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1. Introduction

The Alannah & Madeline Foundation is committed to protecting children from violence. This includes complying with the requirements and spirit of Victoria’s Child Safe Standards. All concerns, disclosures, allegations or complaints relating to abuse and/or inappropriate behaviour towards children and young people are taken seriously and responded to promptly. This includes reporting to relevant authorities, recording on the Child Safety Report – Form, an internal investigation if necessary, and actions as appropriate to prevent or minimise the risk of harm to children.

This policy & procedure document has been prepared to ensure that all Foundation employees and volunteers:

  • have clear information regarding the processes to be followed when dealing with a disclosure, allegation, concern or risk of either child abuse or other harm to a child
  • understand their legal, moral and social responsibilities regarding child abuse or risk of harm to children.

2. Background & context

Under the Child Safe Standards, a duty of care exists for the Board, employees and volunteers in their relationship with children involved with the Foundation. This duty of care is a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that no child is harmed through negligence or omission (or failure to act) by any person employed by or volunteering with the Foundation.

This duty of care means that child safety, protecting children and reporting child abuse is the responsibility of all the Foundation’s Board members, employees and volunteers.

‘Failure to disclose’ is also a criminal offence that requires all adults (aged 18 and over) who hold a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed in Victoria by an adult against a child under 16 to disclose that information to police (unless they have a reasonable excuse not to, for example because they fear for their safety or the safety of another).

In addition, the ‘failure to protect’ criminal offence applies where there is a substantial risk that a child under the age of 16 under the care, supervision or authority of a relevant organisation will become a victim of a sexual offence committed by an adult associated with that organisation. A person in a position of authority in the organisation will commit the offence if they know of the risk of abuse and have the power or responsibility to reduce or remove the risk, but negligently fail to do so.

It is the responsibility of all Foundation employees and volunteers to report child abuse or risk of harm to a child to relevant authorities, the Child Safety Contact and the Chief Operating Officer, both verbally and (internally) by completing the Child Safety Report – Form.

If you believe the child is at immediate risk of abuse, phone 000.

3. Scope

This policy & procedures document applies to the Foundation Board and all Foundation employees and volunteers. It covers all aspects of child abuse including:

  • physical violence
  • sexual abuse and grooming
  • emotional or psychological abuse
  • serious neglect
  • exposure to family violence.

For more information about these forms of abuse, see Attachment 1 of this policy & procedure document.

4. Procedures

4.1 General

In all instances of:

  • a disclosure (from child) of abuse or harm
  • an allegation, suspicion or observation of child abuse
  • a breach of the Foundation’s Code of Conduct (related to child abuse)
  • an environmental child safety issue

the following steps must be taken:

  1. A Child Safety Report – Form must be completed and a hard copy signed by the reporter as soon as practicable. This would normally be on the same day as the incident or concern unless there were compelling reasons for not doing this.
  2. If you believe the child is at immediate risk of abuse, phone 000.
  3. The Child Safety Contact and Chief Operating Officer must be notified and the Child Safety Report forwarded to them.
  4. The Child Safety Contact, in conjunction with the Chief Operating Officer, will ensure that any action has been taken to ensure the child’s safety; offer or organise support for any children, family, carers, staff or volunteers involved (subject to the conditions of any police investigation); if necessary make a report to the police and child protection; make recommendations for further actions (eg. investigation, involvement of People & Culture, environmental risk mitigation).
  5. After sign-off by the Child Safety Contact, the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief Executive Officer sign and date the Child Safety Report with any additional comments or actions they determine necessary.
  6. Outcomes from any actions stemming from the reported incident or concern are to be added, with date, to the Child Safety Report as they are finalised.
  7. All relevant children, parents, staff and others are notified of any outcome.
  8. The Child Safety Report is securely stored in both hard copy (signed) and electronic form.

4.2 If a child discloses an incident of abuse to you

  • If the Child Safety Contact is immediately available, involve them as soon as possible.
  • If the Child Safety Contact is not available, contact a member of the Foundation’s Executive Team.
  • Try and separate the child from other children discreetly and listen to them carefully.
  • Let the child use their own words to explain what has occurred.
  • Reassure the child that you take what they are saying seriously, and it is not their fault and that they are doing the right thing. You might need to tell them that you will need to take action to help keep them safe.
  • Explain to them that this information may need to be shared with others, such as with their parent / carer, specific people in your organisation, or the police.
  • Do not make promises to the child such as promising not to tell anyone about the incident, except that you will do your best to keep them safe.
  • Do not leave the child in a distressed state. If they seem at ease in your company, stay with them.
  • Record the description of the incident in the ‘What happened?’ section of the Child Safety Report – Form, using the child’s words as much as possible.
  • As soon as possible after the disclosure, complete the rest of the Reporter section of the Child Safety Report – Form and notify the Child Safety Contact and the Chief Operating Officer, ensuring that you have forwarded the report.

    If you believe the child is at immediate risk of abuse, phone 000
  • Ensure the disclosure is recorded accurately, and that the Child Safety Report is stored securely.

