Under section 11 of the Children's Protection Act 1993 (SA) certain people (mandated notifiers) must notify the Department for Child Protection if they suspect on reasonable grounds that a child has been, or is being, abused or neglected and the suspicion is formed in the course of the person's work (whether paid or voluntary) or in carrying out official duties.
Mandated notifiers are:
- medical practitioners
- registered or enrolled nurses
- police officers
- social workers
- community corrections officers whose duties include the supervision of young or adult offenders in the community
- family day care providers
- a minister of religion (A priest or other minister of religion is not required to divulge information communicated in the course of a confession made in accordance with the rules of the relevant religion)
- a person who is an employee of, or a volunteer in, an organisation formed for religious or spiritual purposes
- any employee or volunteer in an agency (government and non-government) engaged in or responsible for the delivery of health, welfare, education, sporting or recreational, child care or residential services wholly or partly for children
- any other person who is an employee of, or volunteer in, a government department, agency or instrumentality, or a local government or non-government organisation that provides health, welfare, education, sporting or recreational, child-care or residential services wholly or partly for children provided they are engaged in the actual delivery of the services or hold a management position which includes direct supervision of provision of those services to children
The law does not require proof of harm, but a notification must be accompanied by a statement of the observations, information and opinions upon which the suspicion is based. This statement can be made verbally to a Department for Child Protection social worker via the Child Abuse Report Line (13 14 78).
For further information on making a report and what information to provide see Reporting child abuse at the Department for Child Protection website.
Trained mandated notifiers may also report some cases online using the eCARL system. However, serious concerns must still be reported verbally via the Child Abuse Report Line.
In making a report, mandated notifiers are assured of confidentiality (subject to certain exceptions), are immune from civil liability and do not breach professional ethics for reporting their suspicions in good faith. Reports can lead the Department for Child Protection to investigate further, see Investigation and intervention.
If these persons listed above fail to notify the Department for Child Protection when they suspect on reasonable grounds that a child has been or is being abused or neglected, they can be charged with an offence. However, it is a defence if the person can prove that his or her suspicion was due solely to having been informed of the suspected abuse or neglect by a police officer acting in the course of their official duties, or another person who is also a mandated notifier, and whom he or she believed on reasonable grounds had notified the Department for Child Protection [see Children's Protection Act 1993 (SA) ss 11(2a) and 11(2b)].
The defence does not apply in situations where a mandated notifier possesses additional knowledge of the child’s circumstances beyond that reported to them by a previous notifier or police officer. In these circumstances the mandated notifier must make their own report to the Department for Child Protection.
Who makes the assessment that a child is at risk?
Ultimately the decision about whether a child is at risk and in need of protection rests with the Department for Child Protection. However, under the Children’s Protection Act 1993 (SA) police officers have the power to remove a child from its home if they believe the child is in a situation of serious danger. The practice is usually for them to contact the Department for Child Protection to assist in this process or vice versa.
Under section 16 of the Act, if a child is removed by a police officer or by an officer from the Department for Child Protection from a situation of serious danger, the matter must be brought before the court on the next working day.
How do I report a case of suspected abuse or neglect?
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected you can contact the Child Abuse Report Line on 131 478. This is a 24 hour service staffed by social workers from the Department for Child Protection.
Trained mandated notifiers may also report some matters online using the eCARL system.
What does the Department for Child Protection do when they receive a report that a child is being abused or neglected?
When the Department for Child Protection receive a notification the worker will take down information relevant to making an assessment of the level of risk of harm to the child or young person. Following the assessment they can make a decision about response recommendations and then forward the report to the District Centre closest to the child or young person's residence. Once allocated to a social worker they may begin the process of case work.
In emergency situations (such as a child being abandoned or where there is an imminent danger to the child) a rapid response is required and out of office action is initiated by the Child Abuse Report Line before being forwarded to the District Centre.
Some notifications are assessed as being Notifier Only Concern and, while these are placed on the database, they do not fulfil the definition of abuse or neglect and therefore do not receive any further response.
Similarly, other notifications may be made by Department for Child Protection staff themselves as a matter of General Practice. While these are placed on the database, they do not fulfil the definition of abuse or neglect and therefore do not receive any further immediate response. Such a notification may be made, for example, in the weeks before a child is due to be born and then acted upon after the child is born.
Even where the definition of abuse or neglect is satisfied, the notifications may be classified as Extra Familial or having No Ground for Intervention. The first is where the source of abuse or neglect came from outside of the family and the family is protective. In this case the matter would simply be referred by the Department for Child Protection to police for any further action against the third party/parties. The second is where there are other appropriate arrangements already in place to ensure the care and protection of the child. This may be the case where, for example, one parent or guardian is the source of the abuse or neglect and the parents or guardians separate or the child stops spending time with that parent or guardian under the care and protection of the other parent or guardian.
If it is determined that there is no risk to the child then no further action will be taken. In most cases where some risk is determined the Department for Child Protection will work with the family to provide support in those areas or behaviours of concern and can refer the family to services such as family counselling, home help, budget advice and family day care. The intervention is to improve the family situation so proper care can be provided for the child.
What if there are Family Law Courts parenting orders in place?
If there are parenting orders in place in favour of the person who is the suspected source of abuse or neglect towards the child, a notification should still be made to the Department for Child Protection.
The parenting orders will, however, remain in place unless and until they are suspended, varied or discharged by either the Family Law Courts or the Youth Court. Only the Department for Child Protection can make an application to the Youth Court.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are required to comply with parenting orders which may put your child at further risk of suspected abuse or neglect, you should seek legal advice without delay. You may need to make an urgent application to the Family Law Courts to suspend, vary or discharge the orders while the Department for Child Protection investigate the allegations.
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.