This page includes information on the Four Critical Actions (PDF, 215KB) you must take, and guidance for schools to meet their obligations under Child Safe Standard 5: procedures for responding to and reporting suspected child abuse.
You will also find critical detail and links to supporting documents, including the Responding to Suspected Child Abuse: Template, which is strongly recommended schools complete when responding to any form of suspected abuse.
Four Critical Actions
Follow the Four Critical Actions when responding to an incident, disclosure or suspicion of child abuse:
Action 1: Respond to an emergency
Actions you must take if a child has just been abused, or is at immediate risk of harm. Read more: Action 1: Respond to an emergency.
Action 2: Report to authorities
You must report all incidents, suspicions and disclosures of child abuse. Failure to report physical and sexual child abuse may amount to a criminal offence. Read more: Action 2: Report to authorities.
Action 3: Contact parents or carers
When to notify parents and carers if it is suspected their child is a victim of abuse, and which relevant authorities need to be notified. Read more: Action 3: Contact parents or carers.
Action 4: Provide ongoing support
Actions that schools must take, where deemed appropriate, to support students who are impacted by child abuse. Read more: Action 4: Provide ongoing support.
You must act
As a school staff member, you must act as soon as you witness an incident or form a reasonable belief that a child has been or is at risk of being abused, including exposure to family violence.
You must act if you form a suspicion or reasonable belief that abuse has occurred or is at risk of occurring, even if you are unsure and have not directly observed child abuse (for example, if the victim or another person tells you about the abuse).
You should make sufficient enquiries to form a reasonable belief and to determine a child’s immediate needs. However, once a reasonable belief has been formed, it is not your role to investigate. This is the role of the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) Child Protection or Victoria Police.
Child abuse includes any instance of physical or sexual abuse (including grooming), emotional or psychological harm, serious or significant neglect and family violence involving a child. If you hold significant concerns for a child’s wellbeing which do not appear to be a result of child abuse you must still act, and refer to responding to other concerns about the wellbeing of a child.
This section steps you through when and how to respond if you:
- witness an incident
- form a suspicion or reasonable belief
- receive a disclosure (current student
- receive a disclosure (former student).
It also outlines the threshold for forming a reasonable belief.
If, after considering this content you:
- are unsure whether a witnessed incident, suspicion or disclosure should lead you to form a reasonable belief that child abuse has, or is at risk of occurring, you should seek further advice from:
- hold significant concerns for a child’s wellbeing, which do not appear to be a result of child abuse you should still act (refer to responding to other concerns about the wellbeing of a child), which will support you in making appropriate referrals to Child FIRST/Orange Door, DFFH Child Protection and Victoria Police).
How to respond if you witness an incident or suspect child abuse
Witness an incident
If you witness an incident where you believe a child has been subject to or may be at risk of abuse, including exposure to family violence, you must take immediate action to protect the safety of the children involved.
Is there an immediate risk to health and safety?
- if Yes – go straight to: Action 1: Responding to an emergency
- if No – go straight to: Action 2: Reporting to authorities.
Form a suspicion or reasonable belief
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 during 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.
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 by following the Four Critical Actions.
For further guidance on managing a disclosure, refer to strategies for managing a disclosure.
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.
If the former student is:
- currently of school age and attending a Victorian school - you must follow the Four Critical Actions
- no longer of school age or attending a Victorian school - you must still act.
- In an emergency, or if you believe that another person is at immediate risk, call Triple Zero (000)
- If there is no immediate danger, contact:
- your local police station to speak with a police officer
- your local Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT) for child sexual assaults involving institutional, government or religious organisations where the assaults involved a single complainant and offender.
- the Victoria Police Sexual Crimes Squad on 1800 110 007, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for historic and new allegations of child sexual abuse.
This guidance is intended to support:
- government schools to report to relevant areas within the department (this may include the principal of the school, the regional office, the Employee Conduct Branch and the Incident Support and Operations Centre)
- Catholic schools to contact their Diocesan education office
- independent schools to notify their School Board.
