Action 4: Providing ongoing support

Outlines actions that schools must take, where deemed appropriate, to support students who are impacted by child abuse.

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

Experiences of child abuse, including exposure to family violence, can cause trauma and significantly impact the mental health and wellbeing of children. In addition to reporting and referral to relevant authorities, as a school staff member, you play a central role in addressing this trauma and have a duty of care to ensure that the students feel safe and supported at school.

Working together and planning support

Providing holistic support to address the trauma and wellbeing issues associated with child abuse (including exposure to family violence) is best achieved through careful planning and working in partnership with wellbeing professionals, parents/carers and educators.

If a student is impacted by suspected abuse, and it is deemed appropriate, school staff must:

  • establish regular communication between staff and the child’s parent,  guardian or carer (if this is safe and appropriate) to discuss a child’s progress, wellbeing and the effectiveness of planned strategies. This may be undertaken through convening a Student Support Group (Student Support Groups usually comprise school wellbeing staff, teachers, allied health professionals and where appropriate the student and their parent or carer) to plan ongoing monitoring, support, and follow-up of the child’s health and wellbeing
  • develop and implement a Student Support Plan, which documents the planned support strategies and includes timeframes for review. Where possible, these support strategies should be informed by allied health and wellbeing professionals with expertise in addressing child abuse and trauma.

Engaging allied health and wellbeing professionals

Where appropriate school staff should engage allied health and wellbeing supports and services to meet the wellbeing needs of the child impacted by abuse, including exposure to family violence.

For example, schools can engage with:

  • Student Support Services (government schools only)
  • school wellbeing staff members
  • Respectful Relationships Liaison Officers (in instances of family violence)
  • allied health and wellbeing professionals engaged by the student and families.

Allied health and wellbeing professionals can provide:

  • intensive support to children and their families
  • critical input into student support plans
  • advice to school staff members on how to appropriately support the student.

Government schools can contact their regional office for further information on the range of school-based support services that may be locally available.

Catholic schools can contact their Victorian Catholic Education Office for further detail, specifically:

Referring to external supports

School staff can also refer to the wide range of non-school based support services, which specialise in providing tailored support and advice for children impacted by abuse.

For example, schools may consider referrals to:

  • family violence services including The Lookout and Safe Steps
  • Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA), who provide expert support for victims of sexual assault
  • Headspace, who provide tailored support for children whose mental health is impacted by exposure to abuse.

For further information, refer to Counselling/support organisations (PDF, 2MB).

External support for government schools

Government schools can contact their regional office for advice on local and specialised services.

External support for Catholic schools

Catholic schools can contact their Victorian Catholic Education Office for further detail, specifically:

Independent schools can contact Independent Schools Victoria on (03) 9825 7200.

Providing developmentally and culturally appropriate support

While a child’s background should not impact a decision to report suspected abuse, school staff need to be sensitive to a child’s individual circumstances when providing support and working with families impacted by abuse.

It is a requirement under the Child Safe Standards that school governing authorities must 'take account of the diversity of all children', including (but not limited to) the needs of:

Children with disabilities

When supporting a child with a disability who has been impacted by child abuse it is critical to consider the child's:

  • chronological age, developmental age and their cognitive functioning in order to tailor developmentally appropriate support strategies
  • vulnerability to on-going abuse (children with disabilities disproportionately fall prey to child abuse, in particular child sexual abuse) when considering the need to make a further report or implement risk mitigation strategies.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children

When supporting a Koorie child who has been impacted by child abuse it is essential that school staff provide culturally appropriate support.

  • Principals from Government schools must notify their Regional Office to ensure that the Koorie Engagement Support Officer can arrange appropriate support for the child or advise on culturally appropriate support strategies.
  • Principals from Catholic schools must notify their Victorian Catholic Education Office to ensure that the Diocesan Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Officer can arrange appropriate support for the child and advise on culturally appropriate support strategies.

Children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds

When supporting a child from CALD backgrounds who has been impacted by child abuse it is essential that schools provide culturally appropriate support. However this should not detract from ensuring the child’s safety and wellbeing.

Where possible schools should work with relevant cultural support services (ensuring that the confidentiality of the student and family is maintained) and engage an interpreter when communicating with the student’s family if needed.

