Your reporting and legal obligations

​​​Guidance on mandatory and other reporting obligations where there is concern that a child or young person has been, is being, or is at risk of being abused.

Understanding your obligations to protect children

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

As a school staff members you play a critical role in protecting children and must meet a range of legal obligations to identify, respond and report child abuse.

The easiest way to comply with your legal and moral obligations is to remember that you must report any reasonable suspicion that a child has been abused, or is at risk of being abused, by following the Four Critical Actions.

This includes abuse that has, or is suspected to have, taken place within or outside of school grounds and hours.

This section sets out your legal obligations in further detail.

Read video transcript

Willa: Hi again, and welcome to this section on understanding our obligations to respond to child abuse.

Dane and I are going to run through the critical points and you guys can read through the text if you need more detail.

Dane: So Willa, I want to make sure that the kids in my class are safe from abuse, and I’d do anything to make sure they are, but I don’t really know what my legal obligations are?

Willa: Well, as staff members and contractors our obligations to protect children in our care from abuse are very high and they are set out in different pieces of legislation, including:

  • Duty of Care obligations
  • Mandatory Reporting Obligations
  • New Criminal Offences; and
  • Ministerial Order No. 870- Child Safe Standards.

Dane: Can you explain how these obligations apply to me? How can I meet all of them?

Willa: Of course Dane. The easiest thing to remember is that this resource has been designed to help you to meet your obligations to respond to child abuse.

The easiest way to comply with these obligations is to remember to follow the Four Critical Actions any time you form a reasonable belief that a child has been abused, or is at risk of being abused.

Dane: Does this include abuse that might have occurred outside of school hours and not on school grounds?

Willa: It certainly does.

Dane: That seems easy enough, but I’d still like to take a look at each of our obligations.

Willa: Ok. We have a duty of care to take reasonable steps to protect the children under our care and supervision, from any harm that is reasonably foreseeable.

And that duty applies to all school staff, including teachers, principals, allied health staff and contractors.

Dane: What do you mean “reasonable steps”?

Willa: Well, reasonable steps will depend on the individual circumstances.

Put simply, we’d breach our duty of care if we failed to act in the way a reasonable or diligent professional would have acted in the same situation.

Dane: Hmm. Can you give me an example?

Willa: Well, if we suspected a child was being abused, reasonable steps would likely include:

  • acting on concerns and suspicions of abuse quickly
  • seeking appropriate advice or consulting with other professionals or agencies if we’re not sure what to do
  • reporting the suspected abuse
  • providing on-going support
  • and sharing information with other school based staff who can help.

Dane: Thanks Willa, but what Mandatory reporting? I’m a mandatory reporter aren’t I?

Willa: Yes you are. You probably already know about our Mandatory Reporting requirements?

There are certain classes of professionals, who are classified as “mandatory reporters”.

Dane: Like teachers?

Willa: Yes, within our school this includes:

  • Victorian Institute of Teaching registered teachers
  • the school nurse and any visiting doctor.

Dane: What about Principal Dixon?

Willa: Yep, him too.

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

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

Dane: And it’s a criminal offence not to report in these circumstances isn’t it?

Willa: Yes, and there are also a range of new criminal offences which have just been introduced

Willa: The Victorian Government has introduced new criminal offences to protect children from sexual abuse.

Dane: I’ve heard about these, they relate to all adults not just school staff, don’t they?

Willa: Yes, the new “Failure to Disclose” offence applies to all adults who form a reasonable belief that another adult may have committed a sexual offence against a child under 16 years of age, and fail to report this information to Victoria Police.

There is also a new offence called 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:

  • who is under 16 years and in the care and supervision of the organisation
  • or who may become the victim of a sexual offence committed by an adult associated with that organisation.

Dane: Ok so does that cover it?

Willa: Just one more.

Willa: A new Ministerial Order came into effect on the 1st of January 2016.

Dane: What is that?

Willa: It’s something that all schools must comply with if they are to remain registered with the VRQA.