Documenting your actions
As a school staff member, you must keep clear and comprehensive notes relating to incidents, disclosures and allegations of child abuse. To do this, it is strongly recommended that you use the Responding to suspected child abuse template:
- Responding to suspected child abuse: template (DOCX, 194KB)
- Responding to suspected child abuse: template (PDF, 250.74KB)
- Responding to student sexual offending: template (DOCX, 194KB)
- Responding to student sexual offending: template (PDF, (289KB)
When using the template, you should aim to provide as much information within the template as possible. These records will help make a report of the abuse to the relevant authorities. Note that you only need to complete the relevant sections of the template.
Even if you decide not to make a report, you must still document the incident, disclosure or allegation and the reasons for your decision.
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 your decisions, refer to complying with subpoenas or court attendance.
If you do not use the template, you must still ensure you are making an effort to collect all the information that is required by the template.
Due to the nature of mandatory reporting and other child abuse reporting records, schools must ensure that the records are kept securely. For example, if you have a hard copy file, you should make sure it is kept in a locked cabinet. If you have an electronic record, you need to make sure it is password protected and only staff members who need the information have access.
Schools should ensure that mandatory reporting and other child abuse reporting documents are not destroyed as they may be needed at a later time (for example, as evidence in future court proceedings).
Strategies for managing a disclosure
When managing disclosure of abuse, you must respond in an appropriate and supportive manner.
All disclosures of abuse must be taken seriously and addressed immediately by following the Four Critical Actions.
Disclosures from a student
It is the role of school staff members to listen and respond appropriately to a child’s concerns. When disclosure of abuse is made, or you are concerned that a child has been abused or is at risk of being abused, you must help the child to understand that you need to seek assistance for them and cannot keep the discussion or their disclosure confidential between you and the student.
This should be done in language appropriate to the student’s age and stage of development. For example:
- to a younger student: ‘I need some help to support you and am not going to be able to keep what you have told me between you and me, I will need to tell …[who you will tell]…..to work out what to do to support you
- to an older student: ‘The information you have given me has made me very concerned for your welfare and I will need to share this information with my manager to identify how we may be able to support you. I may also need to talk to people who work in the child safety area, to help keep you safe.’
In instances where the abuse involves a family member (such as family violence), it may be appropriate to reassure the child that sharing this information is an important part of making their family safer and that you will be talking with other professionals who will help identify the next steps. For further information, refer to contacting parents and carers.
When managing a disclosure from a student, staff should
- listen to the student and allow them to speak
- stay calm and use a neutral tone with no urgency and where possible use the child's language and vocabulary (you do not want to frighten the child or interrupt the child)
- be gentle, patient and non-judgemental throughout
- highlight to the student it was important for them to tell you about what has happened
- assure them that they are not to blame for what has occurred
- do not ask leading questions, for example 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
- do not pressure the child into telling you more than they want to, they will be asked a lot of questions by other professionals and it is important not to force them to retell what has occurred multiple times
- reassure the child that you believe them and that disclosing the matter was important for them to do
- use verbal facilitators such as, ‘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 (‘what happened next?’)
- tell the child in the age-appropriate language you are required to report to the relevant authority to help stop the abuse, and explain the role of these authorities if appropriate (for a young child this may be as simple as saying ‘I will need to talk to people to work out what to do next to help you’).
When managing a disclosure from a student, staff should avoid
- displaying expressions of panic or shock
- asking questions that are investigative and potentially invasive (this may make the child feel uncomfortable and cause the child to withdraw)
- going over the information repeatedly (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)
- making any comments that would lead the student to believe that what has happened is their fault
- making promises to the child about what will occur next or that things will be different given the process can be unpredictable and different for each child depending on their circumstances (instead reassure them that you and others will do your best to help).
Disclosures from a parent/carer or sibling
There may be circumstances where a student’s sibling, parent or carer discloses abuse. For example, a student’s parent or carer may disclose family violence (noting that if a child’s parent or carer is experiencing family violence it is highly likely that the child is experiencing abuse).