Students with refugee backgrounds

When working with children from refugee backgrounds who have been impacted by child abuse it is important to recognise that they (and their families) may also be experiencing trauma, dislocation and loss. This trauma may significantly affect family wellbeing and parenting capacity and whilst these issues also require sensitive consideration, they should not detract from ensuring the child’s safety and wellbeing (or impact on decisions to report suspected abuse).

School staff should consider contacting services that specialise in providing support to refugees (ensuring that the confidentiality of the child and their family is maintained).

Where possible schools should work with relevant cultural support services (ensuring that the confidentiality of the student and family is maintained) and engage an interpreter when communicating with the student’s family if needed.

Schools should also engage an interpreter when communicating with the student’s family if needed.

International students

Principals must ensure appropriate measures are taken for the welfare of international students. This may require additional support given that the child’s family may not be present to provide support within the home environment.

For more information, refer to Abuse relating to international students.

Student-to-student offending

In the context of student-to-student offending, school staff have a duty of care to support all students who are impacted by the abuse – this will include the students who were subjected to the abuse, the students who perpetrated the abuse, and any students who witnessed or were otherwise impacted by the abuse.

If the abuse concerns an incident of student sexual offending, refer to Identifying and Responding to Student Sexual Offending (PDF, 7MB).

Students who are victims of a student sexual offence

In consultation with the Incident Support and Operations Centre (government schools), Victorian Catholic Education Office (Catholic schools) and Victoria Police and DFFH Child Protection (if appropriate), schools:

  • must develop a student support plan to determine and document support strategies for students who are the alleged victims and students impacted by student sexual offending to address their wellbeing
  • should (where appropriate) convene a student support group to inform planning
  • should (where appropriate) consult with wellbeing professionals (including student support services officers in government schools) to support the student.
  • should (where appropriate) make referrals into specialised non-school based supports, including CASA who provide expert support for victims of sexual assault.

Students who have engaged in student sexual offending

In consultation with the Incident Support and Operations Centre (government schools), Victorian Catholic Education Office (Catholic schools) and Victoria Police and or DFFH Child Protection, schools:

  • must develop and regularly review a student support plan to establish and implement safety and support strategies, including the return to school strategies
  • should (where appropriate) convene a student support group to inform the student support plan
  • should (where appropriate) engage with wellbeing professionals (including student support services officers in government schools) to support the student who has engaged in student sexual offending
  • should (where appropriate) make referrals into specialised non-school based supports, including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) who provide specialist clinical mental health treatment and care.

In some cases, children aged over 10 and under 18 years may be referred to Sexually Abusive Behaviour Treatment Services. These services provide treatment for 12 to 24 months to ensure that early intervention services are provided to prevent ongoing and more serious sexual offences in adulthood.

Often this referral will be made by DFFH Child Protection and a young person may be placed on a Therapeutic Treatment Order or a Therapeutic Treatment Placement Order. Children, young people and their families are also able to access treatment programs in a voluntary capacity.

Students transferring schools due to student sexual offending

If as a result of student sexual offending, a student needs to transfer to another school:

  • government schools must contact their regional director and the Incident Support and Operations Centre
  • Catholic schools must contact their Victorian Catholic Education Office.

Providing support for other impacted children

It can be stressful for other children involved in any incidents, disclosures or suspicions of child abuse. Principals must ensure that other impacted children are offered and provided appropriate support.

Children who are interviewed at school

All children (including children who are alleged to have perpetrated abuse) must be independently supported in any interviews conducted by Victoria Police or DFFH Child Protection at school.

Where possible and appropriate the child’s parent or carer should be present for these interviews. However, if this is not appropriate or practicable the Principal (or delegate) may be identified as the independent person or support person for the child for the purpose of the interview.

Government schools should ensure they comply with the Police and Child Protection Interviews when considering Victoria Police or DFFH requests to interview a child at school.

Police interviews

In the event that Victoria Police schedule an interview with a child at the school, the Principal (or delegate) must advise the child’s parent or carer (where advised to be appropriate, as well as:

Government schools:

  • Koorie Engagement Support Officer if the child is Koorie
  • International Division if the child is an international student on (03) 9637 3990.

Catholic schools:

  • Archdiocese of Melbourne: Policy 2.19a Police and Department of Human Services Interview Protocols and 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: Assistant to the Director: Legal, Industrial & Human Resources on (03) 5443 2377.

Police interviews at school where the child is the alleged victim or witness

The information below includes critical detail on when and how police interviews are conducted at school and what role the Principal (or delegate) should play if they are nominated as the support person.