4.3 If a parent / carer says their child has been abused in our organisation or raises a concern

  • Explain that the Foundation has processes to ensure all abuse allegations are taken very seriously.
  • Ask about the wellbeing of the child.
  • Allow the parent / carer to talk through the incident in their own words.
  • Advise the parent / carer that you will take notes during the discussion to capture all details.
  • Explain to them that the information may need to be repeated to authorities or others, such as the organisation’s management or Child Safety Officer, the police or child protection.
  • Do not make promises at this early stage, except that you will do your best to keep the child safe.
  • Use their description and language in the ‘What happened?’ section of the Child Safety Report – Form.
  • Ask them what action they would like to take and advise them of what the immediate next steps will be.
  • As soon as possible after the allegation or concern has been made, accurately complete the rest of the Reporters section of the Child Safety Report – Form and notify the Child Safety Contact and the Chief Operating Officer ensuring that you have forwarded the report.

    If you believe the child is at immediate risk of abuse, phone 000

4.4 Aboriginal children, children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and children with a disability

You need to be aware that some people from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds may face barriers in reporting allegations of abuse. For example, people from some cultures may experience anxiety when talking with police, and communicating in English may be a barrier for some. You need to be sensitive to these issues and meet people’s needs where possible, such as having an interpreter present (who could be a friend or family member).

If an allegation of abuse involves an Aboriginal child, you will need to ensure a culturally appropriate response. A way to help ensure this could include engaging with parents of Aboriginal children, local Aboriginal communities or Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to review policies and procedures.

Some children with a disability may experience barriers disclosing an incident. For example, children with hearing or cognitive impairments may need support to help them explain the incident, including through sign language.

All efforts must be made to ensure that children from diverse backgrounds and with diverse needs are kept safe, and that they and their families are kept informed (as appropriate) when issues of the child’s or children’s safety are raised.

5. Failure to comply

An employee, volunteer or contractor who breaches this policy will be subject to disciplinary procedures which can include termination of employment/engagement.

6. Reference documents

This policy should be read in conjunction with the following Foundation documents:

  • Code of Conduct
  • Child Safe – Policy

7. Relevant legislation

  • Child Wellbeing and Safety Amendment (Oversight and Enforcement of the Child Safe Standards) Bill 2016
  • Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005
  • Commission for Children and Young People Act 2012
  • Children, Youth and Families Act 2005
  • Crimes Amendment (Protection of Children) Act 2014

Attachment 1: definitions and information about child abuse

Note: The indicators included here are possible indicators. The presence or absence of physical or behavioural indicators does not on its own confirm that abuse has or has not occurred.

Physical violence: when a child suffers, or is likely to suffer, significant harm from a non-accidental injury or injuries inflicted by another person. Physical violence can be inflicted in many ways, including beating, shaking, burning or use of weapons (such as, belts and paddles).

Possible physical indicators include:

  • unexplained bruises
  • burns and/or fractured bones.

Possible behavioural indicators include:

  • showing wariness or distrust of adults
  • wearing long sleeved clothes on hot days (to hide bruising or other injury)
  • fear of specific people
  • unexplained absences
  • academic problems.

Sexual offences: when a person involves the child in sexual activity, or deliberately puts the child in the presence of sexual behaviours that are exploitative or inappropriate to his/her age and development. Child sexual abuse can involve a range of sexual activity including fondling, masturbation, penetration, voyeurism and exhibitionism. It can also include exposure to, or exploitation through, pornography or prostitution.

Possible physical indicators include:

  • presence of sexually transmitted diseases
  • pregnancy
  • vaginal or anal bleeding or discharge.

Possible behavioural indicators include:

  • displaying sexual behaviour or knowledge that is unusual for the child’s age
  • difficulty sleeping
  • being withdrawn
  • complaining of headaches or stomach pains
  • fear of specific people
  • showing wariness or distrust of adults
  • displaying aggressive behaviour.

Emotional or psychological abuse: when harm is inflicted on a child through repeated rejection, isolation, or by threats or violence. It can include derogatory name-calling and put-downs, or persistent and deliberate coldness from a person, to the extent where the behaviour of the child is disturbed, or their emotional development is at serious risk of being impaired. Serious emotional or psychological abuse could also result from conduct that exploits a child without necessarily being criminal, such as encouraging a child to engage in inappropriate or risky behaviours.

Possible physical indicators include:

  • delays in emotional, mental, or even physical development
  • physical signs of self-harming.

Possible behavioural indicators include:

  • exhibiting low self-esteem
  • exhibiting high anxiety
  • displaying aggressive or demanding behaviour
  • being withdrawn, passive and/or tearful
  • self-harming.

Serious neglect: the continued failure to provide a child with the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, hygiene, medical attention or adequate supervision, to the extent that the child’s health, safety and/or development is, or is likely to be, jeopardised. Serious neglect can also occur if an adult fails to adequately ensure the safety of a child where the child is exposed to extremely dangerous or life-threatening situations.

Possible physical indicators include:

  • frequent hunger
  • malnutrition
  • poor hygiene
  • inappropriate clothing.

Possible behavioural indicators include:

  • stealing food
  • staying at school outside of school hours
  • aggressive behaviour
  • misusing alcohol or drugs
  • academic issues.

If you believe that a child is at immediate risk of abuse, phone 000.