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 their parents or carers are notified as soon as possible, as long as this approach is agreed to by Victoria Police or Department Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) so as not to place the child at further risk or impede an investigation. This enables the parents or carers to take steps to:
- prevent or limit their child’s exposure to further abuse
- make sure that their child receives the support that they require.
There are some circumstances where contacting parents and carers may place a child or adult at greater risk.
After you have formed a suspicion or reasonable belief that a child is subject to abuse, and before contacting the parents or carers, your principal (or delegate) must seek advice from Victoria Police or DFFH 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 or carers at this stage.
The principal (or delegate) may be advised not to contact the parents or carers (or one particular parent or carer) in circumstances where:
- a parent or 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 or 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 or carers not be notified (in these circumstances ideally the child will nominate another responsible adult to be contacted). Victorian Government school staff can also contact the department's Legal Division at (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 or DFFH that it is appropriate to contact the parents, the principal and reporting staff member (ideally together) should make sensitive and professional contact with the appropriate parents or 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, or suspicion of child abuse
- outline the action the school staff have taken to date, including who the incident, disclosure, or suspicion has been reported to if appropriate (noting that the anonymity of the person who made the report to DFFH Child Protection must be protected if this is their wish)
- if appropriate provide the name and contact phone number of DFFH Child Protection 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 DFFH 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, refer to: non-school based support services for children impacted by abuse
- 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 or 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 DFFH or Victoria Police advice is received
Ideally you will have received clear advice from Victoria Police or DFFH Child Protection on what information to share with parents or carers before their child returns to their care.
In some circumstances, a child may return to the care of their parent or 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 (for example: risk of further harm, destruction of evidence, risk of retaliation against an allegation or incident)
- if the student is an adult or mature minor and requests that you do not contact their parents or carers, unless you consider it necessary to inform the parents or 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 or carer with information:
- on a disclosure or an alleged incident (providing only enough information so that the parent or carer can best protect and support their child)
- (if appropriate) that a report has been made to DFFH or Victoria Police and it is likely they will be in contact (depending on who the report has been made to)
- that there are supports available.
Advice and support on contacting parents or 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: 03 9267 0228
- Diocese of Sale - Executive Manager Industrial Relations and Human Resources: (03) 5622 6600
- Diocese of Ballarat - Legal Services: (03) 5337 7124
- Diocese of Sandhurst - Assistant to the Director of Legal, Industrial and Human Resources: (03) 5443 2377.
Independent schools can contact Independent Schools Victoria on 03 9825 7200.
For more advice on what information can be shared, refer to privacy and information sharing.
For guidance, refer to information sharing with the school community.
Resources to support the four critical actions for schools