  • Police should only interview children at school as a matter of urgency or necessity.
  • A request must be made to the Principal (or delegate) who must be advised of the reason for the interview and the reason why the interview must be conducted at the school.
  • The child’s parent or carer should be present where it is practical and appropriate to make these arrangements. If the parent or carer is not able to be present, an independent person must be present during the interview (the role of the independent person is to ensure the child understands what is happening and to provide support).
  • Principals (or delegate) may if necessary, act as an independent person where the child is a victim, unless they believe it will place them in a conflict of interest to do so.
  • As an independent person, school staff must refrain from providing their opinions or accounts for events during interviews.

Police interviews at school where a student has allegedly abused another child

If the police need to speak with a student who has allegedly abused another child this should preferably be done in the presence of the parent or carer, or another independent person that is not a school staff member.

DFFH Child Protection interviews at school

DFFH Child Protection may conduct interviews of children at Victorian schools without parental knowledge or consent of the parent or carer (although this will only occur in exceptional circumstances and if it is in the child’s best interests to proceed in this manner).

The information below includes critical detail on when and how DFFH Child Protection interviews are conducted at school and what role the Principal (or delegate) should play if they are nominated as the support person.

  • DFFH Child Protection will notify the school staff of any intention to interview a child at the school. This may occur regardless of whether the school staff member is the source of the report to DFFH Child Protection.
  • When DFFH Child Protection practitioners arrive at the school, the school Principal (or delegate) should ask to see their identification before allowing DFFH Child Protection to have access to the child - refer to the Visitors in School Policy (government schools only).
  • Children should be advised of their right to have a supportive adult present during interviews. If the child is too young to understand the significance, a supportive adult should be provided even though they may not have consented or requested this to occur.
  • A staff member may be identified as a support person for the child during the interview. Prior to the commencement of the interview, the DFFH Child Protection practitioner should always authorise the staff member of the school to receive information regarding DFFH Child Protection’s investigation. This could be conducted verbally or in writing using the relevant DFFH Child Protection proforma.
  • As an independent person, school staff must refrain from providing their opinions or accounts for events during interviews.

Providing support for impacted school staff members

It can also be stressful for staff involved in any incidents, disclosures or suspicions of child abuse including family violence. It is important to remember that staff members may also have experienced, or be experiencing family violence or abuse in their own lives. Principals must support impacted staff members to access necessary support.

Government schools

School staff requiring wellbeing support can contact the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) on 1300 361 008. For further information on specific Departmental supports for staff experiencing family violence, please visit Family Violence — Information for Employees.

Catholic schools

Catholic school staff can contact:

Complying with subpoenas or court attendance

A subpoena or witness summons is a court order that compels you to produce documents or attend court and give evidence or do both of these things.

You are usually issued with a subpoena or witness summons because one of the parties to the legal proceedings believes that you may have information or documentation that is relevant to the legal proceeding.

If a government school staff member receives a subpoena or witness summons in the context of their employment, they should contact the Legal Division for advice and assistance in meeting their legal obligations.

Department of Education Legal Division (03) 9637 3146

Responding to complaints or concerns

There may be concerns or complaints about the school staff's management of an incident, in particular by parents and carers. This is a very stressful time for parents and carers, and concerns that they do not believe have been dealt with fairly may quickly escalate.

As a first step school staff must consider whether the complaint raises any concerns about unreported abuse or risk of abuse.

Complaint process

Government school complaint process

Principals or delegates of government schools should follow the department’s standard parent complaints process.

If the complaint is related to sexual abuse, government school Principals (or delegates) should seek advice from the Incident Support and Operations Centre on 1800 126 126 and the Legal Division on (03) 9637 3146.

Read the full Parent Complaints policy(opens in a new window) available in the School Policy and Advisory Guide.

Catholic school complaint process

For support in managing complaints Catholic schools should contact:

  • Archdiocese of Melbourne: Office of Professional Conduct, Ethics and Investigation on (03) 9267 0228
  • Diocese of Sale: Senior Education Consultant on (03) 5622 6600
  • Diocese of Ballarat: Child Safety on (03) 5337 7135
  • Diocese of Sandhurst: Assistant to the Director: Legal, Industrial and Human Resources on (03) 5443 2377

Counselling and support organisations

Resources

Four Critical Actions for schools: printable resources.

Updated