In this circumstance, it is important to draw on the same strategies that you would for a student (such as listening, being non-judgemental, patient, and not applying pressure). Regarding experiences of family violence, it is particularly critical to remain non-judgemental, avoid apportioning blame to the victim, or victims, and highlight that everyone has the right to feel safe.
This can be done by focusing questions to determine what the risk of harm may be and what (if any) supports and interventions are in place to protect the wellbeing of the child and avoiding statements like 'why don’t you leave?'
For example, you could use questions to explore the victim’s view about their level of risk and risk to their child, such as ‘Do you think the violence will continue? Is the violence getting worse?’.
It is also important to remember that many victims of family violence experience fear for their safety (and the safety of their children) in disclosing their experiences. They may have been threatened by the perpetrator of violence, or threats made about their children’s lives. For further information, refer to supports for students experiencing family violence.
Forming a reasonable belief
If you witness, suspect, or receive a disclosure of child abuse including exposure to family violence, 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.
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
- and is met if a reasonable person in the same position would have formed the belief on the same grounds.
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, refer to identifying signs of abuse
- behavioural indicators of abuse lead you to believe that the child has been abused, refer to Identifying signs of abuse
- other signs such as family violence, parental substance misuse, psychiatric illness or intellectual disability that is impacting the child's safety, stability or development.
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. For guidance on the specific information-sharing requirements, refer to privacy and information sharing.
- 131 278 - DFFH Child Protection - 24-hour services
- 000 - Victoria Police
- 1800 126 126 - Department of Education Incident Support and Operations Centre
Department of Families, Fairness, and Housing (DFFH) - Child protection
Under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 the Department of Families, Fairness, and Housing (DFFH) 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. For further information, refer to DFFH child protection
Both DFFH and Victoria Police have statutory responsibilities under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 about the protection of children. DFFH 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.
For more information, refer to Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCIT).
Child FIRST/Orange Door
Child FIRST (Child and family information, referral and support team) is a community-based referral point into Family Services.
Child FIRST/Orange Door was introduced to allow families to obtain family services earlier at their request or following a referral from others, including school staff.
Child FIRST/Orange Door is staffed by family services practitioners who are experienced in assessing the needs of vulnerable children and their families. Child FIRST/Orange Door teams work closely with community-based DFFH Child Protection workers.
The role of Child FIRST/Orange Door includes:
- providing a point of entry to a local network of family services
- receiving reports about vulnerable children where there are significant concerns about their wellbeing
- undertaking an initial identification and assessment of the risks to the child and the child’s needs in consultation with DFFH Child Protection and other services
- identifying appropriate service responses for families.
The Orange Door has become the intake service for Child FIRST in several locations.
Support roles within the department
Department of Education support teams:
- Incident Support and Operations Centre (ISOC) 1800 126 126
- Legal Division 03 9637 3146
- Employee Assistance Program 1300 361 008
- Employee Health 03 9637 2395
- Employee Conduct Branch 03 7022 0005
- Privacy Unit 03 9637 3146
- International Division 03 9651 3976
- Communications Division 03 9637 2871
Support roles within 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
Support for independent schools
Contact Independent Schools Victoria: 03 9825 7200
The information on this webpage 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.
Guides for identifying and responding to child abuse
- Identifying and responding to all forms of abuse in Victorian Schools (PDF, 3.1MB)
- Identifying and responding to all forms of abuse in Victorian schools (DOCX, 207KB)
- Identifying and responding to student sexual offending (PDF, (7.5MB)
Download the Four Critical Actions
- Four Critical Actions - A3 printable poster (PDF, 215KB). We recommend that this resource be displayed in a prominent position for all staff members to access.
- Responding to incidents, disclosures and suspicions of child abuse (PDF, 215KB)
- Responding to incidents, disclosures and suspicions of child abuse (DOCX, 81KB)
- Responding to student sexual offending (PDF, 331KB)
- Responding to student sexual offending (DOCX, 85KB)
Resources for school staff and principals