This section includes:
- the four critical actions you must take
guidance for schools to meet their obligations under Child Safe Standard 5: procedures for responding 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.
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.
DHHS Child Protection - 24 hour services
(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
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.
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