The Order sets out the actions that schools must take in order to meet seven new Child Safe Standards, which have been introduced in Victoria. This whole Protect package has been designed to support schools to meet these obligations.

This resource will help us to meet Standard Five, which is about responding to abuse.

Dane: Ok, so let’s see if I’ve got this right. We’ve got a range of obligations to responding and report suspected abuse. In some circumstances it may even be a criminal offence if we fail to respond.

Willa: And the easiest way to meet these obligations?

Both: Follow the Four Critical Actions

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.

Who does this apply to?

Applies to all school staff.

Your duty of care also extends to students who are:

Aged 17 years and over

In circumstances where you suspect that a student over the age of 17 is subject to abuse you should still follow the Four Critical Actions for Schools. Although DHHS Child Protection generally work with children under 17 they can still be contacted with concerns relating to students 17 and over for referral and advice. Other services, such as the Orange Door, can provide services and support to adolescents.

Involved in student sexual behaviour

You have a duty of care towards all students involved in student sexual behaviour, including students exhibiting concerning/harmful behaviours, students impacted by such behaviours, and any other students in the school who may have witnessed and/or been affected by the sexual behaviour. See Identifying and Responding to Student Sexual Offending.

What must schools do?

The Four Critical Actions outlines steps to take and services to refer to depending on your assessment of the child’s situation. You must follow the Four Critical Actions, including reporting to Victoria Police or DHHS Child Protection, or referring to other services like Child FIRST/Orange Door, to ensure that you fulfil your duty of care obligations.

For more information, see: Report abuse

What does 'reasonable steps' mean?

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 child abuse, reasonable steps may include (but are not necessarily limited to):

  • acting on concerns and suspicions of abuse 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 child abuse to appropriate authorities such as Victoria Police and DHHS Child Protection
  • arranging counselling and/or other appropriate welfare support for the child
  • providing ongoing support to the child – 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 ongoing support to the child.
More information

For more information, see: Report abuse

Mandatory reporting

A mandatory reporter who fails to comply with reporting obligations may be committing a criminal offence.

Who does this apply to?

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
  • Registered psychologists (from 1 March 2019)
What must schools do?

All mandatory reporters must make a report to Victoria Police and/or the Department of Health and Human Services (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 parent have not protected, or are unlikely to protect, the child from harm of that type.  

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

Mandatory reporters must also follow the Four Critical Actions to ensure they fulfil all their legal obligations.

More information

For more information, see: Reporting obligations

Failure to disclose

Failure to disclose is a criminal offence.

Who does this apply to?

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 Victoria Police.

A person will not be guilty of the offence if they have a reasonable excuse for not disclosing the information. A reasonable excuse includes:

  • a reasonable fear for their own or another person’s safety

    Failing to disclose a sexual offence based on concerns for the interests of the perpetrator or organisation (e.g. concerns about reputation, legal liability or financial status) will not be regarded as a reasonable excuse.

  • a reasonable belief that the information has already been disclosed to Victoria Police or DHHS Child Protection and the person has no new information to add to the disclosure.

Additional exemptions apply where:

  • the victim is aged 16 years or over and requests confidentiality
  • the person is a child when they formed a reasonable belief
  • the information would be privileged
  • the information is a confidential communication disclosed to a counsellor or a registered medical practitioner (e.g. in a school context, this exemption may apply to a psychologist or a social worker who engages in a counselling relationship with the victim of a sexual offence)
  • the information is in the public domain
  • police officers are acting in the course of their duty.
What must schools do?

All adults, not just professionals who work with children, have a legal obligation to report to Victoria Police where they form a reasonable belief that another adult may have committed a sexual offence against a child under the age of 16.

More information

Failure to protect

Failure to protect is a criminal offence.

Who does this apply to?

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 a victim of a sexual offence committed by an adult associated with the organisation (e.g. employee, contractors, volunteer, visitor); AND
  • has the power or responsibility to remove that risk; AND
  • negligently fails to remove or reduce the risk of harm.

