also have to contact the Department or your local diocesan education office.

Dane: So it seems obvious that you’d need to contact a child’s parents to let them know what’s going on so that they can support their child.

Willa: Ideally yes, but there are some circumstances where contacting parents or carers may place a child at greater risk.

This is why we must seek advice from DHHS Child Protection or Victoria Police to determine what information can be shared. And then pending this advice we’d contact the parents or carers as soon as possible.

Dane: What about if a student asks us not to contact their parents?

Willa: We would talk to the Police and DHHS about that too. And there is more advice on this and suggestions on how to sensitively contact parents on the website too.

Dane: Almost there- Action - number - 4.

Willa: This is a really critical step. We know that child abuse can cause significant and ongoing trauma, and that schools play a central role in addressing this.

Dane: We also have a Duty of Care to ensure that the students feel safe and supported at school don’t we?

Willa: That’s right. In order to provide holistic support we need to undertake careful planning and work in partnership with wellbeing and health professionals and where appropriate, parents or carers.

Dane: What are some of the things we should do?

Willa: Well, we should:

  • establish regular communication between the child’s parent/carer (if this is appropriate)
  • convene a Student Support Group to plan for, and monitor support
  • develop and implement a Student Support Plan, which documents the planned support strategies.

There is also advice on the website on how to provide culturally and developmentally appropriate support, including specific actions to take if a child is Aboriginal (like me) or is an international student.

Dane: Thanks Willa, now I know when to act, and how. Is there anything else I need to remember?

Willa: Just that you should act every time you form a reasonable belief that a child has been, or is at risk of abuse.

Even when you’re not sure and even if the Principal or someone else at the school recommends that you don’t. It’s your responsibility.

Oh, and you should continue to report anything else that gives you further cause to believe a child is being abused.

This helps authorities get further insight into what might be happening.

Dane: Thanks Willa.

Contacts

131 278
DHHS Child Protection - 24 hour services
000
Victoria Police
(03) 9603 7999
Department of Education and Training Security Services Unit

Contacts​ for Catholic education

Catholic schools should contact their Diocesan Education office for support and advice:

  • 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: Child Protection Officer on (03) 5443 2377

Catholic Education Commission of Victoria: Child Safety 

Relevant authorities

  • DHHS Child Protection: Under the Children Youth and Families Act 2005 the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has a responsibility to provide child protection services for all children and young people under the age of 17 years, or where a protection order is in place, for children under the age of 18.
  • Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCIT): Both DHHS and Victoria Police have statutory responsibilities under the Children Youth and Families Act 2005. DHHS Child Protection is the lead agency responsible for the care and protection of children, while Victoria Police is responsible for criminal investigations into alleged child abuse. ​
  • Child FIRST: Child and Family Information, Referral and Support Teams (Child FIRST) were introduced to give families an opportunity to obtain family services earlier at their own request or following a referral from others, including school staff.

Documents

This information has been taken from the Identifying and responding to all forms of abuse in Victorian schools and Identifying and responding to student sexual offending guidance.

To view the guides in full, see:

To download the four critical actions, see:

Resources for staff