Unborn child reports - advice
This advice provides additional information regarding reports about unborn infants.
Document ID number 2013, version 6, 20 November 2021.
See procedure Unborn child reports for tasks that must be undertaken.
Victorian Government policy promotes and supports early intervention and prevention to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and their families, including expectant mothers of an unborn child.
The CYFA establishes two pathways for people to report or refer an unborn child where they have 'a significant concern for the wellbeing of the child after his or her birth'. The CYFA enables:
- confidential reports to child protection (s. 29) and;
- confidential referrals to the Child and Family Information Referral and Support Teams (Child FIRST) (s. 32)
to be made about unborn children and stipulates the type of responses that may be provided (s. 30(2) and 33(3)).
The intent of the legislation is to prevent future harm and reduce the likelihood of child protection intervention after the child's birth by working earlier and in partnership with the mother and appropriate support services to address the need or risk factors.
The guiding practice principle is one of supportive intervention, rather than interference with the rights of the pregnant woman.
Receiving unborn child reports
A report about an unborn child can be received by child protection at any stage of a woman's pregnancy. As a general principle, an unborn child report should be made when the pregnancy is confirmed in order to:
- allow sufficient time for a well informed assessment and effective planning
- enable effective referrals to be made to Child FIRST or other appropriate support services prior to the child's birth
- minimise initial approaches for advice and assistance being made to the mother during the last stages of her pregnancy
- provide opportunities for the mother to engage with professionals and services, and contribute her own ideas and solutions to concerns to achieve better outcomes.
There may be multiple factors present that can impact on a child's safety, development and wellbeing after the birth. An unborn child report to child protection is particularly appropriate in the following circumstances:
- another child has previously suffered significant abuse or neglect while in the care of either parent which would pose a risk of significant harm to the child after the birth
- another child has previously suffered life threatening injuries or a condition as a result of abuse or neglect while in the care of either parent
- another child has previously died as a result of abuse or neglect, or the circumstances of the death are unclear, while in the care of either parent or other adult in the household
- a sibling has been previously removed by a court order from the care of either parent
- parental rights to another child have been terminated following a period of service provision and no significant change has occurred in the interim
- a mother will likely give birth to a child with complex medical needs and/or disability and may encounter difficulties providing the requisite level of care to that child.
- a parent or other adult in the household has been convicted for a sexual offence or any offence against a child
- parental substance abuse is likely to significantly impact on the child's safety, development and wellbeing after the birth
- parental mental health illness or impairment is likely to significantly impact on the child's safety, development and wellbeing after the birth
- family violence is likely to significantly impact on the child's safety and development in utero and after the birth
- there are significant concerns about a parent's capability to care for the child after the birth, such as a parent who has a significant intellectual disability or an unsupported young person who is under 20 years of age.
Where the mother is subject to child protection involvement
Child protection should consider making an unborn child report if the mother is subject to protection intervention or a protection order. The child protection practitioner should consult with their supervisor regarding whether an unborn report should be made, considering current and previous risk assessments.
Child protection must consult Victoria Police where evidence exists that a pregnant young woman became pregnant whilst she was aged under 16 years.
A category one incident report must be completed where a young woman residing in out-of-home care, subject to a family reunification order, care by Secretary order or long-term care order, is pregnant.
Where child protection is currently involved with the family
Where child protection becomes aware that a mother of a current child protection client is pregnant, the case practitioner is to:
- consider the need for an unborn child report and whether to consult with a practice leader in consultation with their supervisor, and
- either make an unborn child report, or if it is determined that an unborn child report is not required, record this decision and the associated rationale in the CRIS file of the current client
- consider reviewing the risk assessment on the children’s CRIS file, including when the mother is a child protection client.
The CYFA provides the legislative framework for a person to make a report and authorises child protection to:
- receive an unborn child report (s. 29)
- share information about the mother of the unborn child for the purpose of assessing risk or referring to the most appropriate service (s. 35)
- provide advice to the reporter, including where the reporter is a family member (s. 30(2)(a))
- provide advice and assistance to the mother of the unborn child (s30(2)(b))
- provide advice to the mother
- refer to Child FIRST or other service (s. 30(2)(c)).
The mother's verbal consent is required in the following situations:
- Where child protection's response is to provide advice and assistance to the mother (s. 30(2)(b)). This is because any assistance or direct case work provided to the mother is voluntary as child protection's investigative and statutory powers do not apply until after the child's birth.
- Where child protection wishes to involve the father of the unborn child or partner and extended family in a case conference or any assistance and service which may be provided to the mother. This is because the response provisions in the CYFA (s. 30(2)(b) and (c)) only apply to ‘the mother of the unborn child’.
Consultation with ACSASS
Where it is known or believed the unborn child is Aboriginal, child protection must contact ACSASS for consultation. The mother's consent is not required for this consultation to occur. The role of ACSASS in the consultation is to assist with assessing need and risk or determining the most appropriate response to ensure the necessary planning and assistance is provided to the mother. The actions which could be taken at this point are:
- provide advice to the person who made the report
- provide advice and assistance to the mother of the unborn child
- make a referral to a community based child and family service.
Where child protection retains involvement, consultation with ACSASS will continue as it would with an Aboriginal child during the protective intervention phase. The focus of the consultation is likely to be on facilitating effective engagement, support and assistance to the mother. See Responding to Aboriginal children - advice.