Within a school setting, a position of authority includes:

  • principals
  • assistant principals
  • staff in institutional management positions (for example in government schools this includes Regional Directors and other senior managers).
What must schools do?

Any staff member in a position of authority who becomes aware that an adult associated with their organisation (employee, contractor, visitor) poses substantial risk of committing a sexual offence against any child under the age of 16 under their care, supervision or authority, must take all reasonable steps to remove or reduce that risk.

More information

​Ministerial Or​der No 870: Child Safe Standards

All Victorian schools must comply with 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).

Who does this apply to?

Applies to all Victorian schools.

School governing authorities (which includes 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.

What must schools do?

All Victorian schools 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 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.

More information

For more information, see: Ministerial Order 870

For support on how to meet these obligations, see: Child Safe Standards: Creating a child safe environment

Reportable conduct scheme

The Department has a responsibility to report any allegations of 'reportable conduct' raised against Department employees who are over 18 years to the Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP).

There is an allegation of reportable conduct where a person has a 'reasonable belief' that there has been:

  • a sexual offence, sexual misconduct or physical violence committed against, with or in the presence of a child; OR
  • behaviour causing significant emotional or psychological harm to a child; OR
  • significant neglect of a child; OR 
  • misconduct involving any of the above.

The scope of ‘reportable conduct’ is wide, and includes:

  • information about something that is alleged to have occurred outside the course of the person’s employment or engagement with the school
  • sexual offences, sexual misconduct or physical violence committed in the presence of a child (which may include family violence committed by a school staff member in front of their own child).

However, student-to-student abuse is not covered by the Scheme.

Who does this apply to?

All Department employees (including a principal, teacher, corporate staff member or school council employee), contractors, volunteers, or allied health staff members .

What must schools do?

To ensure you fulfil all of your legal obligations, principals or other school staff should follow the Four Critical Actions. These actions will support you to follow the notification steps required by the Reportable Conduct Scheme.

To respond to an allegation of reportable conduct in a government school, principals or other school personnel do not need to make a report directly to the Commission for Children and Young People. Government school staff members should notify the principal of the allegation, and government school principals must then notify the Employee Conduct Branch ((03) 7022 0005) as soon as possible. The Employee Conduct Branch will then report the allegation to the Commission for Children and Young People, on behalf of the Department.

To respond to an allegation of reportable conduct in:

  • a Catholic school, Catholic school principals should contact:
    • Archdiocese of Melbourne: Industrial Relations Unit on (03) 9267 0431 or by email on ceoir@cem.edu.au
    • Diocese of Sale: Executive Manager Industrial Relations/Human Resources on (03) 5622 6600
    • Diocese of Ballarat:
      • Education Consultant or Co-ordinator for Professional Standards on (03) 5337 7124
      • If the reportable conduct is in relation to a principal, contact the Director of Catholic Education on (03) 5337 7135 or by email on director@ceoballarat.catholic.edu.au
    • Diocese of Sandhurst: Assistant to the Director: Legal, Industrial & Human Resources or Consultant: Pastoral Wellbeing on (03) 5443 2377
  • an independent school, independent school principals should directly contact the Commission for Children and Young People.

The Reportable Conduct Scheme does not change a person’s mandatory reporting or other reporting obligations. For example, school staff must still contact Victoria Police if they suspect a criminal offence involving a child has occurred, in addition to following the notification steps required by the Reportable Conduct Scheme.

Further information regarding the Scheme is available at:

More information

For more information, see: Reportable conduct scheme

Report 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 18 years) sexually abusive behaviour to the Department of Health and Human Services (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 10-17 years can be granted a therapeutic treatment order as an alternative pathway to treatment that does not involve criminal prosecution
  • therapeutic treatment can be extended beyond a child’s 18th birthday, on the order of a court where Child Protection has assessed this as appropriate.

More information

Read the Reporting Obligations policy
Available in the School Policy and Advisory Guide
Read the Reportable Conduct Scheme policy
Available in the School Policy and Advisory Guide
Read the Duty of Care policy
Available in the School Policy and Advisory Guide