“Children should be protected from any activity that takes advantage of them or could harm their welfare and development.”
In 2013, the Child Protection Reform Amendment Act 2014 was passed, with changes that included teachers now having mandatory reporting obligations. Teachers and employees of schools have a special place in the community and are often seen by children as “safe” people to tell.
It is estimated by the World Health Organisation that between a quarter and a half of children worldwide experience physical abuse. Abused children are at a much higher risk of developing major behavioural, mental and physical health problems later on in life.
What is Physical abuse?
According to the Child Protection Act physical abuse is a type of harm. Harm is defined as being any detrimental effect of a significant nature on the child’s physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing. The Act raises the question of when harm is viewed as significant. This distinction is important: as teachers and staff members, you may need to make a judgement call as to when the potential harm is of a sufficient level that you are obliged to make a report. Queensland Child Safety considers; hitting, shaking, throwing, biting, burning or poisoning as reason for a report.
What is sexual abuse?
According to the Child Protection Act sexual abuse is also included as a type of “harm.” Harm is anything that has any detrimental effect of a significant nature on the child’s physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing. The relationship between a teacher and a student, or a school employee and a student, gives rise to a position of significant power imbalance. Consequently, staff student relationship is inappropriate.
What is “Grooming”?
In staying vigilant for sexual abuse, teachers also need to be aware of “grooming.” The Criminal Code 1899 defines an individual engaging in grooming as any adult who engages in conduct with relation to someone under 16, or is believed to be under 16, with the intent to engaging in a sexual act, or exposing the minor to any “indecent matter”.
The Child Protection Act 1999 recently broadened obligations for many professions where they reasonably suspect that a child has been physically or sexually abused. The extension to “any person” means that the harm can involve physical or sexual abuse by a parent, third party or fellow student.
Mandatory reporting requirements under the Education (General Provisions) Act 2006 – What do you need to do?
Section 366 of the Education Act 2006 states if a staff member becomes aware of or reasonably suspects that any students under 18, including; a pre prep child registered in a pre-prep program or a person with a disability has been sexually abused by another person must report it. This applies to all staff members, from the janitor to the principal. The duty to report is discharged by providing a written report immediately to the Principal, or the school’s governing body. It is then the principal or director’s responsibility to report to Police.
Mandatory reporting requirements under the Child Protection Act 1999 – What do you need to do?
Staff that are not registered teachers, or a nurse, are not compelled to mandatory reporting requirements under the Child Protection Act. For mandatory reporting requirements to be in effect there must be a “reportable suspicion.” Any report to the Department of Communities, (Child Safety and Disability Services) must state the basis for the suspicion and include all information. However, you are not required to give a report about matters if it might tend to incriminate you.
Obtaining information from a colleague or you is acceptable where information is exchanged for specific purposes allowed by the legislation. Appropriate records should be kept, and the report must include: the child’s name, sex and age, contacts details, details of the suspected harm being inflicted, identity of the person suspected of causing the child to have suffered, suffer, or be at risk of abuse and information about any other people involved.
Other options for reporting if you are concerned about harm to a child?
Section 13A of the Child Protection Act 1999 provides that any person may inform the Chief Executive if they reasonably suspects that a child may be in need of protection. If making a report you need to consider; whether there is a reasonable basis to conclude that the child has suffered or is suffering significant harm, or is at unacceptable risk of suffering significant harm and does not have a parent to protect the child from the harm.
Protection from Liability
In order to make a report you must have evidence. Child Protection Act specifically states that “a person who makes a report under these provisions is protected from any criminal, civil or administrative liability, including defamation, and is relieved of their obligations of confidence.” Similar arrangements apply to matters reported under the Education ( General Provisions) Act.
A comprehensive record that was made promptly at the time an allegation was made provides an accurate account of events that may be used in evidence during any court preceding that arises as a result of the allegations down the track. The notes should be accurate, legible and written as close to the time of any incidents or disclosures as possible. Remember the W’s: Who, What, When, Where.
Remember that in cases of sexual abuse or harm, you are likely to have to report to both the Principal ( and the Princial to the Police) as well as reporting to the Department of Communities – both the Education (General Provisions) Act and Child Protection Act will apply.
This article was written by Fiona Manderson (Senior Associate) and delivered as part of a presentation for an independent school training (Jan 2016).