L17 Family Violence historical search
Where the report is in relation to family violence, practitioners must complete an L17 Family Violence Historical Search to understand the perpetrator’s pattern and history of family violence, frequency, the nature of the violence (i.e. significant physical or verbal abuse including threats to kill). Gather information on the victim/survivor’s previous experiences of family violence, specifically in the context of cumulative harm for the child/ren.
It is important to draw on the expertise of relevant professionals, including the practice leader to enable effective antenatal care and planning for the mother and her unborn child. Case conferences create an opportunity to seek and share information which will contribute to the assessment of risk. They are a means of consulting and planning with professionals to assist the mother in preparation for her child's birth.
A case conference about an unborn child should be convened in the same way as other child protection case conferences and should:
- Occur in all complex and high risk cases, as identified in the Appropriate circumstances section of this advice. If a case conference is not able to occur, a shared plan should be agreed upon and provided to all relevant parties. For all other unborn child reports, the child protection practitioner in consultation with their supervisor should give consideration to holding a case conference.
- Be held as soon as possible after child protection has received the unborn report either to consult or as part of the response to the report, such as making a referral to a specific service.
- Be chaired by child protection unless it is convened or agreed otherwise by another relevant service.
- Involve the team manager, practice leader or principal practitioner.
- Involve the relevant professionals to share information and plan, such as maternity services providing the mother's antenatal care.
- Involve the mother to share information and plan unless she chooses or there are exceptional circumstances for her not to be involved, such as where there is a risk of violence to staff or the risk of the mother absconding.
- Inform your risk assessment.
- Develop pre and post birth plans to support the mother in addressing the need and risk issues, such as referring her to a drug and alcohol service or a residential service for a parenting assessment after the discharge from hospital.
- Coordinate support services and clarify who has responsibility for providing case management and implementing components of the plan.
- Determine the process for referring to Child FIRST or re-reporting to child protection where the unborn report will be closed.
Fathers and extended family members play an important role in the lives of children. The father and extended family should participate in case conferences where appropriate, provided the mother consents to their involvement.
An unborn child report should generally be closed soon after the case conference where an agreed upon plan has been developed to support the mother. Child protection should remain involved where it is decided the most appropriate response would be for child protection to provide advice and assistance to the mother such as where she is not engaged with or committed to the plan.
Responding to unborn child reports
An unborn child report may result in child protection responding in the following ways:
- provide advice to the reporter, including where the reporter is a family member
- refer to Child FIRST or other service
- provide advice and assistance to the mother of the unborn child.
An unborn child report cannot be determined to be a protective intervention report.
Advice to the reporter
Child protection may provide advice to the reporter where this is assessed to be the most appropriate response. Advice can be provided to a family member where he or she is the reporter. This response may be appropriate in situations where the reporter is in a position to support or assist the mother of the unborn child and therefore, other responses are not necessary in the circumstances. In this instance, child protection must close the unborn child report after providing the advice to the reporter.
Referral to Child FIRST or other service
Child protection may refer the matter to Child FIRST or other service to provide advice, services and support to the mother of the unborn child where this is assessed to be the most appropriate response. In this instance, child protection must close the unborn child report after making a referral to Child FIRST or other service. Consider services that will assist the mother to address the identified wellbeing concerns or risk factors, such as family violence, alcohol and drug or mental health services. Where there is a risk of protective intervention following the birth of the child, a referral to a service providing a Victorian and Aboriginal Family Preservation and Reunification (VAFPR) response may be appropriate
Advice and assistance to the mother
Child protection may provide advice and assistance to the mother of the unborn child where this is assessed as the most appropriate response. This response is voluntary and not a protective investigation and therefore, it requires the mother's consent. The response takes the form of direct case work and provides a unique opportunity to proactively engage, motivate and address the issues of concern with the mother at a time when she may be most open to making positive changes in her life. A collaborative approach is needed with the mother to develop an agreed upon plan in order to link her to support services and facilitate change as she prepares for the responsibility of parenthood. The aim of providing advice and assistance to the mother is to reduce the likelihood of child protection intervention after the child's birth and achieve better long term outcomes.
In all instances, the mother must consent to the father of the unborn child or her partner and extended family to be involved in any assistance and service which may be provided to her.
Child protection can provide assistance for as long as required up until the child's birth with the mother's consent. The risk assessment will contribute to the understanding of risk as well as strengths, protection and safety.
Unborn child reports are not subject to the formal program key performance indicator for initial contact. In this instance, child protection can keep the unborn child report open or active at intake phase whilst working with the mother. The unborn child report can be closed at an appropriate time or reclassified as a protective intervention report after the child's birth.
Where the mother does not consent to child protection involvement
If a mother is not willing to work with child protection, she cannot be compelled to accept advice and assistance or services which she may be referred to. Where the mother is not cooperating, child protection may decide to convene a case conference with the relevant professionals to determine the process for re-reporting closer to or at the time of the child's birth. In this instance, the unborn child report must be closed as there is no role for child protection.
An unborn child report can be reclassified on CRIS as a protective intervention report after the baby is born. In this instance, child protection may conduct a planned or urgent protective investigation to assess the risk of harm to the child's safety and development and determine the most appropriate course of action. A risk assessment will be completed as part of the investigation once a child is born. A protection application can only be issued after the birth where the child is in need of protection as determined by the risk assessment.